NotePlan Blog

My Digital Zettelkasten Workflow with NotePlan (with Video)

December 21, 2020

Hi everyone, in this video (and article below) I want to show you how I use Zettelkasten with NotePlan.

Previously, I wrote this short article where I outline how I use Zettelkasten conceptually and give you a quick intro into what Zettelkasten is. And this is a follow-up.

Here, I’m describing how I organize my folders, the different kinds of notes and the process how I create them. Don’t get confused in the video if I use the terms “Slip-box Note” and “Zettelkasten Note” interchangeably. I mean the same kind of note with both terms.

The Folders

I have sorted my notes and folders by title (see “View” in the menubar), so I can prepend a number and control the order of the folders:

0 - Inbox
1 - Slipbox - Issues
2 - Slipbox - Features
3 - Slipbox - General
4 - Slipbox - Business
5 - WIP Backlog
6 - Ready Backlog
7 - Current Sprint
8 - Done
9 - Archive

My Slip-box notes are filed into the folders 1-4. I have created four folders to have broad categories. Normally, you shouldn’t create any kind of topics so that you are not artificially restricted when you branch off from a topic. So, I might merge them in the future and assign tags instead. I already have notes which link between the categories and ran into some problems where it’s not entirely clear if something is a bug (issue) or a feature. My recommendation is to start with a single folder and if you combine notes to a subfolder, just give it a number, not a topic. You will later see how topics can be managed.

The other folders are inspired by GTD and agile project management and not strictly part of the Zettelkasten method. The Inbox folder is the place for anything new I want to capture. I try to boil down the content in the heading, add a source link and a summary if I need to elaborate beyond the title.

“WIP Backlog” contains pre-selected projects I want to complete in near future (means features I want to build). These notes are work-in-progress, so I still need to take time to work on the content. “Ready Backlog” contains project notes which are ready to start. “Current Sprint” contains what I want to finish in my current two-week sprint and then I move the notes to “Done”, then “Archive”.

The Notes

There are at least 3 different kinds of notes: Inbox, Slip-box and Project note.

Inbox and Slip-box notes are written as short as possible in my words and are atomic, means they contain one point (idea, thought, issue, request, …). Both have a descriptive title, a link to the source (email, article, Tweet, …) and a summary. Different from Inbox notes, the Slip-box notes are numbered with an ID and have at least one backlink. They can have more backlinks and none or several forward links.

While Inbox notes are temporary, means after processing I either file them away into an archive or delete them (they don’t stay in “Inbox”), the Slip-box notes are permanent.

Project notes are created using the Slip-box notes as source material, and they are only relevant for the duration of that project. Once finished, they will be filed away into an archive. They contain a quite detailed plan how I want to implement a feature or fix a bug.

Example of an Inbox Note

# Embed paragraphs into a note and display content

In this case the NSTextAttachment would have to display text.

I use relatively long headings, so it’s easier to find them with the quick search (CMD+J) and I know the content without having to open them. Sometimes I don’t need to add a summary if the heading tells the story already.

Example of a Slip-box Note

# 0013/2 - Code Fencing

Next: [[0013/3 - Alternative markdown lib for swift]]
Branch: [[0013/2d - Hide the backticks in code fencing]]
Branch: [[0013/2a - Separator line]]
Branch: [[0013/2b - Public NP Theme Folder]]

Format the text between triple backticks in a different color and mono spaced font. Also don’t apply any other style.

Slip-box notes are more elaborative than Inbox notes because I need to understand them months and years into the future. I carry over the source links to the original emails, just in case. The backlinks are not visible in this example but I had 5 other references to “Code Fencing”.

Example of a Project Note

# 01 - F: Hide URL
Zettel: [[0013/4b - Hide URLs in links]]

## Discussion
Markdown links have the problem that the URLs are way too long and clutter your note. So ideally the URL field should be hidden. And you can edit it by navigating the cursor into the URL part. It could reveal the URL or by clicking into it, a dialog could pop up like in Bear. Hiding is not a problem anymore, but it's not enough. I need to replace it and not hide it. That's the problem. Bear uses NSTextAttachments to display the link symbol. That's why I also need to use. Upon copy and save, I need to overwrite it.

- Replace text: [[0013/4b5 - Hide text by replacing it with an NSTextAttachment]]
- URL dialog: [[0013/4b1 - Render URLs with dialog like bear]]
- Implementation: [[Folding and glyph replacements]]


I link extensively to notes in my Slip-box folder because when I start to plan a project, I have figured out already 80% of the problems.

The Process

1. Capturing Notes

During the day I take short inbox notes written in my words with a link back to the source (similar to Literature Notes). This often happens when I read feedback emails and messages. Sometimes I add my ideas or when I read something interesting which might be useful.

2. Processing Notes

On the same day in the evening or on the next day in the morning I process my Inbox notes. I don’t capture and process them simultaneously, this would be too much work. When I read emails, I want to capture and give replies as fast as possible. Processing the Inbox notes means I look for other notes in the Slip-box folders which I could connect them with.

Sometimes I also elaborate on what I meant (I add some text to make points clearer). Because I need to understand the content in the future when I come across the notes again.

Once I found a Slip-box note in the same context, I move it into the same folder, assign an ID and a new title and link to it from the existing note. I try to look for existing notes in which context I want to find the new note later.

Often I get new ideas while looking through the notes and add further thoughts. Finally, I delete the Inbox note or move it into a “Literature Notes” folder to archive it.

3. Backlog Grooming

In the Slip-box folders I can see if clusters start to form around specific topics, such as text editor improvements like “Code Fencing”. A cluster of notes are many interconnected notes, means they share a similar context. It’s probably an area which is very interesting to me and which I researched a lot or made a lot of progress.

I cherry-pick something from this cluster and create a project note in “WIP Backlog”, where I start to develop it on paper linking to the relevant Slip-box notes.

At this point the Zettelkasten starts to shine. Instead of having to start from zero with a project, digging up emails or brainstorming, I can just surf through my Slip-box notes, connect them to the project note and fill in the gaps.

4. Working on a Project

Once a project note is finalized, properly linked and all gaps filled, it’s ready to work on it. At this point I don’t need to look back at the Slip-box notes or emails. I can just get the work done. By now, all the research is done. I have figured out the details piece by piece long ago, each time I wrote a Slip-box note and connected it to other notes.

I hope this article was helpful, watch the video you haven’t done already to see how all above looks in practice!

Let me know how your workflows look like and if you are using Zettelkasten (tweet me your thoughts :)).

I'm Eduard. Coding is easy, creating a product users love is hard. I write about my journey building NotePlan and the fascinating world of note-taking. Follow me on Twitter to read more like this.