First Published: November 29, 2022

Last Updated: November 29, 2022

The Gist: This post is the first in a series about my own PKM system and workflow and how it allows me to be a better content strategist, freelance writer, and company founder.

When you look for information about personal knowledge management, most of the results are geared towards academics or productivity nerds (hello, it me).

There's not much about customized PKM use cases for specific industries.

It's a shame, because I've seen a lot of people struggle to see how PKM can actually help their day-to-day work.

So I'm aiming to fill that gap, at least for content marketers (and others who find themselves doing content marketing).

This post is the first in a series about my own PKM system and workflow and how it allows me to be a better content strategist, freelance writer, and company founder.

But first, rewind.

In case you're unfamiliar...

Personal knowledge management can make you a better content marketer. Here's how...

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What is personal knowledge management?

Personal knowledge management (PKM) is a system that helps you to collect, organize, and share information in ways that are useful to your work. This includes both the work that you create yourself, and what you find and curate from others.

At its most basic level, it's taking notes. 

Writing things down, wherever that may be.

A notebook can be a PKM system, as can a wall full of post-it notes.

But a good PKM system is easily to access and reference, it speeds up your thinking and creating.

And with the amounts of information most of us have to deal with today, paper / analog doesn't meet those criteria as the main basis of a PKM system. (Although it can be used for certain components.)

Instead, most of us have some kind of digital system we lean on, whether that's Apple Notes, spreadsheets, or my favorite, Notion.

The tools you use will depend on what works best for you, your needs, and your workflow.

But we'll get to that later.

The 3 levels of PKM

Like I said earlier, a knowledge management system can be as simple as a notebook. It can also be saving links in your bookmarks bar, or keeping a word doc or note of future content ideas.

But these are all basic versions, level one.

And the higher level you are, the easier content creation with your PKM system will be.

Level 1: information hoarding

This is where you write down lots of thoughts, take lots of notes, and save lots of articles. But it's more like indiscriminate hoarding than curated collection. 

At first, it can work and you can find what you need, when you need it.

But pretty quickly, with this method content quickly turns into clutter.

You'll have too many bookmarks to find the one article you want to reference. Your content ideas list may have tons of accidental duplicates. You'll never remember which notebook the meeting notes you're looking for were written in.

Not that I know from experience or anything. 🙃

Level 2: information curating

Once your information hoarding gets out of control, you can salvage your evolving PKM by approaching it with more careful curation.

Instead of saving anything that seems remotely interesting, you'll get stricter in deciding what's "save-worthy" and what's not. You may even delete some of the stuff you've already saved, but realize isn't worth it to keep any longer.

At this level, the quantity of items in your PKM system goes down, but it improves the quality of your system as a whole.

Level 3: information managing

This is where you start to get serious about making your PKM system work for you.

In addition to carefully curating what goes into your system, it's also organized in a way that makes it easy to retrieve old notes and use them in your work.

This means that you're regularly referencing and remixing notes in different business projects.

We'll get into more use cases when we look at my specific system, but when it comes to content projects, that might mean:

  • Backing up claims in your marketing with statistics, research, or examples you've saved
  • Linking to articles or other URLs you've bookmarked in your blog posts and emails
  • Quoting saved voice of customer research in sales and marketing copy
  • Planning your content pipeline or calendar based on old saved ideas
  • Saving and reusing lines of copy or pieces of media from your own existing content
  • Referencing saved branding guidelines, inspiration, and notes on best practices when designing graphics or producing videos

But those are only a few possibilities based on my own experience. I'm sure you could come up with even more.

Level 3 is where your PKM system can save you the most time and effort, but it also takes a lot of time and effort to get there in the first place.

So don't worry about being at a different stage. What works is that you're continually making your system work for you.

Plan your perfect repurposing strategy

Download my free content repurposing planning worksheet to figure out the most strategic and intentional way to reuse and recycle your content.

How PKM helps with content marketing

So now that you've (hopefully) seen enough examples to intrigue you, let's zoom out.

On a bigger picture level, here are some of the ways PKM can help you with your content marketing:

It frees up your mind and reduces anxiety

As David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done and creator of the productivity method of the same name, famously said, "your mind is for having ideas, not holding them."

The more things we're thinking about at any moment, the harder it is to be productive and creative...two things today's content marketing landscape requires on a near constant basis.

But by having a system for storing and retrieving all your research, ideas, and other notes, you can free up mental space so you can focus on the actual work of creating, distributing, and remixing great content in the moment. Whatever was on your was on your mind is safely stored until later.

It builds up a swipe file

For years, I was overwhelmed by the idea of "building a swipe file."

I knew the master marketers usually had one, but the process of building one just felt so...big.

But once you're in the PKM capture habit, it becomes easy.

I've built a robust swipe file of copy ideas, content ideas, design ideas, and campaign ideas based on brands I admire...just passively. It became a byproduct of my PKM workflow.

I saved things I liked as I came across them, and processed them when I did my regular reviews. Then when it was time to plan my own stuff, I had a huge bank of inspiration sitting there waiting for me.

It lets you avoid starting from scratch

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.

It makes your content better and more persuasive

Finally, a PKM system will improve the overall quality of your content.

Your best ideas can be acted on instead of forgotten about because they weren't written down.

That random story relating to your niche that you heard about on a random podcast won't get lost in the void of the internet, when you try to find it to write an email about weeks later. You'll have saved it at the time.

When you see examples, scientific research, or industry research that backs up claims you make, you'll be able to easily save them to reference in your sales copy.

As a result of all this, your content will become more thorough. And your persuasive content will become a helluva lot more persuasive.

And as a shallower benefit, this will also impress your audience more.

I know we're not supposed to care about that at all, but we're only human.

So sometimes we do.

As I built my own PKM system more thoroughly, I began getting more comments from my community on how thorough and well-researched my content was.

On how much people loved my creative examples and stories from vastly varied industries. On how I made connections between different topics.

On how much they appreciated that I reference specific sources instead of just saying "I heard about this thing on TikTok." (My friends at the Duped podcast have talked about this normalization of plagiarism in content.)

All of that came as a result of using my PKM to manage my life, including my content.

Plan your perfect repurposing strategy

Download my free content repurposing planning worksheet to figure out the most strategic and intentional way to reuse and recycle your content.

The different steps of the process

So what goes into knowledge management? How do you actually do it?

Each of the different popular "methods" of knowledge management have their own set of steps, explain things their own way.

But generally, it comes down to four things:

Step 1: Capture

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.

This could be notes, ideas, stories, statistics, quotes, research articles, or other sources of inspiration. Capture everything that strikes you as important and relevant to what you do.

Filtering it out to the most important can come later. At this stage, you often don't know what will be important yet.

Step 2: Process and Curate

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.

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.

This all makes it easier to reference when you're creating content.

Step 3: Incubate Your Ideas

Next, you let your ideas sit there until you need them.

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.

Step 4: Remix and Create

Finally, when you need to create content, as I said before, you don't need to start from scratch. You have notes, research, and more curated before you ever start a draft. 

You can also use a PKM system to store and curate your own content, which makes it easier to remix and repurpose later.

(The Content Remix Planner integrates fantastically with a PKM system.)

This is just the beginning

This is just a brief overview of PKM for content marketers, and I'm excited to dive deeper.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be showing you my own workflow and how each step helps me with content marketing.

Check back soon for the rest of the series!

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