Zettelkasten Forum

What physical steps do you take when linking existing Zettels to a new one?

It takes me about 20-30 minutes to create 1 Zettel sometimes because my linking process often involves sifting through my Slipbox to find the right note to place my note behind. As my Slipbox grows, it becomes cumbersome to keep this up.

I see plenty of posts share abstract advice for linking Zettels together and implementing Folgezettel.

  • Each link should create knowledge
  • Create a new Zettel when you're starting to branch into a second idea
  • "Find" Zettels that match your topic (but don't you dare use the Search function to do it!)
  • You need Folgezettel / you don't need Folgezettel (I personally like the structure, so I've chosen to keep it)

What I'd like to learn from experienced users is this: What are the PHYSICAL steps you take when you've completed a Zettel and you're linking it to your other Zettels?

By physical steps, I mean what you actually do, GTD-style Next Actions.

For instance, here's my physical action steps.

  1. Search my index for the topic of interest
  2. Look within that cluster to find a Zettel that's either a source of that idea or similar to that idea.
  3. Number the new Zettel after the one I chose from #2.
  4. Use the Obsidian search function for a few keywords within my Zettel to find relevant links, adding context phrases as I do so.

But the problem is that as my Slipbox grows, I'll slowly forget the Zettel clusters and may make less-than-ideal connections. Any guidance here would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!


  • @Mach3Maelstrom

    1. As I "complete" each zettel, I make sure it has a thorough set of tags, including one called "#unlinked".
    2. Depending on time and interest, I may make some initial links to the zettel I've just completed, rather randomly I admit.
    3. Every week I spend time on ZK maintenance. One of those is to search for the tag "#unlinked" and pick one or two zettels for a focused linking session.
    4. I click on each tag on the current zettel to see what other zettels have the same tag, and check to see if any of them should be linked.
    5. I search using other terms that I think are relevant to the current zettel and do the same thing.
    6. Once I have more than 2 or 3 links, I remove the "#unlinked" tag from the zettel. The number of links is a bit arbitrary - sometimes I think there should be more, so I create more before removing that tag.
    7. Another regular maintenance item is to scan my list of tags (that list is created using a Keyboard Maestro macro shared by @Will ). I don't want any tag to appear on more than 5 to 10 zettels. If say the zettel count for a particular tag is more than 10, I will review those zettels and then split the tag into two related but distinct tags and re-tag the related zettels. For example, currently the tag "#Family" shows up on 12 zettels; I could split it into "#Family-Immediate" and "#Family-Extended" (if that made sense). My list of tags then becomes a sort of index for my ZK - but only because I don't let any tag get too bloated.
    8. At present, I have 300 zettels (after 3 years of steady but you might say "slow" work - I've explained why at the following link) and 180 tags. My zettels are typically 100 to 300 words long.

    See https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/2431/creating-a-personal-history-in-your-zettelkasten/

  • Thanks for sharing your process, @GeoEng51 ! There are a few points I'll test out in my own Zettelkasten process:

    1. Using tags to aid in linking. I personally prefer to use a dedicated Index, but seeing how your tags aid in linking to Zettels helps me see how I can leverage tags myself. I'm not using them at all in my Obsidian-based Zettelkasten.
    2. Limiting number of notes per tag. This is a good solution to help keep tags under control.
    3. Dedicated linking session. I'll test separating the linking from the creation to see if I can reduce the amount of time it takes to produce Zettels. If it doesn't work out for me, at least they'll be tagged #unlinked, so it's an interesting experiment.
  • edited January 2023

    What physical steps?

    You put your Zettel in
    You put your Zettel out
    You put your Zettel in
    And you shake it all about

    You do the Zettelkasten
    And you turn yourself around
    That's what it's all about

    As for procedural steps, I try to link notes as soon as I add them. Otherwise I review my ZK on Sunday. I wrote a script to find notes whose H1 header doesn't match the filename, and I correct those.


    Given $(n)$ nodes, there are $(3^\binom n 2)$ possible directed graphs with at most one directed edge between nodes, which means that you can expect to spend most of your life tending to your Zettelkasten and never finishing if you add notes over time and you are a link perfectionist. I have links in both directions in some cases, so I might have to choose between $(2^{2\binom n 2})$ possible digraphs.

    What about diminishing returns?

    If you're a programmer, you might have heard about "continuous improvement." Some people will never understand opportunity cost. Look at the graphs below and or the formulas above and you might appreciate that the brains of such individuals didn't prune away or otherwise weaken the connections that somehow underwrite (or underlink) this non-economic notion that diminishing returns don't exist and that it always worthwhile to improve anything, no matter what.

    Maybe you don't care about producing anything with your notes, and your aim is to become a world-class Zettelkasten gardener. More power to you, in that case.


    I've gotten Zettlr and Obsidian to work together somewhat interchangeably. Obsidian can be configured with about three or four plugins to use the same Pandoc format and LaTeX template files as Zettlr, work the same with Pandoc citations as Zettlr, show the H1 header as the filename in the File Explorer instead of only the ID, which Zettlr can be configured to do, and so on.

    I use the graph view in Obsidian to see what links where. Obsidian's graph view has improved. I still prefer to edit in Zettlr. For example, suppose I want to focus on one of the alphabetic index nodes. Previously these were category notes until I decided to switch to an alphabetic index. The indexing is somewhat chaotic because of this, but chaos is supposed to be good in the land of the Zettel.

    You can adjust the link distance, node repel force, central force, turn arrows on, zoom in and out (with Alt-, Alt=) so that the graph display becomes useful. It's also possible to display hashtags instead of titles. These views help with adjustments, I can see where I need to do more work, and so on.

    Here's a note on LaTeX--this is more of a hub node. The graph tells me that the link to the index note, which was "Computing" and now "C-E" should be changed to point to "H-L", which itself has too many letters. Even with the index jumbled after I switched from categories to alphabetic indexing, the alphabetic indexing is still useful.a

    aI have subsequently reorganized the alphabetic listing.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    GitHub. Erdős #2. CC BY-SA 4.0. Problems worthy of attack / prove their worth by hitting back. -- Piet Hein.

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