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6 ways that personal knowledge management is like yoga for your mind

Wondering what yoga shares with establishing a mindful personal knowledge management (PKM) system? Here are some insights to reflect upon as you build or refine your own intentional, tailored personal knowledge management system.

Elizabeth Butler
Elizabeth Butler
6 min read
6 ways that personal knowledge management is like yoga for your mind
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I’ve had some kind comments from readers that my branding for Calmer Notes and ElizabethButlerMD.com reminds them of a yoga studio. I was delighted to hear that, because I was going for that yoga-studio-meets-personal-knowledge-management vibe. 🧘‍♀️ My goal in creating the Calmer Notes method was to bring some clarity, calm, and a bit of relaxation to digital note-taking and personal knowledge management.

The other night when I was doing some Yoga with Adriene videos (highly recommend this yoga for text-neck video for my fellow readers who spend way too much time typing on a computer…), I was struck with the similarities between establishing a mindful personal knowledge management system and practicing yoga. Here are some reflections you might find useful as you begin to build or refine your own personal knowledge management system.

Yoga and personal knowledge management both bring calm and greater margin

Many people practice yoga because it helps them to feel more calm, both on and off the mat. Likewise, having a reliable, organised personal knowledge management system tailored for your goals and preferences helps you to feel much more calm.

When you know exactly where your information is, and that you can access any note, idea, file, or research down the road? Quickly? Without going through ten different apps? Without worrying that one computer crash will lose all your files forever?

You’re going to feel way more calm.

As soon as you know you’ve captured an idea in your PKM, and that it’s a reliable space, you’ll feel more mindful in the moment . You won’t feel distracted by that constant worry in the back of your head that you’re not going to find that idea or note or information again.

Every little bit helps, but the possibilities are infinite

Yoga is very beginner-friendly. I particularly appreciate Yoga with Adrienne’s friendly, approachable, beginner-friendly attitude. She’s always giving options for the poses for different preferences and levels. She notes that on any given day, one variation might be right for you— and it can change the next day or week. With yoga, I might wish I had time for an hourly daily practice. And that would be lovely. But I know that even a 15 minute practice a few times a week is far better than nothing. I might wish for more, but I still benefit from those small amounts.

Personal knowledge management is beautifully flexible, fluid, and customisable. It’s easy to get started— at baseline, you can choose one notes app that works for you, and just get started capturing notes. Done. You officially have a personal knowledge management system. And even in its small, minimal form, you’re going to see the benefits in your life.

There is also so much space to customise, and refine, and grow, and adapt. Over the course of your life, during different seasons of life, you’ll find your PKM ebbs and flows. And that’s all part of the journey.

It’s about practice, not perfection

One major learning when you do yoga is recognising it as a practice. You’re never meant to be “done.” It’s a process. You can improve, and iterate, and expand your skill set, but you’re never finished. And recognising that is a freeing realisation.

I believe that personal knowledge management is the same as yoga— it’s a practice you develop, but you’re never “done.” You’ll never find the one perfect personal knowledge management system. And that’s a good thing. That’s because your life and goals are never static. You’re a multi-dimensional, fluid, growing person. Your personal knowledge management needs to grow and adapt and iterate right along with you.

Growth and change and adaptation is you personal knowledge management is a feature, not a bug. Changing your note-taking system is a sign of being attuned to your own needs and workflow, then adapting appropriately.

Everyone's journey is different

I love how Yoga with Adrienne always reminds us to find what feels good— for us.  She reminds us that everyone’s yoga journey is different— and that our own bodies change on a daily basis. The pose that feels good one day might feel like too much on another day. There is always the broader context of life (including both physical and mental health) that we’re bringing with us every time we come to the yoga mat.

Similarly, personal knowledge management is a hugely individual matter. Personal is right in the name. Sometimes people might assume this just means personal in contrast to shared knowledge management. And that can be part of it, for sure. But I think it’s worth conceiving of “personal knowledge management” as “personalized knowledge management” as well.

I feel strongly that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to PKM. There is no single app, no single folder structure, no single tagging setup, no single workflow that will solve everyone’s knowledge management challenges. I designed the Calmer Notes method to be inclusive, fluid, accepting, and broad.

I worry that some readers may dip their toes into PKM discussions online and feel that they don’t fit. Some people may be strongly espousing one particular approach that doesn’t resonate with their life, their goals, or their aesthetic preferences. Then that reader may come away feeling like they don’t fit into the PKM world, or it’s not meant for people in their particular circumstances.

I believe that everyone can benefit from PKM. But everyone’s PKM setup is going to look different. And that is more than all right— that’s just how it should be.

Without mindful intervention, entropy and chaos takes over

In the modern physical world, it seems that stress and tension are the default. We spend our days hunched over computers in non-ergonomic positions. We attend stressful meetings that leave our shoulders tensed up around our ears. We get Zoom migraines. Our lower backs get angry at us for sitting all day.

Taking the time to do yoga help our muscles get stronger, to move more easily— and ultimately to work better together.

Building a mindful personal knowledge management system helps our notes and ideas and flow, intermingle, combine— and ultimately to work better together.

In our modern information flow, the default state is overwhelm and disorder unless we have a system and a clear intention to create intentionality and organisation in our notes and files. Entropy and chaos is the default state unless we make time and space to commit to organising our ideas with a PKM.

Every season is different

When you’re a yoga beginner, every new pose is challenging. You start off losing your balance regularly, falling out of poses, looking forward the next child’s pose in the routine so you can take a break and get your bearings.

As you practice regularly, you slowly build up your strength and balance. But it’s not always a linear progression. Even experts fall and wobble some days. On days where you’re feeling tired, getting over being sick, feeling more emotional or distracted? The poses that were simple earlier in the week or month are now more challenging.

In the same way, your relationship with personal knowledge management is meant to be fluid. The longer you do it, the more comfortable you may feel establishing more complex workflows or advanced techniques. But at the same time, during busy seasons of life, you may have less time, attention, and energy to devote to maintaining your PKM system. Just because you have the technical know-how to create an elaborate PKM setup doesn’t mean that’s the right fit for you, at this time, in this season of life.

A mindful PKM setup is, quite appropriately, going to change and flow over the years. What worked for you as a grad student in your 20s isn’t going to meet your needs as a working parent in your 30s or a high-powered executive in your 40s. And that’s perfectly to be expected. Make sure that you’re not feeling badly that your personal knowledge management system has changed— it should grow, change, and adapt to fit your ever-changing seasons of life.

Ready to create a mindful personal knowledge management system? The Calmer Notes method might be what you're looking for.

If you're a busy person who would like to create an intentional, mindful, flexible personal knowledge management system that fits your busy life, the Calmer Notes method may be the right fit for you.

My Calmer Notes learning bundle (book + workbook + PKM app database) is launching in December 2021. Head over to the Calmer Notes website to learn more. Or join the list below to get updates on the project.

Psst... If you want to join my inner circle of early adopters (thank you to those of you who've already pre-ordered - I appreciate your support! ❤️), you can preorder on Gumroad to lock in the lowest early-adopter pricing.

Personal Knowledge ManagementCalmer NotesDigital NotesNote TakingWork-Life BalanceYoga

Elizabeth Butler

Your guide to the world of personal knowledge management. Creator of the Calmer Notes method (calmernotes.com). Physician, PhD, parent, tea drinker.


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