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How a personal knowledge management system will help you get things done when you’re exhausted and tired

Feeling out of energy? Building a personal knowledge management habit can help

We all have times where we’re feeling exhausted and struggling to stay motivated when we have no energy. Maybe it’s a particularly busy season at work. Maybe you’re preparing for final exams, or in the midst of a challenging training program in graduate school, law school, or medical school. Maybe you’re struggling with fluctuating energy levels due to symptoms of long COVID or another chronic illness like migraines or multiple sclerosis. Maybe you’re raising young kids or looking after aging parents. (A note: if you’re struggling with fatigue, please make sure to see your physician to rule out medical causes.)

Whatever the reason, your energy levels have crashed. You constantly feel overworked, overwhelmed, and in perpetual need of a nap (that you never get a chance to have). But your to do list doesn’t get any shorter. You’re trying to figure out how to stay productive while exhausted. You know you need to be strategic, and maximize your time when you do have a bit of energy, but you’re not sure how to do that.

Here are five ways that building a personal knowledge management habit can help you stay productive when you’re in a season of low energy:

Manage varying energy levels.

When you build a personal knowledge management system, you can take advantage of waxing and waning energy levels.

Even when it may feel like you’re constantly exhausted, you probably have some fluctuating energy levels. You might have a few pretty good days, followed by a stretch of lower energy. If you’re managing a chronic illness, you might have days when you’re much improved, or even symptom-free for a while. But the frustrating thing is that these patterns aren’t always predictable. You can’t always know in advance when you’re going to be feeling motivated and energetic— and when you’ll be beyond tired.

When you build a personal knowledge management system to organize your digital notes and files, you carve out a dedicated space to store ideas and creative plans you’re able to generate during your high energy periods. When you build a personal knowledge management system, you create a trusted, central, reliable place to hold outlines, ideas, and drafts. You can take comfort knowing your ideas-in-progress are waiting for you to take action on during your next period of higher energy and focus.

Even on low energy or low capacity days, you might feel up to some simpler, lower-focus tasks like copy editing or rearranging your notes within your system. You can stay engaged with your work, and reflect more passively on ideas and plans, even on days that you’re not up to more.

Take the pressure off your memory.

Building an external database of knowledge helps take the pressure off your own memory.

When we’re tired, it can be difficult to concentrate. Remembering small details can feel like it uses up too much energy when we’re already depleted. It can be incredibly frustrating to have an idea or a reference on the tip of your tongue, knowing that you came across it earlier, but having no idea where to find it.

Building a reliable personal knowledge management system to help organize your notes (as well as articles, links, or other pieces of useful information), takes the pressure off of your memory. You no longer have to keep track of all of those details. You can relax, knowing they’re safely stored in one central, easy-to-find spot. You can add all those annoying details (like insurance information, PDF newsletters from your kid’s school, contact information for the long-term care homes you’re researching for your parents, etc) in one central, searchable place.

When you build a centralized, mindfully designed personal knowledge management system, you can have confidence that you’ll be able to find those ideas again.

Want to learn more about what it means to build a personal knowledge management system? Wondering what kind of things you could store in your personal knowledge management system? You can explore my ultimate guide to personal knowledge management here.

Create a space for reflection.

Creating a digital note taking habit, and storing those notes in your personal knowledge management system, gives you a space for reflection, learning, and curiosity.

One of the worst parts of chronic exhaustion and fatigue is feeling like you’re just surviving each day. You get through all the commitments on your calendar. You doggedly power through your task list despite your fatigue. You check all the boxes you need to. And at the end of the day or the end of the week, you collapse at home to recuperate.

But you’re a deep thinker. You want more out of life than simple survival. You’d like to reflect, to learn, to grow, to engage, to thrive.

You don’t have the luxury of time or energy to take a sabbatical or get away from it all for a while. You’d love to escape to a cabin in the woods and ponder deep thoughts, Henry David Thoreau-style. But that’s not on the radar. (Nor is your mother available to bring you sandwiches to Walden Pond and do your laundry, but that’s another matter.)

When you build a personal knowledge management system that suits your life (and works the way your mind works), you craft a safe, trusted place to capture your own thoughts and reflections. You can gather links and quotes and interesting reflections on the world around you. You can slowly plant and grow a private mind garden that reflects your interest and curiosity in the world around you.

Sure, you can always just open a Word document and start writing down some thoughts. And if you’re new to the world of digital note taking and personal knowledge management, that’s a wonderful place to start. Building a capturing habit is the most important first step.

But the real power of digital note taking comes from having one centralised, trusted place to access all of those notes. It can be all too easy to amass a scattered, overwhelming assortment of Word documents, Google Docs, Evernote, Roam Research, and Notion pages with various quotes, ideas, and research. But when we create a mindfully-designed personal knowledge management system, we can streamline, deepen, and grow our library of learning and reflection.

Organize life logistics.

A personal knowledge management system can help organize the logistics of your life.

Organizing life logistics can take up a considerable amount of time and energy. Whether you call it life admin, organizing your life, or adulting, these never-ending tasks can take up way too much time in our schedules.

When you have one central place for your digital notes, this can become a trusted place for storing all of those finicky details.

You can set up notes and lists to help you easily remember things like:

  • When you last had an oil change, haircut, or dental cleaning
  • The different model numbers of the kitchen cabinets you’re considering for your home renovation
  • Birthdays and anniversaries for families and friends
  • Insurance policy numbers and phone numbers
  • Books you’ve been meaning to read

Basically, all those things that you’re putting on sticky notes around your computer monitor right now? They can live in one central, trusted place that you can access on your phone or tablet from at home, at the office, or while you’re out and about.

Find a source of joy.

Building a personal knowledge management system can be a source of joy, even in the midst of fatigue.

It can be easy to focus on all of the productivity benefits of building a personal knowledge management system. It’s true, building a digital note taking habit does help you get more done in less time. Personal knowledge management can help reduce your stress and help you to accomplish big projects. All of these things are true.

But the power of personal knowledge management goes beyond simple, surface-level productivity.

Taking the time to mindfully create a digital note taking system that serves your own unique interests, goals, and fits your life, can be a rewarding, joy-filled process. It’s a creative venture.

Your personal knowledge management system is a private space, just for you and your thoughts. You can explore interesting ideas. You can capture knowledge on topics that interest you. You can save each and every quote that resonates with you. You can journal. You can draft plans for your next novel, or poem, or song, or home renovation, or gardening project.

This is your space.

It’s not performative. It’s not for anyone else’s consumption. This is a private, secret garden or library for your thoughts only.

And that is something beautiful and worth creating.

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