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How a professor, writer, and academic built her personal knowledge management system with the Calmer Notes method

Introduction to the “Calmer Notes in Action” series

Hello friends! I’m running a new series on my blog, called Calmer Notes in Action. This blog series will help you to understand exactly how the Calmer Notes method works, and the many ways in which it can be implemented.

The Calmer Notes method offers a flexible, personalized approach to crafting a customized, tailored digital note taking system. By design, there is not one singular structure, note taking system, or app used in this method. Every student implementing the Calmer Notes method will end up with a different note taking structure setup.

Since Calmer Notes is designed to be a tailored, customized approach to personal knowledge management, it may be difficult to conceptualize the many different outcomes available after implementing this method– and to realize just how powerful and tailored the Calmer Notes method is.

In the series, I’ll share example setups from anonymized clients (with permission) who have benefited from the Calmer Notes approach to solve their own individual personal knowledge management challenges. Use the “Calmer Notes in Action” series as inspiration for your own system, and to get a deeper understanding of the many different ways that the Calmer Notes method helps people craft tailored, customized personal knowledge management systems to accomplish their goals.

About Melissa

  • Job title: university professor, teaching multiple classes
  • Hobby/side hustle/part-time work: working on turning her doctoral dissertation into a book
  • Family life: partnered, no kids

Personal knowledge management background and challenges

  • Experience level: medium/intermediate

When Melissa first started her academic career, she didn’t have a clear personal knowledge management system in place. Throughout her graduate school, she developed one haphazardly, on-the-fly, as she worked to complete her dissertation. She’s comfortable with different note taking apps, but doesn’t feel like she’s at an expert level in any of them.

Book writing and research

Now that she’s been working as a professor for a few years, she’s trying to sort through all her graduate-level research with the goal of writing a book. She realizes that her notes and academic citations are quite scattered. She’d saved them in a variety of software programs (including Mendeley, Zotero, and EndNote) over the years, and doesn’t have one central, trusted repository. She’s also realized that some of her citations are out of date. She’d like to start fresh, with a more streamlined, reliable system as she begins to work in earnest on her book.

Teaching and class organization

Melissa is also busy teaching three courses this semester. Two of them she has taught before, and has class materials prepared. One is in an entirely new area, and she feels behind: she’s only ever a week ahead of her class in terms of preparing her lecture materials and handouts. She wishes she had a better way to organize and search through her teaching material instead of her current method of storing it in multiple Word documents.

Current work environment

  • Home computer: PC (working exclusively from home)
  • Phone: Android

Melissa currently works exclusively from home, where she uses a Windows/PC laptop. She used to work in multiple settings, including her university office, the university library, and while traveling to present at academic conferences. Eventually, she would like to be able to access her personal knowledge management system from multiple computers, but this isn’t a concern at present.

She also has an Android phone, which she wants to use for her personal knowledge management system in a fairly limited capacity. She’d like to be able to quickly capture ideas from her phone, but doesn’t want to edit or do work on her phone. From the perspective of work-life balance, she prefers to do any in-depth writing or editing solely on her computer.

What information does Melissa want to organize?

Academic citations and manuscript revisions

Melissa’s primary project and main focus right now is trying to organize her academic citations so help her turn her dissertation into a book. She wants to make sure that her citations are better organized and up-to-date to ensure that her book is well-cited.

She is currently content to keep using Word as the writing tool for editing and revising her manuscript. She did explore other writing organizational tools, such as Scrivener. She ultimately decided to stay with Word because:

  • She was comfortable with the outlining and advanced features of Word
  • Her academic mentor preferred to send drafts back and forth in Word format, and liked to use the “track edits” function
  • She would ultimately be submitting her manuscript in Word format to her publisher, and didn’t wish to worry about switching between file formats

Research snippets and quotes

Melissa also recognized that, as she reviewed research sources for her current book manuscript, she often came across snippets and quotes she wanted to save for use in future projects or for teaching. She wanted to create a way to save and organize these quotes for future reference, without knowing specifically when or how she will use them.

She particularly likes the idea of storing these quotes in a table, so that she can easily sort and categorize them by topic, source, or theme. But she doesn’t feel that storing this information in a Word table or Excel spreadsheet would quite be the right fit.


After carefully working through the Calmer Notes method, Melissa was able to identify these goals for her personal knowledge management system:

  1. Have one single, organized repository for all of her academic citations, with a streamlined system for easily pulling in new citations
  2. Build a database of searchable, sortable quotations organized by theme, to use in future academic writing and teaching
  3. Have a methodical system for brainstorming, organizing, and storing teaching materials such as lecture notes and handouts


Melissa decided that she wanted to be sure that her tailored personal knowledge management system had the following features:

  • Simple, reliable, automated import of academic citations
  • Knowledge base of teaching material accessible from her home PC, work PC, and Android phone
  • Full-text search capacity of teaching prep material without having to open multiple individual Word files

Outcome: Melissa’s current personal knowledge management setup

Academic citation/reference management

After reviewing a number of options, including PaperPile, Mendeley, and ReadCube, Melissa opted to go with Zotero for her academic citation/reference manager. She added the Firefox Connector to seamlessly import academic citations from her browser into her one central academic citation database.

Zotero reference manager

Note taking apps + integrations

After reviewing the options in the Calmer Notes PKM database, Melissa decided to build her personal knowledge management system in Notion. She appreciated that it had a stand-alone Windows app, Android phone app, and was accessible via web app from other computers (such as a library computer or a hotel computer from a conference).

She used her Notion workspace in two main ways:

Organizing teaching materials

She used the document function to outline, brainstorm, and organize her teaching materials. She appreciated the full-text search so that she could easily find and pull in relevant material from other lectures and modules. She browed through the “education” templates section of Notion for ideas.

Database of quotations

She used the database function to build a sortable database of quotes, filterable by theme, author, and source. When she comes across a new quote, she will either add it directly to the database, or will capture it into her inbox to classify later on if she doesn’t have time. Her database of quotes in Notion was inspired by Red Gregory’s book notes template.

Red Gregory’s book notes/student library template

She is experimenting with the Notero (Notion + Zotero) plugin to see if she wants to try to integrate her citation management in Notion down the road, as well. For now, she prefers the idea of keeping her citations stored separately in Zotero.


Summary of Melissa’s personal knowledge management goals and solutions, as identified using the Calmer Notes method for personal knowledge management

Using the Calmer Notes method, Melissa was able to clearly identify her goals as:

  • Creating a single, trusted repository to organize her academic citations
  • Build an organized database of quotations for research and teaching
  • Build a repository of searchable teaching materials

Her current setup, customized to meet these goals, consists of:

  • Note taking app: Notion with mobile access
  • Academic reference manager: Zotero
  • Organizational structure: Folders within Notion and Zotero

Here’s how you can implement the Calmer Notes method for your own personal knowledge management system

If you’ve read through Melissa’s journey, perhaps you’re keen to craft your own tailored personal knowledge management system using the Calmer Notes method. When you buy the Calmer Notes course, you get instant access to all the course materials to go through at your own pace, on your own schedule.

Wishing you all the best on your personal knowledge management journey!

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