Personal Knowledge Management

Stop searching for the "perfect" note taking app: start thinking about systems instead

End analysis paralysis and avoid bright shiny object syndrome. When you start with your system, not the software, you can build a mindful, deliberate PKM plan based on your goals and outcomes.
Elizabeth Butler, MD, PhD 4 min read
Stop searching for the "perfect" note taking app: start thinking about systems instead
Table of Contents

How to choose a digital note-taking and personal knowledge management software: acknowledging the analysis paralysis and overwhelm

When you're getting started with digital note-taking (or if you've been at it a while), it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the choice of software. There are some amazing apps out there right now, with new ones emerging on what seems like a daily basis. Should you go with Notion? Obsidian? Roam? Craft? Bear? SuperNotes? Logseq? Dendron? The list feels endless and overwhelming... it's enough to make you throw your hands up in the air and just keep on scribbling ideas on random post-it notes you just know you're doing to lose in the depths of your desk drawers.

Even if you try to be methodical and focus on specific software features - how do you choose? Bidirectional linking (aka creating a personal wiki or mind garden) is trendy right now. But tags and folders are other established ways to organize information too - and those might feel more natural to the way you think. Or what about simple, reliable full-text search?

What do you prioritize? Operating system? Privacy? Being able to access your notes from work? From a school or library computer? Do you want your note in the cloud, or to keep them on your own machine only? Do you need to share your notes with anyone? Do you need access to your PKM system on your phone or tablet?

Feeling pressure to pick the "right" software

You can feel a great deal of pressure, trying to choose the right software - because there are time costs involved. And depending on the software, likely financial costs as well. You're a busy person - you don't want to be fighting with new software every month, importing and exporting data. You just want a solution that works so you can get on with your primary projects. (Which most likely do not revolve around wrangling your personal knowledge management system.)

Bright shiny object syndrome

You jump with both feet into the next new thing that crosses your Twitter feed. You know you suffer from "bright shiny object" syndrome, and are constantly optimistic that the next software you try will finally be the one that solves all your PKM frustrations and challenges. You end up having notes scattered across many different apps, and you spend way too long searching to find stuff. You periodically amalgamate your notes into one new piece of software, but inevitably you can't keep up.

Here's the solution: focus on developing a PKM system rather than choosing PKM software

High level vs ground up approach

When you start out focusing on software, you're working from the ground up. You're taking software and trying to make your needs fit into its features, instead of the other way around.

Start with your system, not the software

To start with the system, you make a mindful, deliberate plan based on the following questions:

  • What are your personal knowledge management goals?
  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What types of information you need to organize?
  • What are your outcomes and deliverables?

Starting with these foundational questions will help you gain clarity. You'll build a system that actually suits your PKM needs - instead of being distracted by the bells and whistles of the next exciting new note taking software.

How can I get started with 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-decade experience of applying personal knowledge management in a wide variety of work environments. 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 explore more, check out an overview of the Calmer Notes approach or visit Calmer Notes.

You'll also get a free guide to the 5 most common note taking myths (that just might be stopping you from building a sustainable personal knowledge management system) when you sign up for my newsletter.

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

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