How I create Atomic Notes

In my last post, I shared what I learned at Obsidian University. Learning about Atomic Notes changed my note-taking flow completely. This post is about what Atomic Notes are and how I use them.

What are Atomic Notes?

Atomic notes capture only one idea per note. That way, it is easier to understand an idea, and it is easy to combine it with other ideas freely. The term was coined by Christian Tietze in his 2013 post Create Zettel from Reading Notes According to the Principle of Atomicity. Atomic notes are also known as Smart Notes, Permanent Notes, or Evergreen Notes. But I like the term Atomic Notes best. It embodies the notion of breaking an idea down to its core and recombining it with other ideas to create something more powerful. It is quite similar to the concepts James Clear describes in Atomic Habits.

My Rules for Atomic Notes

While the idea of atomic notes is simple, there are a few rules I follow to use them effectively:

1. One atomic note describes one idea concisely

Try to describe the idea in a few short sentences. Niklas Luhmann, the German scientist who created the Zettelkasten method, used (physical) index cards to enforce concise descriptions of his ideas. In times of abundant space in our digital note-taking tools, we need to use discipline instead.

2. Choose descriptive titles for your atomic notes

Choose titles for your ideas deliberately. It makes it easier to link to them from other notes. It's also a great feedback mechanism: If you are having a hard time finding a good title, there could be an issue with the scope of the note. In that case, try to break the idea down further. Another reason might be that you haven't fully grasped the idea/concept yet and require some additional research.

3. Make atomic notes understandable without context

Make sure you don't require additional information other than the note itself and the other notes it links to. By describing your ideas context-free, your notes become timeless. You can come back to them in a year or even ten and still make sense of them. To me, this is the main benefit of using atomic notes.

Link to the most relevant, opposed, or otherwise relevant atomic notes. If you choose good titles (Rule 2), this step should be easy. Having well-linked notes also makes it easier to make your notes context-free (Rule 3). Modern note-taking apps like Obsidian, LogSeq, Roam Research & Notion make linking to other notes very convenient. They even generate backlinks so that you can always see which notes are linked to your current one. This basically turns your notes into a personal wiki.

How I create atomic notes

Atomic notes completely transformed how I consume content. As I read, watch, or listen, I now basically scan the content for new ideas, concepts, insights that resonate with me. It almost feels like gold panning. The only difference being that you look for nuggets of knowledge instead of nuggets of gold. And similarly to how finding a gold nugget would give you a rush of excitement, I get that feeling whenever I notice a new idea that I want to capture. I use the following steps to get them into my PKM system:

1. Capture

Jot the idea, concept, insight, or story somewhere down. I usually create a note on my phone or Mac. Others prefer paper notes, and some even use audio recordings.

2. Cluster

Once you have finished reading, watching, or listening, it's time to group your notes. While grouping, try to break free from the author's structure / outline and group your notes into Questions and Topics of your choosing instead. If you don't have one already, create an index-note (a note that simply references all related notes) for each question or topic. This will help you navigate your notes over time. Some people use Maps of Content instead of index notes, but I prefer to keep it simple for now.

3. Make them atomic

Finally, turn your captured notes into atomic ones by applying the rules for atomic notes. Make sure that each note is linked to an index-note as I described in step 2.


Atomic Notes are a great way to collect and grow your knowledge over time. I use Obsidian to implement Atomic Notes, but this system works in any note-taking app that supports internal linking. Compared to other PKM systems, mine is fairly basic and does not leverage any automations. I do this on purpose to keep myself from tweaking the system all the time instead of making use of it.

Do you use atomic notes? What note-taking rules do you follow? Let me know via I am here to learn.