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I’ve had some kind comments from readers that my branding for Calmer Notes and my blog here at ElizabethButlerMD.com reminds them of a yoga studio. I was delighted to hear that, because I was definitely going for that yoga-studio-meets-personal-knowledge-management vibe. 🧘♀️
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, like me… 👇), 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 make you feel more calm and mindful
Why is yoga so popular? Sure, there are the physical benefits of strength and flexibility. But you can get those benefits with many other types of exercise. So what's the extra appeal of yoga, beyond just the physical?
For many people (myself included– and maybe you, too) yoga helps increase feelings of calm and relaxation, both on and off the mat.
Here's the secret about personal knowledge management... when we have a trusted, tailored, mindfully designed system to organize all our thoughts, ideas, and notes?
We also feel way more calm and relaxed.
When we know exactly where our information is? And feel absolutely certain that we can access any of our notes, ideas, files, or research down the road... without searching frantically through ten different apps.... and without worrying that we're a single computer crash away from losing years of files?
We feel way more calm. 🧘♀️🪴🧘
As soon as we know that we've securely captured an idea in our personal knowledge management system (and that it's a trusted, reliable space), we can feel way more mindful in the moment. We can stop feeling distracted by that constant, persistent worry that we might not find that idea (or note or file or bookmark or recipe) again. We can relax and enjoy the present, instead.
Every little bit helps, but the possibilities are infinite
Yoga is very beginner-friendly– but also has basically endless possibilities for lifelong improvement and skill building. And I love that PKM is the same– simple to get started with, with endless possibilities to expand and explore down the road.
When it comes to yoga, I really love Yoga with Adriene’s friendly, gentle, welcoming approach. (And clearly I'm not alone, given her 11.2M YouTube subscribers! 🎉 👏)
Adriene always offers options for the poses for different preferences and levels. She reminds us that on any given day, one variation might be right for you— and it can change the next day or week. She also reminds us even if we wish we had more time to devote, brief yoga practices still add up– and backs this up with her fantastic playlist of yoga practices under 10 minutes.
In the same way, personal knowledge management is beautifully flexible, fluid, and customisable. It’s easy to get started— just choose a note taking app that looks good to you, and start capturing notes. Boom, done– you officially have a personal knowledge management system. ☑️ And even in its most basic form, you're going to start seeing the benefits of personal knowledge management in your life.
If you decide you want to build a more complex system, there are essentially infinite paths and rabbit holes to explore (automations, zettelkasten, backlinks... the possibilities are endless). You can customize, refine, grow, and adapt your system over the years. And that doesn't mean your initial system was lacking– it simply means that during different seasons of life, as you work on different projects and have different life priorities, your PKM system understandably ebbs and changes. It's all part of the journey.
It’s about practice, not perfection
Yoga is meant to be about practice, not perfection. We're never meant to be "done" with our growth and practice. It's a process. As we practice, we improve, we iterate, we expand our abilities... but we're never "finished." There is no time when we're "done." And recognizing that yoga is about practice, not perfection, can be an incredibly freeing realization.
Personal knowledge management is the same way. It's a practice and routine we can improve and streamline– but we'll never be "done" and finally have one, static, "perfect" system that will last forever. We're never going to find the single perfect personal knowledge management system... and that's actually great news.
It means our life and our goals aren't static. It means we're all multi-dimensional, fluid, changing, growing people. And our personal knowledge management systems need to grow and adapt right along with us.
If you've noticed that you've outgrown your personal knowledge management system? That's a feature, not a bug. When you recognize the need to change and edit your personal knowledge management system, when you realize it's not the proper fit for your right-now life (even if it worked beautifully before)– that's a sign that you're beautifully attuned to your own needs and workflow. And that gives you space to build a system that's better for your current life.
Every day's journey is different
I love how Adriene Mischler always asks her students to "find what feels good". She reminds us that everyone’s yoga journey is different— and that even our own bodies change on a daily basis. The pose that feels good one day might feel like too much on another day. She gently calls attention to that broader context of life (our physical health, our mental health, what's been going on in our lives...) that we all bring along with us every time we come to the yoga mat.
In just the same way– personal knowledge management is a hugely individual journey, and it can change from day to day. (I mean, personal is right there in the name. 😉) It can help if we think of "personal knowledge management” as “personalized knowledge management” as well.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to personal knowledge management. There is no single app, no single folder structure, no single tagging setup, no single workflow that is right for everyone. Everyone can benefit from personal knowledge management... but everyone’s PKM setup is going to look a bit different. Or wildly 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.