... One Note at a Time

Make a CareerWrite Your BookCompound Your KnowledgeBecome an Idea MachineDevelop Your IdeasCreate the Habit of WritingWrite More BooksClarify your Thoughts... One Note at a Time

One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers

One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers


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Smart Notes

A good note-taking system is:

  • Simple
  • Well thought out
  • Helps you to stay focused on what really counts: Reading, Thinking and Writing.

It should not only make it easy to find notes quickly, it should also point out relevant notes when you need them - even if you did not search for them.

It should help you to clarify your thoughts, let you experiment with ideas and spark new ones.

A good system gets exponentially better the more you feed it.

Read more on about the system on Quora here or, with more details, here.

The System

When the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann became a professor, he was asked what his main research project would be. His famous answer: "My project: theory of society. Duration: 30 years. Costs: zero."

Twenty-nine and a half years later, he published the last chapter of what is probably the most systematic and comprehensive sociological theory ever written. In these 29 and a half years, he published roughly another 60 books and hundreds of articles on a huge variety of subjects - all of outstanding quality and with no other help than his note-taking system.

And all of it was achieved by writing one smart note at a time.

Read about the research on the system.

The Book

This is the step-by-step guide on how to set up and understand the principle behind the note-taking system that enabled Luhmann to become one of the most productive and systematic scholars of all time. But most importantly, it enabled him to do it with ease. He famously said: “I never force myself to do anything I don’t feel like.” Luhmann’s system is often misunderstood and rarely well explained (especially in English). This book aims to make this powerful tool accessible to everyone with an interest in reading, thinking and writing. It is especially helpful for students and academics of the social sciences and humanities and nonfiction writers.

Read the first chapter (PDF)

Read a review in the Journal of Writing Research (PDF)

Read what others think on Goodreads

And here are the links from the footnotes

The appendix of the 2nd edition (PDF)

The Tools

As the system is really simple, you only need some basic tools - and all of them are free.

  1. Something to write on (like pen and paper)
  2. Something to store your references and literature (I recommend Zotero)
  3. The “slip-box,” the place to store your permanent notes and develop your thoughts. I recommend the program Zettelkasten by Daniel Lüdecke, but you can also use other programs or even pen and paper.

All you really need is to understand how the system works. And that is what the book is for.

Some more information on these tools...