PKM Lesson #1: What is PKM and How to Begin

May 20, 2015, 3:26 p.m.
Edited: Oct. 23, 2018, 7:26 a.m.
PKMSelf HelpPublic Blog Article

PKM is crucial in the information age and will only become more important with time. PKM affects everyone in their day-to-day life whether they realize it or not. PKM can help virtually anyone get and stay on the right path towards success in life. So what is PKM?

PKM is an initialism for Personal Knowledge Management and is a subset of the more general and mature field of KM (Knowledge Management). KM encompasses all aspects of how an organization collects, organizes, finds and shares knowledge. KM aims to optimize the flow of knowledge through an organization and to even facilitate new discoveries and creativity. The KM movement initially came about when some organizations began to see their employees as reservoirs of knowledge that would inevitably leave the company and take all their knowledge with them. It became apparent that being more systematic about how people store and share their knowledge could be a major competitive advantage.

PKM is simply KM applied to an individual (you!). PKM encompasses all of what you do to collect and organize the information and thoughts you have and how you go about finding and developing that content later. PKM is especially important for the individual because the brain doesn’t naturally organize itself to be optimal for success in today’s society. Imagine trying to find a book in a library without any organization. It may take you days or weeks to find a book, or even worse, you may never find it. Now imagine there are no books, but just thousands of bits of information and thoughts written down on tiny pieces of paper scattered about randomly, some folded, others crumpled and some even ripped up. That’s what it’s like to live a life in modern society without regards for PKM.

How to Begin Using PKM

The basics of implementing PKM techniques into your life are quite simple to start. It’s very much a practice of note taking, note reviewing/organizing and note developing. I encourage you to start applying PKM right now! That’s why I’ve put together an easy guide for beginners below:

Step 1) Start logging your thoughts (externalize)

The first and most important step in beginning to apply PKM to your life is to start acquiring something to manage. For most people, it is exceptionally difficult to manage your thoughts and knowledge inside the brain alone. Difficulty with memory and recall hinders this process greatly. So the first step is to start capturing your thoughts in some external form that can be referenced later. This is called externalization and is such a crucial activity that I wrote an entire article dedicated to it here: Why Externalize? If you are unsure of what to log, start with anything that randomly pops into your head or some bit of information that you come across that you find interesting.

You can begin externalizing by either taking handwritten notes or typing up digital notes. You can also record notes with audio or video but I encourage a method that allows you to see the actual words on paper or screen for easy review later. You can do this at the end of the day or at the time of having the thoughts, whatever works best for you. I use Gtasks (a simple task app on my smartphone) to jot thoughts I have throughout the day and then review and develop them at the end of the day. I generally just need a small reminder of what I thought about which will give me the ability to recall the entire thought and type it up later. Finally, you need to make sure that wherever you are logging your thoughts is a place that is easy to review at a later date. For the most part, I use Google Drive Docs for that. Also, I recommend logging the date you took the note.

Step 2) Log any new relevant ideas or information you come across

Now that you have started externalizing, you can start logging any thoughts or information that come about that relate to your previous logs. By “relate” I mean anything that you feel may have something to do with what you have already externalized. A lot of times the thoughts that just barely relate to what we have already written about are the most useful because they stimulate new associations when you review again later. For example, in The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, the author describes how he found inspiration for Tai Chi through his experiences watching the tides of the ocean. So don’t be afraid to take note of a lot of seemingly unrelated thoughts and experiences. You don’t have to be a lifelogger (one who logs all the details of his or her life) but use your own judgment and intuition to guide you in what you decide to log. Add any completely new thoughts or information that you think are interesting or important as well.

Step 3) Review your entire log routinely (each week or month)

Now that you have started to acquire some externalized thoughts, your memory of them may be a little fuzzy or even non-existent. Going back to your log to review your content is usually an interesting experience because you get to see an external manifestation of your past thinking. This act alone helps one to internalize the new thoughts and information they have come across since last review. Internalization is the act of the unconscious brain processing information so that it could incorporate that information into future thinking and activities. Anything that helps us internalize content helps us to grow our minds.

Step 4) Log any new thoughts that are generated during your review

Once you review your logs and get your memory recall stimulated, you’ll find this is a great time to think about how the various individual thoughts and information you have gathered relates to each other. This is called association and is a great way to stimulate new thinking with the chance of realizing insights about yourself or the world around you. Of course if you do have new thoughts from your review, log them right away.

This activity can prove to be the trickiest to manage for most people without using a particular tool or technique for referencing. I’ll describe some methods to aid in this process later, but for now you can simply read or skim over your previous logs in sequential order.

Step 5) Repeat steps 1-4

That’s it! Now you’re externalizing your thoughts, reconsidering them later and adding any new insights you have during your review. This is a great start for anyone to begin reaping the benefits of PKM. As you repeat this process over time, you may have any number of realizations that will help you in your life. Since this process naturally incorporates the thoughts that are occurring in your mind, it has a way of identifying key issues you may be facing or solutions to problems you may be working on. Finally, it's important to understand that the benefits of this process increase with time and as you expand your library of personal thoughts and information.

Why This Process Works

This process works because it helps our brain overcome some common mental challenges we all face in life. Using a simple systematic method as outlined above unlocks a potential in your brain that you may have never realized you had. And the best part is that these concepts can be molded to fit various personality types.

Watch as you build your thoughts up in ways you never thought were possible before. This is because we are used to trying to think through memory alone. It is very difficult to process many previous thoughts, ideas and events inside the brain. Using externalization and physical reorganization gives your brain a chance to make connections and realizations without having to depend on memory recall which clouds your ability to think clearly.

Over a short period of time, you’ll have built up an external representation of at least the most important aspects of your thinking in life. This is much better than having left those thoughts in your head. Now you can return to them and think about them again later to help build them up (or overcome them). Some of the specific benefits of this process are:

  1. Provides a thought diary for future references

  2. Helps you deliberately build upon the ideas you have and make them useful in your life

  3. Affords you the ability to return to difficult thoughts and feelings you may have so you can work through them with a clear mind (at a time when the emotions aren’t happening)

There are many more aspects of this process that can greatly enhance the benefits of PKM, especially for someone that has a lot of thoughts and/or goal, but I will leave them for another article (see PKM Lesson#2: Five Crucial Concepts). For now, just get started! What’s stopping you? Once you are familiar with this process, you can learn more from the articles discussed below.

Learn more about PKM

The power of PKM goes way deeper than just what has been discussed in this article. That’s why I’m putting together a series of additional articles to help you understand the full picture and implement some more advanced techniques. See the table of contents below. Keep posted for additional releases. Enjoy!

PKM Lesson #1: What is PKM and How to Begin

You’re reading it!

PKM Lesson #2: Five Crucial Concepts

I’ve came up with five concepts that will help a person more deeply understand the true potentials of using PKM, some key techniques and how to have the best mindset to maximize its usefulness.

PKM Lesson #3: PKM Products

I'll go into some existing products you can use to help facilitate your application of the concepts taught so far and review the pros and cons of those products. I'll also introduce Laddice, Project AMPLE’s working progress that aims to give you an edge in PKM when it comes to insight stimulation, creativity and developing written works. (Coming Soon!)

PKM Lesson #4: The Scientific Case For PKM

A review of the principles of cognitive science, psychology and neuroscience and why they suggest PKM as a practice everyone should integrate into their lives (Coming Soon!)

PKM Lesson #5: The Future of PKM - (P)KM

At Project AMPLE, we anticipate big changes in the way the world uses PKM and KM. In this article, I'll go into what the future may hold: a deeply connected world (Coming Soon!)