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English Translation of All Notes on Zettelkasten by Luhmann

I thought it would be nice if there was a common knowledge base on what Luhmann himself wrote on Zettelkasten. So here is a translation of all 18 notes of the section 9/8 of his second Zettelkasten. I tried to find a middle ground between a translation that is faithful to his style, the nature of the German language, and the least ambigious English I can come up with.

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How To Use Creative Techniques Within the Zettelkasten Framework

One of the greatest difficulties in understanding the Zettelkasten Method is to separate its specific characteristics from actual knowledge work. Or, how I like to phrase it: “Link knowledge, not notes.” Working with our Zettelkasten is the physical (or digital) manifestation of our thinking. It provides a framework that allows us to think through writing and to create an increasingly complex thinking machine that can help us think deeper than being on our own. The Zettelkasten Method provides a framework for our thinking, but does not prescribe what and how we think.

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Every Step in the Process Must be Knowledge-Based Value Creation

The Zettelkasten Method is so labor-intensive. I don’t have time to also maintain a Zettelkasten.” – This, or something like it, is a regular concern when people engage with the Zettelkasten Method. And with good reason, because on the forums and Reddit you can see that care and maintenance seems to be a big part of the Zettelkasten Method. That’s a problem of the implementation.

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How Value is Created in a Zettelkasten (and Any System of Knowledge Work)

The first question we need to ask ourselves is: What is value? I propose a simple answer to this question: Valuable is what is useful to us. Let’s look into knowledge on nutrition as an example: Knowing how to eat healthy is not very useful to a lot of people because this knowledge is not put into practice. Most of the time this knowledge is not what is needed. Eating healthy is rather about building habits. Then again, knowledge on healthy nutrition becomes useful when those healthy habits are built.

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