From Chaos to Clarity: The Essential Guide to Personal Knowledge Management03 Jan 2023
Are you tired of constantly struggling to remember important information? Do you feel overwhelmed by the endless stream of inputs coming at you every day? You’re not alone. In today’s digital world, we’re bombarded with an average of 74 GB of data per day - that’s the equivalent of watching 16 movies! (source)
But what if there was a way to take control of all this information and use it to your advantage? Enter Personal Knowledge Management (PKM).
📔 What is Personal Knowledge Management?
PKM is the active and intentional process of managing the information that comes your way on a daily basis. It involves finding, organizing, and storing information in a way that makes it easy for you to access and use when you need it. It also involves using various tools and techniques to help you understand, analyze, and apply the information you’ve collected.
🤔 Why should you care about PKM?
In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits of PKM and how it can help you create clarity, build a “second brain,” and improve your efficiency and effectiveness. PKM is an ongoing process that requires discipline and effort to maintain, but it can provide significant benefits, including:
Connecting ideas for new insights. Atomic bi-directional notes allow you to connect ideas and make new insights possible. Insights don’t happen in a vacuum - they’re the result of making new connections.
Creating future value. Even if you don’t use your notes for a current project, you’re preparing knowledge for future projects. Just as data gives organizations an advantage, your personal repository of knowledge will give you a leg up over time.
Tackling complex problems. It can be tough to keep all the balls in the air when you’re tackling complex problems. Implementing a PKM system allows you to focus on a small part of the problem and then step back and look at it with a bird’s eye view.
🔢 “Levels” of P.K.M
Are you already a pro at taking notes? That’s great, but there are different levels to this practice. You can evaluate where you are in your PKM journey using this guide from Tiago Forte’s The 4 Levels of Personal Knowledge Management:
Level 1: Storing Information
- You use apps to receive, edit, and send information.
- You organize your files using default folders and subfolders.
- You take notes on your smartphone or mobile device for practical tasks or occasionally from sources such as books or podcasts, but don’t do much with them.
Level 2: Managing Knowledge
- You capture ideas and creative inspiration from both your own thoughts and external sources.
- You use digital note-taking as a significant part of your daily life, capturing information from a wide variety of sources.
- Your notes begin to work as a thought partner, reminding you of things you’ve forgotten and surfacing connections between ideas.
- You refine your knowledge management tools and perform small experiments to discover better ways of doing things.
Level 3: Enabling Action
- You shift your focus from ideas to action, using your insights to tangibly improve your learning, health, career, business, and society.
- You become more selective about the information you consume, preferring only high-quality, substantive sources that relate to your goals.
- You use your notes to take on more complex projects and become more productive, creative, and relaxed.
- You apply creativity to the workings of your system and integrate it deeply into your thinking for leverage.
- The benefits of your system extend to others, such as through a website, blog, social media feed, podcast, or product.
Level 4: Personal Knowledge Mastery
- You have achieved a high level of proficiency in managing your personal knowledge.
- You are able to use your knowledge effectively to achieve your goals and are constantly learning and adapting to new information and situations.
- You regularly review and revise your system to ensure it is still effective and efficient.
- Your system becomes a part of your identity and personal brand, and you are able to share your knowledge and insights with others in a way that is meaningful and impactful.
🤓 Building Your PKM System
Now you may be thinking, alright, how do I level up my game? What do I need to do? First things first, you need the right tool for the job.
As you probably know, there are tons of apps in the market. Which one do you choose? Is there even a difference?
The app you choose is going to determine how successful you are going to be in organizing your knowledge. You don’t want something super complex where all you think about the tool and not why you are using it and on the other hand you don’t want something so simple that it lacks the essentials.
🧐 Understand Your Needs
In order to narrow down the search out of the sea of apps, I recommend thinking about a set of requirements that are important to you based on your usage and thinking patterns. For example, consider the following questions:
- How do you prefer to take notes? Do you write in bullet points or prose?
- Do you care about referencing other notes and seeing backlinks?
- Do like the concept of a daily planner?
- Do you care about consolidated notes, calendar, and task management?
- Will you use it on the go and on multiple devices?
For me, thinking through some of those questions yielded the following list of requirements:
🔗 Requirement #1: Bi-directional - The ability to create connections between different blocks of knowledge and easily reference and backlink them.
📋 Requirement #2: Outline-based - The ability to organize thoughts and ideas in a hierarchical, bullet point format.
📅 Requirement #3: Temporal - The ability to take daily notes and keep a journal of events and activities.
✅ Requirement #4: Action Oriented - The ability to create and track tasks, ensuring that important actions don’t fall through the cracks.
📲 Requirement #5: Multi-device syncing - Mobile support for on-the-go note taking as well as multi-device syncing.
A good way to narrow down your options is to use a review site like NoteApps.Info to compare different tools and see which ones seem most promising.
Once you’ve identified a few tools that you’d like to try, it’s a good idea to give each one a test run for a few days to see how it fits into your daily routine. Keep in mind that it may take some trial and error before you find a tool that feels productive and comfortable to use.
For example, I tried all of the following tools for a few days before finding one that worked for me:
- Roam Research: This is the leader in the space with a cult following. It offers powerful bi-directional linking and hierarchical outlining capabilities. No free version.
- Obsidian: Similar to Roam but with a ton of extensibility and plugin ecosystem. Multi-device syncing is a paid add-on.
- RemNote: Similar to Roam but slightly bent towards students and educational use-cases.
- logseq: Essentially an open-source version of Roam focused on privacy and data portability. Lacking robust multi-device syncing.
- Amplenote: Most low-key out of the ones. Has the most essential features with robust multi-device syncing and mobile support. No plugins or ability to customize the UX. Generous free tier.
I ultimately decided to stick with Amplenote given it checked all my requirements and has proven to be super reliable for me.
💡 Strategies for Success
So now that you know the benefits of PKM, how do you get started and make it stick? Here are some strategies that can help you achieve success:
- Start small and focus on one area at a time. It can be overwhelming to try to tackle everything at once. Start with one area of your life, such as taking meeting notes, remembering ideas, writing blog posts, planning a vacation, etc and build from there.
- Find a tool that works for you. There are many different tools available for PKM, from simple note taking apps to more advanced knowledge graph apps. Take the time to experiment with different options and see what sticks.
- Use your notes to reflect on your learning and progress. PKM isn’t just about capturing and organizing information - it’s also about making use of it to improve your learning and development. Take time to review and reflect on your notes regularly, and use them to identify patterns, make connections, and track your progress over time.
- Be consistent and make PKM a habit. It takes time to build a strong PKM system, so be patient and consistent in your efforts. Make it a habit to capture and organize information on a regular basis.
📑 Additional Resources & Examples
- How to Build a System for Lifelong Learning - I highly recommend this post by Jason Gilbertson where he takes you through his knowledge management system to serve as an inspiration.
- Building a Second Brain - If you prefer something more guided and structured look no further than Tiago Forte’s BASB course.
- Andy’s Notes - One of the most remarkable examples out there. Andy uses the concept of atomic, evergreen notes, and combines it with a fun way to navigate the content as you open up each note like a book. Each note title = hyperlink.
- KasperZutterman/Second-Brain - A curated list of awesome Public Zettelkastens 🗄️ / Second Brains 🧠 / Digital Gardens 🌱
📣 Share The Knowledge
I hope you found this post helpful and thought-provoking. If you have any additional tips or strategies for effective Personal Knowledge Management, please share them in the comments below. And if you found this post valuable, please consider sharing it on social media or tagging a friend or colleague who might benefit from reading it.