If you're not already familiar (I wasn't a few weeks ago), a PKM system is a powerful way for knowledge workers, like most of us nowadays, to capture, organize, and access information. It allows for more efficient use of time and resources, eliminating the need to search countless documents to find the right information. If you're like me, there's a lot of time wasted looking for stuff. PKM systems aren’t linear; they can be analog or digital, and they should be used deliberately and systematically.
A personal knowledge management system is a tool that helps you collect, organize, and access your personal knowledge. This can be anything from articles, websites, or ideas you want to revisit.
Using a PKM system frees time so that you can spend more time on critical tasks. These systems also foster creativity as they allow users to quickly access things they've read or saved for future use. David always tells me that I have a good memory. It's true. I'm pretty good at remembering stuff, but having a system that gets the minutia out of my head and into to an easily accessible place is amazing!
In his book, Tiago Forte uses acronyms to make his approach memorable and practical. For example, he uses the term CODE to illustrate his method for collecting and organizing information. CODE stands for Capture, Organize, Distill, and Express. In other words, it describes the functionality of an effective PKM system.
The acronym PARA stands for Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archive. This is how Tiago Forte organizes folders. Projects have a start and end dates whereas Areas don't have end dates. They are maintained over time. Resources are topics or things that interest you. Finally, Archive is the place to put things that are no longer relevant. This could be a project that's been completed or a topic that no longer interests you. PARA is a unique way of organizing things!
Trust me, no matter what type of personal knowledge system you choose, you'll see benefits.
This post covers the basics of PKM systems, why they're helpful, how to evaluate them, and our top picks.
To gain a little more history about PKM systems, we should look at its precursor, the commonplace book.
A commonplace book is a journal or notebook used to collect ideas, quotes, and observations. The term comes from the ancient Greeks and Romans, who would keep a book of important ideas to aid their studies.
Today, this can include notes from books, articles, or lectures, as well as personal observations and ideas.Some people use commonplace books to track their learning, while others use them as a brainstorming tool. It turns out I’ve been keeping a commonplace book all this time! How funny!
In short, a commonplace book is an analog version of a PKM system. If you're like me, you've probably had a commonplace book without knowing it!
So, now that we've covered what a PKM is and its benefits, let’s look at how to choose one that fits your needs.
How to Choose a Personal Knowledge System
Consider Your Situation
When considering PKM systems, consider your personal needs. What do you want to achieve? Do you have existing tools that are not working well for you? Is there an area where a PKM system can help?
The PKM system you choose should support your pattern of personal management. It should also accommodate any changes that may arise in the future. Ultimately, choosing a PKM system is a personal decision; make sure it works for you.
One important consideration has to do with how the PKM system handles your data. How difficult is exporting your data if you decide to switch to a new system?
With the right PKM system, you can enjoy increased efficiency, effectiveness, and creativity.
The OG of PKM systems, Evernote integrates with email and advanced search functionality. One reported con is the difficulty exporting notes out of Evernote. I'm still a little salty about losing my data several years ago. :(
Touting itself as "more than just a notetaker," Notion is a great option if you collaborate. Notion allows users to share their work with others in real-time (most systems on this list allow you to collaborate in real-time). This can be particularly useful for teams working on projects together.
Notion pricing: Free for personal users; free trial for team users with a 1,000 block limit; from $10/month/user for teams with unlimited blocks.
Joplin is an open-source app, meaning the source code is freely available for anyone to use, modify, and distribute. This can attract users who value transparency and want to support open-source projects.
Obsidian features markdown-based plain text notes. It has a steep learning curve, so it's only best for certain users.
Obsidian pricing: Free for most features; optionally, from $25 for exclusive features. Premium add-ons offer services like Sync for $8/month.
If you're considering leveraging a second brain in 2023, let me know what you think of these options. Since I'm a Google user, I'm going with Roam. What about you? What will help you build a second brain?