My Zettelkasten System — Zombies and Unicorns, Oh My

Tansy Bradshaw
3 min readApr 30, 2023

I love note taking and I love the zettelkasten system. At the beginning of my journey, I was all about looking at all the videos of setting up your system. It overwhelmed me with ideas, I was always looking for the new shiny system. There is one problem with showcasing other people zettelkastens, it is their system. This is not necessarily either a good or bad problem; however, it has the potential to set up in the viewers' mind that if their system isn’t like the one they are watching — they could think that theirs isn’t good enough.

My inspirations for my current incarnation of my system are Jeffery Webber and Ev Chapman. However, after I setup my system to be a remix of the two, it wasn’t right, and I got discouraged. There was still friction. I had set up a three tier note system — meant to be for the different stages a note would go through.

For some people, this works well — for me, it was too much. Brian Jenks used this to keep track of notes. It made my head hurt. I needed to simplify it more. I needed a way to tell the difference between notes that were just dot points and ones that were written out. I also needed a way to keep track of what were my theme or keyword notes.

Photo by Alex Rybin on Unsplash

So, I changed all my topic and subtopic notes into one level of keyword notes. For my system, I call them Spoons. Think of these keywords as MOCs (Maps of Content). These are notes I can go into and look at all the linked and unlinked references. I may have written topics I want to explore in the body of the note.

Now for setting the setup for the category of the notes. In a previous iteration I had made all my unprocessed notes be categorised as Zombies. Why? There was no real reason, however, we are both looking for brains to fill them out more. That left the processed notes. I made the decision that no matter what the level it may be, whether it be a small paragraph or one I add to later, they were all going to be categorised the same. Again, for arbitrary reasons, I decided to call them Unicorns.

After all this tooing-and-froing with my system, there are a few things that I wish I knew when I started my zettelkasten.

  • Remember that your zettelkasten is a living thing and will constantly change over time

--

--

Tansy Bradshaw

Murderino. Cat Lady. I write about stuff that interests me. She/Her and They/Them