When building your PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) system, you'll need to understand the different types of notes so you can best utilize them.
If you are familiar with a Zettelkasten (slip-box), you may think of Fleeting Notes, Literature Notes, Permanent Notes, and Project Notes. However, Niklas Luhmann, the man known to be the creator of the Zettelkasten, never used these terms. Instead, these names became famous from the book "How To Take Smart Notes" by Sönke Ahrens. I suppose Sönke needed to create names for the types of notes used by Luhman to help make the Zettelkasten easier to understand.
There are no official names for the different types of notes. You'll find all kinds of variations, so I've broken them down into six classes of notes related to PKM.
- Capture Notes
- Consumption Notes
- Reflection Notes
- Periodic Notes
- Project Notes
- Sequence Notes
I'll go into each type in detail, then examine when to create them and connect them.
Types of Notes
Often referred to as Fleeting Notes or Quick Notes, Capture Notes are short and to the point; This is the note you take when something pops into your head, and you need to capture it (because we capture everything, right?).
- Find a specific tool that works to capture your thoughts into a single place.
- Process these notes regularly. Discard them when complete.
- Include enough information to remind yourself why you took the note.
- Don't worry about complete sentences or grammar. Use abbreviations, shortcuts, doodles, etc.
Often referred to as Literature Notes or Margin Notes, you will take Consumption Notes while consuming something.
While reading a book, you can make notes in the margins or highlight them on Kindle and make notes in your highlights. You may use a separate notebook, index cards, or your favorite notes application. It doesn't matter, but be consistent.
- Write in complete sentences.
- Capture what the author is saying in your own words.
- Include a reference, or write directly on the source material.
Often referred to as Permanent Notes, Evergreen Notes, Atomic Notes. Capture your observations and reflections about a particular concept.
- Write in complete sentences.
- Write about your take on the idea, not what someone else thinks.
- Make it atomic, meaning each note is a single self-contained idea.
- Make it autonomous, meaning each note includes the context needed to stand independently. Anyone, including your future self, should be able to read it and understand what it means.
- If using a reference, ensure to include it in the note.
- Reflection Notes help publish your content. Never start from a blank page; instead, pull from your Reflection Notes!
Often referred to as a Journal, Daily Note, or Log, these notes are associated with a particular point in time.
- Try a daily log where you write down what's on your mind.
- Capture things that happened throughout the day. Try Interstitial journaling.
Project notes are associated with a particular project and are not generic enough to use across projects.
- Keep Project Notes separate from your other notes.
- Archive your project notes with the other project support material when the project is over.
- If you work with a team, keep your Project Notes in a shared location.
Often referred to as Index Notes, Hub Notes, MOC (Map of Contents), and similar to a table of contents, a Sequence Note is simply a note that references other notes.
- Helpful in connecting related notes and ordering them into a sequence.
- By showing related notes, you can see what's missing and what questions need answering, leading to research and more notes that fill in the blanks.
- Use Sequence Notes as an outline for an essay, video, or even a book.
Note creation sequence
The various types of notes can feed into one another, but none are dependent on the others. For example, you could write a Reflection (Permanent) Note without first writing Consumption (Literature) Notes. A Capture (Fleeting) Note may turn directly into a Reflection Note, or it may go straight to the trash!
After you start accumulating many notes, you'll get the most out of them if you start connecting them. The approach you take will vary depending on where you keep your notes.
For analog users, if you're capturing on paper or index cards, you'll want to either group your notes by theme or connect them using unique identifiers (the Folgezettel method).
For digital users, modern note applications like Obsidian and Roam Research allow you to create links between notes using brackets [[your note]].
The idea is to create a Communication Tool, so your notes become more valuable over time.
Try not to get caught up (like I did) on the types of notes and how they "should" be created. The point is to create a knowledge base that is helpful for you. You don't need to copy anybody's system to do this. Instead, learn from others and build your own system that works for you.