You're a busy person. You have lots of balls in the air. People are counting on you and you don't want to let them down. But the problem is that you have more tasks and projects than you know what to do with. Your email inbox is overflowing. You have sticky notes all over your desk. You have files labelled "Draft 4b final version v5 Thursday last one" littering your computer desktop.

You've looked into software like Evernote or Roam or Notion or Bear. You probably have at least one of the above installed on your computer right now. But while you'd hoped that finding the "perfect software" would solve your feelings of overwhelm, it wasn't the magic bullet you were hoping for.

So– what is PKM and how can it help get you more organized?

PKM stands for Personal Knowledge Management. Long story short, it's a mashup of a concept from the corporate world called Knowledge Management (KM) and an expansion of the older idea of Personal Information Management (PIM)– aka the web 1.0 idea of keeping notes organized on your Palm Pilot in Lotus Notes.

But the concept itself is much older. The idea of an analog index card system, or Zettelkasten, for note taking has been around since at least the sixteenth-century. Archivists and librarians have long been figuring out how to organize information and knowledge in a way that makes sense for retrieval by someone else years down the road.

The challenge today is that it's not just encyclopedia authors or librarians trying to organize reams of information. You and I are overwhelmed on a daily basis by information from email, the internet, books, videos– and great ideas from our own minds.

Personal Knowledge Management takes a methodical approach to acknowledge those inputs and transforms simple information and data into the next level– into true knowledge that you can build upon, access and retrieve effortlessly, and link to other pieces of information to generate new ideas and projects.

What is the benefit of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM)?

Simply put? It stops the overwhlem and gives you back control of your mind. You won't use up mental space and energy wondering where you saved that great idea, or what that speaker said at the conference last year, or the name of that interesting app you came across last week. You'll be calm, knowing that you can reliably and swiftly call up any of this information with a few clicks, anywhere you are.

But the benefits go beyond simple retrieval. With the rise of networked thought apps for PKM, you can find new connections and generate fresh ideas. You'll start to notice that those speaker notes from last year's conference suddenly and serendipitously converge with the project you're working on now, as well as that article you saved six weeks ago. Even if you don't use a networked thought app, a simple keyword search across your chosen PKM apps will give you access to organized, curated ideas and information personalized to your interests, projects, and professional goals within seconds.

Who should use PKM?

Anyone who has to manage more information than they can easily hold in their head at one time. Anyone who has a scattered computer desktop and too many post-it notes to count. Anyone who is tired of losing great ideas.

  • Students
  • Teachers
  • Professors
  • Researchers
  • Knowledge workers
  • Lawyers
  • Engineers
  • Doctors
  • Writers
  • Marketers
  • Communications professionals
  • Creatives

How do you set up a personal knowledge management (PKM) system?

The short answer - the three key questions

If you want to dive into PKM, and you haven't done it before, the best way is to start simple and build from there. There are three key questions to ask before setting up a personal knowledge management system:

1. What are you trying to organize?

  • What types of files are you trying to organize?
  • What format does this information arrive in?
  • What are the input sources (email, meetings, lectures, internet)?

2. What are you trying to create? What is your ultimate output?

  • Are you trying to write a book, thesis, article, or dissertation?
  • Are you preparing for an exam?
  • Are you creating a report?
  • Are you learning a new body of knowledge?
  • If you had all the knowledge you've ever read at your finger tips, how would it make this task easier?

3. What are your organizational roadblocks?

  • What types of things do you tend to lose?
  • What are you searching for over and over?
  • Where are you storing things now? Why is that a source of frustration for you?
  • What parts of that solution are in fact working right now?

The long answer - check out the course

A high-functioning PKM system takes strategy, planning, and deep clarity on your goals and what you're hoping to achieve.

If you're a creative person who would like to create an intentional, mindful, flexible personal knowledge management system that fits your busy life, the Calmer Notes method might be just what you've been searching for.

I've built Calmer Notes: Personal Knowledge Management for Busy People, a personal knowledge management course based on my own two-decades of experience. The Calmer Notes method will take you through the process of creating and maintaining a tailored, mindfully-designed personal knowledge management system to organize your digital notes and files.

This self-paced course (which includes digital book + workbook + PKM app database) is now available for purchase at Gumroad.

What kind of software should I use for personal knowledge management (PKM)?

It's an exciting time for digital note-taking apps. There are endless apps out there, and new ones getting launched every day. However, this can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming, too.

If you'd like to explore more apps, browse through my blog post archives on digital note-taking and personal knowledge management apps. And when you buy the Calmer Notes course, you get an exclusive database of curated PKM apps.

At the same time, you don't want to go down the rabbit hole and let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Here are a few solid personal knowledge management apps to get you started:

Notion

Evernote

Obsidian

Bear Notes

Roam Research

Want to learn more about how personal knowledge management (PKM) can help you get organized, feel less scattered, and get more done?

How can I get started with the Calmer Notes method for personal knowledge management?

If you're a creative person who would like to create an intentional, mindful, flexible personal knowledge management system that fits your busy life, the Calmer Notes method might be just what you've been searching for.

I've created Calmer Notes: Personal Knowledge Management for Busy People based on my own two-decades of experience in personal knowledge management. The Calmer Notes method will take you through the process of creating and maintaining a tailored, mindfully-designed personal knowledge management system to organize your digital notes and files.

This self-paced course (which includes digital book + workbook + PKM app database) is now available for purchase at Gumroad.

You'll learn:

  • What personal knowledge management (PKM) means -- and why busy people need a PKM system to stop feeling overwhelmed 📚
  • How to identify the existing pieces of your PKM system 🔍
  • How to choose the right note-taking app that actually works for you (instead of switching apps every few months) 📝
  • How to design and create a personal knowledge management system that works for the reality of your right-now life 🕰️
  • Years of hard-won, first-hand knowledge about personal knowledge management I've accumulated after years of completing a PhD, an MD, and working as a physician while parenting 👩⚕️

If you'd like to learn more, check out an overview of the Calmer Notes approach or visit Calmer Notes. You can also download your free seven-day plan to craft your personal knowledge system when you sign up for my newsletter.

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

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