Building in public: behind the scenes of Calmer Notes in October 2021

Inspiration for Building in Public

I know that I always like to know the behind-the-scenes story of how projects were developed, how they grew, and how they changed over time. I’m inspired by creators like Steph Smith, Marie Poulin, and Anne-Laure Le Cunff who are focused on building in public.

So here’s my October 2021 update of what’s going on behind the scenes as I work on Calmer Notes.

Pivoting from traditional course to text-based PDF course

Calmer Notes started out as a course idea. Online courses have been having a moment for quite a while. After enjoying Amy Porterfield’s podcast episodes and browsing cool course platforms like Noggin and Float, I felt like an online course was the best way to go. And I spent quite a while going down this path.

But at the end of the day? I realized that, at least for now, a traditional online course (with a web login, modules, etc) isn’t what I want to build right now. I’m open to this changing in the future! But for now, I feel like a traditional online course isn’t the best mode for sharing the Calmer Notes framework and method.

Reflecting on my own experience as an online learner, I always appreciated when I get access to a PDF (or even just a high-quality Google Doc). I don’t necessarily appreciate video, or quizzes, or interactivity– honestly, that sometimes felt like a burden. As a learner, I don’t want to have to keep track of a zillion different logins for different course platforms, then navigate through a maze of pages and documents to find the resource I was looking for.

The importance of structured information and scannable headings

I want structured information that I can easily process, take notes on, and integrate seamlessly into my own personal knowledge management system. I appreciate having resources I can download to my own computer, read on my laptop, browse on my phone, find in Dropbox, etc. As a learner and consumer, I appreciate makers who share their knowledge in a way that lets me interact with it and reference it on my own terms.

Ebook as flexible learning framework (aka textbooks are cool)

I realized that my favourite online product course I’d purchased in quite some time was Steph Smith’s Doing Content Right. I bought it fairly early one (excited to see the well-deserved interest and success she’s getting!) and I was so impressed with the structured, textbook-like, thorough information. Sometimes I feel like the sales pages of online products are more thorough than the products themselves– that they oversell and underdeliver. With Doing Content Right, I felt completely the reverse– I was utterly impressed with the level of detail, clear writing, and sheer usability of the resource. I got so much more out of a single, excellent PDF ebook-based course than I have in many others with more traditional online course setups.

I decided that I would take my inspiration from Doing Content Right and aim to create a user-friendly, content-rich PDF text-based, self-paced course that could serve as a reference as well as an action-oriented guide.

As soon as I made this switch, the content came far more easily. I think that I’d been trying to make the content fit the structure of a traditional online course– whereas it really just wanted to be a text-based course all along.

Focusing on text-first learning instead of video

As a creator, I feel like there is a huge amount of pressure to prioritize video learning. And there are some creators doing amazing work in this space. I love the explosion of helpful content that’s on YouTube right now.

Yet– for me, it’s never my first go-to platform if I’m trying to figure something out. I like written text or tutorials, maybe with screenshots if I’m feeling fancy, so I can scan the headings, make notes in the margin, summarize in my own words, and easily search and come back to the material later.

The importance of the written word in note-taking and personal knowledge management circles (aka it’s okay to like ebooks better than video)

Some people learn best by spoken word or video– and they’re in luck with the amazing video resources available right now. But I have a sneaking suspicion that things may be different for people like you, people who are interested in personal knowledge management.

You’re deep thinkers. You’re readers. You’re note-takers. You process fastest with the written word. You like to scan headings and images. Even if video is the mainstay of online learning right now– it doesn’t mean it’s the right primary platform for people like us. And that’s okay.

Rebranding: from Curated PKM to Calmer Notes

Any readers who have been following me from the start (thank you for your kind support!) will notice that this project started out life as Curated PKM, and is now rebranded as Calmer Notes.

I liked the Curated PKM name to start– curation is a huge part of the framework. But PKM isn’t (yet) a very common abbreviation. Only a handful of early adopters and insiders recognize PKM– whereas plenty of people recognize GTD for example. Maybe PKM will enter our common lexicon before too long! But for now, the name required a lot of explanation. Which isn’t a great place to start from a marketing perspective.

I wanted my product title to reflect how I wanted people to feel, as well as the outcome I wanted them to achieve. I brainstormed a few different rebrands- and Calmer Notes seemed like the right balance. I kept personal knowledge management in the subtitle (Calmer Notes: Personal knowledge management (PKM) for busy people), which seemed a better place for it.

And happily, the domain name was available! So Calmer Notes it is. :)

Progress Report

What’s done

✅ Calmer Notes text-based course manuscript outline
✅ Calmer Notes text-based course content first draft
✅ Companion workbook draft outline
✅ Cover designs for text-based course and workbook
✅ Beta version of the PKM apps database (built in Notion)

What I’m working on

✍️ Improving and adding to my first draft of the text-based course manuscript
✍️ Building the companion workbook based on my outline
✍️ Adding to the PKM apps database to keep it current

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