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Zettelkasten vs. Second Brain – What’s the (Freakin’) Difference?

By Matt Giaro


If you’re taking notes, then you probably heard about the Zettelkasten and building a second brain.

But you may still be on the fence and quite confused.

Are those two similar things, or are they completely different?

The Zettelkasten is a note-taking method. A second brain is a digital information management system that includes note-taking.

In this article, I’m going to unveil a simple answer so that you can start taking meaningful notes quickly.

I’m Matt Giaro. And I’ve helped thousands of people over the world supercharge their note-taking over the years. And if you want to improve your note-taking, feel free to sign up for my free 7-day email course here.

(BTW, the link opens in a new window so that you can sign up now and continue reading this article.)

With that being said, let’s get started.

What’s exactly the Zettelkasten?

Zettelkasten is a German word that stands for slip-box.

The Zettelkasten was used by Niklas Luhman –a prolific German sociologist– in the 20th century. He relied on this note-taking methodology to create over XX BOOKS and research papers.

The Zettelkasten is not only a way to manage information. It’s a note-taking methodology. But the specificity of the Zettelkasten resides that it relies on backlinks. In other words, you create notes and then link them between them.

Linking is the process our brain uses to process information.

Our brain contains almost 100 billion neurons. Think of each neuron as an idea. And those neurons are linked together with what’s called synapses.

This allows you to create multiple connections to one single idea.

And when you know that creativity and great ideas are simply connecting things together, this note-taking methodology makes a lot of sense for people who rely on ideas to run their business (like content creators.)

What’s a Second Brain?

The term second brain sounds catchy.

And this is precisely why so many people are using it. The problem is that not many people truly understand (or agree) the scope of what a second brain actually is.

For some people, the second brain is how you manage your knowledge. Truth is, this is a very broad scope. Theoretically, everything that contains information in any kind of shape could be englobed in the term second brain: your grocery list, or a note you made in a book you just read.

On the flip side, others have a well-defined perimeter of what they call a second brain.

As an example, I’ve interviewed Tiago Forte on my podcast (who’s the creator of “building a second brain”), and his answer to what a second brain is clear as water:

It’s centralizing all information into a note-taking app.

So if you go with Tiago’s definition, your second brain is limited to your digital note-taking app.

Depending on how you see the second brain, your second brain could be a stack of different tools like cloud storage, your local drive, your note-taking app, etc.

So what a second brain means for you may differ from what others say.


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Zettelkasten vs. Second Brain

If you define your second brain as being your note-taking app, then comes the question of how are you going to organize it?

Tiago Forte has a classification methodology called PARA.

While PARA makes sense for some, I’m definitely more into the Zettelkasten approach when managing my notes. Especially for the notes that I use in my business. Why? Because my work is all about coming up with new ideas.

And as I mentioned previously, the best way to come up with ideas is to create links and connections.

So if you want to get started building your second brain using the Zettelkasten methodology, be sure to sign up for my free 7-day email course by entering your email below:

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