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Focus on system, not software: you can finally stop worrying about trying to find the perfect digital note-taking app

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
Elizabeth Butler
4 min read
Focus on system, not software: you can finally stop worrying about trying to find the perfect digital note-taking app

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 do I get started building a personal knowledge management (PKM) system?

Explore through my archives about personal knowledge management - a good place to start is this introductory post on Discovering PKM.

If you're ready for a deep dive into personal knowledge management...

Calmer Notes: Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) for Busy People

If you're interested in personal knowledge management and digital note-taking courses, you might like to know about my Calmer Notes learning bundle (ebook + workbook + PKM software database), launching later in 2021.

https://calmernotes.com/

This learning bundle (ebook + workbook + PKM app database) gives you a step-by-step framework for designing your own customized personal knowledge management (PKM) system.

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 👩⚕️

You can head over to CalmerNotes.com to learn more. If you decide this self-paced digital knowledge management course is the right fit for you, you can preorder on Gumroad to lock in the lowest early-adopter pricing.

If you're not quite ready to preorder, but want to hear about updates and launch details, sign up for the prelaunch wait list by joining my email list below. Thanks for your interest! 😊

Digital NotesPersonal Knowledge ManagementProductivityCalmer Notes

Elizabeth Butler

Your guide to the world of personal knowledge management. Creator of the Calmer Notes method (calmernotes.com). Physician, PhD, parent, tea drinker.


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