I’ve finally straightened out through weeks of writing and clarification the types of notes that I have in my personal knowledge management (PKM) system. I feel a load off my chest!
The thing is, this PKM thing can easily spin out of control. I know because I’ve been spun around before (more than once) when trying to set up my PKM. Structuring information is hard. Structuring information in a way that creates a holistic web of knowledge that doesn’t collapse under its own weight? That’s almost impossible. Without some ideas, that is. Complexity tends to build up on the structure level over time instead of the content and knowledge.
This second part (there are only two parts) can help.
Enjoy, and have a nice week! 👋
In part I, we talked about how everything in a personal knowledge management (PKM) system is focused on building atomic notes through various stages of maturity. We also talked about how other types of notes can help us in that life-long endeavour, discussing in detail the Top of Mind note – the first type of “other” notes.
In this second part, we will talk about the remaining types of notes that could be useful as tools in your PKM garden, including:
Seasons change, weeks are completely human-made, but the day has a rhythm. The sun goes up; the sun goes down. I can handle that. Austin Kleon
i. Tracing the origin of ideas
I have written in detail about the purpose and function of a daily note in my PKM before. Here is the one-sentence summary: daily notes let me navigate back in time and regain context of the origin of ideas.
You might perhaps be a little puzzled: didn’t you say earlier that you put your ideas in the top of mind note? Why would ideas appear in your daily note? Yes, I said that but as it turns out, ideas are not equal, and I needed a way of dealing with the less interesting ones.
Also, it’s important to me to not only have a process for capturing important or urgent things but also the purportedly “unimportant” and not urgent things, because those things often end up being interesting:
Everything interesting begins in the “unimportant and not urgent” quadrant. Eliminating it is the dumbest thing you can do and the worst advice Covey gave.
— Venkatesh Rao (@vgr) August 10, 2021
To illustrate the range of ideas that can come up in a normal day for me, here are a few scenarios:
In some of the scenarios above, I can sense that there is a kernel of an idea that I can’t wait to crack open. In other scenarios, the idea feels only mildly appealing, although still worth capturing. Future me might love it.
So, what do I do with these in my PKM? I know I’d like to capture them somehow for rediscovery. But how?
Here’s what I would do:
[[b-7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey]]and that it helped him with leadership. Maybe worth reading.” in my Daily Note, and potentially follow-up the next time I’m looking for a book to read.
#🌐in the same sentence, and potentially follow-up the next time I’m looking for blog article ideas.
(Primer on linking to yet-to-exist notes: In point 2, I created a link to the yet-to-exist note entitled 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Most PKM software will soft-create a note for you in the background when you try to link to a note that does not exist in your PKM yet. In Obsidian, you can toggle off a setting under the Quick switcher > Show existing only. In the future, when you type double brackets or search for a file, Obsidian will then search among soft-created notes as well.)
Okay, so imagine that you’ve done exactly what I said above in your PKM. Let’s focus on points 2 & 3 as they involve the daily note. How can you trace the origin of ideas? Why is that useful in the first place?
Say, 3 months later, someone else mentions the 7 Habits book to you. This time, you follow the same process and as you type two square brackets in that day’s daily note, to your surprise, you notice the full name of the book showing up in auto-complete.
Huh, I’ve jotted down this book once!, you think to yourself. This piqued your curiosity and so you link to that still-yet-to-exist note and finally create an empty note with that title (a simple Cmd + Click in Obsidian) since you have a feeling you’ll want to read it soon now that two people you know have talked about the book.
Now, because of your PKM software, you have in your hands an empty note that has two incoming links. In Obsidian, one way to view incoming links is using the Graph View, and it would look like this when viewing the newly created book note:
Being able to look at the note from the specific day you first thought about a book allows you to almost travel back in time to see who recommended it, why, and what you thought when you wrote it in that day’s daily note in the first place.
You can then compare your past self to your present self and make a judgement about what to do next. Perhaps, you think, you should add “read this book” to your top of mind inbox!
For this time-walk to work, we need the daily note to be as vivid and context-rich as possible. The more details from that day, the more context to come back to. Thankfully, this can come quite naturally by thinking of your daily note as a scratchpad.