For the longest time, I knew there was a connection between reading, writing, thinking, and learning. But I struggled to know the best method to combine all of these pursuits. I figured note-taking would be important, but all of my previous note-taking systems eventually failed me.
But now I know about Niklas Luhmann and his method of note-taking and I finally have a workflow to help me read, write, and think better.
So Who Was Niklas Luhmann?
Niklas Luhmann was a German sociologist professor who was known for his high-volume work output. He wrote 70 books and hundreds of scholarly articles. He was able to accomplish this super-human effort because of his ingenious note-taking method. The name of his method is called the Zettelkasten or Slip-box method.
According to the book How to Take Smart Notes, Luhmann realized the need for a better approach to taking notes. The common approach to notetaking is to try and categorize notes by topic and subtopic. But Luhmann decided he would write his notes on “small pieces of paper, put a number in the corner and collect them in one place: the slip-box.”
When he found an interesting idea he would write it in his own words on an index card. He would then place it in the slip-box based on how it connected to other ideas he had recorded. He would try to make mental connections between all of the ideas. He would place the new note behind the idea it connected with. Over time, his slip-box grew to contain groupings of connected ideas.
Whenever he needed another topic for a book or research paper he could turn to his slip-box. There were thousands of his own ideas with connections and sources in the box. Luhmann’s slip-box grew to over 90,000 index cards in his lifetime and helped him to publish as much as he did.
I will be writing more about the slip-box method in the coming weeks. It’s a great system and can help you form more complete thoughts.