What is a Fleeting Note?
The term "fleeting note" comes from Sonke Ahrens' book, How to Take Smart Notes, and describes a note which is impermanent or, to use Ahrens' language, not permanently stored in your zettelkasten.
A fleeting note is a note that is typically taken when you think of or want to remember something. Contrary to a literature note, a fleeting note is usually comprised of your own thoughts, things you'd like to remember, a passing bead of "brilliance." While these jots may sometimes refer to media you've engaged with, because they are not taken in any formal or intentional setting, they are not considered literature notes. They are simply quick captures, some of which may become permanent zettels.
Fleeting Notes are Not Unique to the Zettelkasten Method
The term fleeting note is a slight overstep in the note-naming game, as it suggests that these everyday scribbles are somehow special and unique to the zettelkasten method. They are not. Fleeting notes are simply the notes you've been taking your entire life.
The reason we demarcate these notes at all, is to better distinguish them from the kinds of notes that are sometimes built off of fleeting notes, namely zettels, aka "permanent notes." In other words, we give them a name, not because they are special, but because the notes that follow them are.
How to Take a Fleeting Note
- Have a thought
- Write it down
- Don't consider this note to be the final note
That's it. You've just taken a fleeting note.
Fleeting notes are taken in any way that's available to you. A napkin, the back of your hand, a note-taking app, some text editing software, your lover's butt cheek, etc. All of these are perfectly legit capture mechanisms for fleeting notes. So long as you externalize your thought into a file or onto a surface, and know that this note will need to be transformed into something more resilient if it contains relevant information, then you have just taken a fleeting note.
What's to be Done with a Fleeting Note?
Not all of your fleeting notes will become permanent zettels. In fact, it's likely that most of these quickly captured scribbles will not. Zettels are specific notes imported into your zettelkasten, because they're relevant to writing projects and/or ideas you've been building. And, because fleeting notes can be any thought you have, and not all thoughts are relevant to your work, not all need be converted into permanent zettels.
In light of this, at some point you'll want to go through your captured fleeting notes and see which deserve to be made into permanent zettels. After you've done so—making them into something more usable (and reusable)—you can toss them in the trash or delete them from your capturing device.
For best results, practice non-attachment when it comes to fleeting notes.