First Published: August 30, 2021

Last Updated: 

This was originally published on Search Engine Journal.

Every now and then, an idea or concept takes the productivity nerds of the internet by storm.

We get so obsessed that it breaks through to the mainstream, and you can’t seem to go anywhere online without seeing people talk about it.

It doesn’t happen often; the last time I remember it happening was with bullet journaling in the early 2010s.

But right now, it’s happening again.

Personal knowledge management is taking over the internet.

And even if you don’t get hearts in your eyes over productivity systems like me, this one’s something any digital marketer will want to pay attention to.

So here’s what you need to know.

What is Personal Knowledge Management?

Personal knowledge management is the concept of creating a process or system for collecting and storing information for future use, particularly for writing or content creation.

It’s different from how most of us currently collect digital information, which could more accurately be described as hoarding — accumulating hundreds of bookmarked articles, highlighted book passages, and jotted down statistics.

Digital hoarding doesn’t help you use the information you’re collecting; it makes it harder.

Personal knowledge management (PKM), on the other hand, involves creating systems, adding your own context, and making information easy to surface when you need to reference it.

While traditionally more popular in academic writing, it’s recently started gaining popularity in online writing as well.

Some of the established PKM systems popular with online creators and marketers include ZettelkastenBuilding a Second Brain, and Linking Your Thinking.

But regardless of what popular framework you use (or whether you use one at all), there are a few steps you’ll want to make sure your personal knowledge management system includes:

  • Capturing information and ideas as you find them.
  • Processing them to add your own context.
  • Incubating the ideas until you need them.
  • Using them to create new things.

Let’s take a look at each one in detail.

Step 1. Capture Ideas and Information

The first step of personal knowledge management is to make a habit of saving any information or ideas you think are useful or inspiring as you come across them.

In the language of David Allen’s Getting Things Done method for planning and managing tasks, this is called developing capture habit.”

The ultimate capture goal is to have a way to easily save these things, no matter where you come across them. Don’t worry about adding detail. You can organize and filter them later.

For example, my own “capture” inboxes include:

  • A notebook that sits beside me when I’m working.
  • A Drafts note I can access from my iPhone’s home screen and add to via Siri.
  • Chrome bookmarklets to save interesting articles and statistics.
  • An Inbox page of my Notion workspace.

Into these inboxes goes anything I think I might want to reference in my work.

I add things manually as I come across them, and also have automations from IFTTT and Zapier sending things there.

In the past week, I’ve captured:

  • Articles I want to link to in my own as a reference (like this one).
  • Marketing campaign ideas based on conversations with customers.
  • A messaging and branding idea based on a recent competitive analysis.
  • Current requirements for Facebook ad copy length and image dimensions.
  • Screenshots of website and graphic design I like.

By making things easy to capture, you can keep passing ideas without them taking you away from whatever you’re doing at the time.

However, without the rest of the process, it’s just digital hoarding.

This is where the other steps, like processing, comes in.

Step 2. Process and Add Your Own Context

Processing is when you go through your inboxes and deal with everything you’ve saved recently, adding enough context that Future-You will be able to find it and use it when you need it.

Depending on how much information you capture, you’ll probably want to do this weekly or biweekly.

As you process pieces of information, you can:

  • Delete anything you don’t find useful or relevant anymore.
  • Add notes to your future self to create context (why you saved something, what you like about it, which parts you want to use later and for what, etc.).
  • Add metadata like tags to make searching and filtering your PKM system easier.

Then, you’ll move the information from your inbox to wherever it should be stored more long-term.

For example, the items from my inbox notes will be moved to separate folders for reference articles, future project ideas, voice of customer data, inspiration, and my Facebook ad strategy.

This way, each piece of information is wherever I need it to be — where I’m going to use it.

When I’m working on advertising, I go to that folder, and the information saved will be there.

Or when I’m planning my content calendar, the list of all saved campaign ideas will be there in my content dashboard for me to choose from.

It’s able to be used, instead of lost in a bookmarks menu.

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Step 3: Incubate Your Ideas

Once you have things organized, you’ll want to let them sit there. Leave them be.

Yes, really.

This takes advantage of the incubation effect, one of the four stages of creativity.

When you’re actively engaging with an idea, like organizing it in your PKM system, you’re making new connections for your brain.

Your brain then needs time to passively process those connections and draw conclusions from them.

If you’ve ever had an “aha!” moment while doing something completely unrelated to your work, that was the incubation effect at work.

For information that you saved “just because,” or because it inspired you, you can let it sit until you need it — until you’re working on the relevant project or writing the relevant piece of content.

For things you’re actively working on, it can be harder to find that buffer time, but it’s still possible.

Even switching over to another task or taking your lunch break will help your brain with background processing related to the one currently at hand.

Step 4: Create New Things

Finally, it’s time to use the knowledge and information you’ve collected.

The reason PKM is so great for anyone whose job requires writing or creation is that it makes it possible to never start from scratch.

And the blank page is one of the most overwhelming parts of creating anything.

Having a knowledge management system gives you a way to store and organize ideas and references as building blocks.

Then any time you need to start a project, you just select and combine the relevant building blocks into a finished piece.

For example, writing a blog post might mean assembling a combination of personal thoughts, expert quotes and statistics, and examples you’ve saved to your PKM already.

Planning an ad campaign means pulling the relevant competitor information, graphics you like, and creative requirements you already have to easily put together a project brief.

Essentially, when you have a PKM system you regularly save things to and maintain, the research and brainstorming parts of any project will take a fraction of the time.

Start Building

The sooner you start building a personal knowledge management system, the sooner you’ll start saving time and effort on almost any creative task.

We’re consuming more content and information constantly, so you want to start your PKM system soon.

I hope you now have what you need to get started!

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