First Published: December 20, 2022

Last Updated: December 20, 2022

The Gist: Processing your PKM system might not be the shiniest part of knowledge management, but it is the most important. Here's why it can't be skipped and how to do it.

Today’s edition of our PKM series is all about processing, or carefully curating your knowledge management system.

Now, I’ll admit this isn’t the coolest or sexiest part of knowledge management.

But remember from our series introduction that this crucial step is the difference between digital hoarding and knowledge management.

So try and stay with me, it'll be quick.

Here's why this step can't be skipped:

When we have a strong capture system, it’s easy to fall prey to the collector’s fallacy, where we save and save and save, and never do anything with what we’ve saved.

Saving a ton of things without processing them, doesn’t actually make it easier to use them in content creation, doesn’t help you remember them, doesn’t help you do anything with them.

In fact, having so much “unprocessed” stuff saved that you can’t wade through any of it without getting overwhelmed, can make it harder to use what you have processed.

(Speaking from experience…learn from my mistakes!)

So let’s talk about what “processing” means.

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What is PKM processing?

This is the process of going through the stuff you’ve saved in your inbox and “preparing” it all for long-term storage and future reference.

You need to take the time to organize, or curate, each item in your inbox according to what you will use it for. It's also useful to go through some of your older stuff and "update" your thoughts on them or delete what's no longer relevant.

Overall, it's about going through your PKM system with the mindset of a curator: building, caring for, and maintaining an intentional collection of works.

What does processing involve?

What processing entails depends on the piece of information you're handling at a given moment, both the content type and what you plan to use it for.

For saved articles or other reading materials, processing might mean things like:

  • Actually reading it
  • Highlighting key parts
  • Making notes
  • Adding metadata
  • Moving it to its long-term storage location

It doesn’t all need to be done all at the same time, though.

You can take a “whenever you can” approach to it with what Tiago Forte calls progressive summarization. Maybe the first two items happen when the item is in your inbox, and notes and metadata happen later during a "browse" through your older items, or when you need to reference the information for something specific.

For saved original ideas, processing might mean things like:

  • Clarifying what your captured thought means
  • Breaking down the details
  • Making new notes
  • Adding metadata
  • Moving it to its long-term storage location

Finally, for saved tasks or projects, it could include things like:

  • Clarifying what the task means and putting it in "to-do" format
  • Breaking down big tasks into smaller steps
  • Prioritizing tasks
  • Adding any information needed when completing the task
  • Scheduling the task
  • Moving it to its long-term storage location

Processing your inbox isn’t always the most exciting part of the process, but it's an essential step if you want to have a well-curated system that can actually work for you, instead of against you.

How often should you process?

Remember how last week I mentioned the quote, "as many as you need, and as few as you can get away with?"

The same thing goes here: process your PKM inbox as often as you need to, but as infrequently as you can get away with.

A big part of this depends on how much you capture. But a good goal to aim for is once a week and adjust from there. If you end up with too much to go through in one sitting, try more frequently. If you don't have much to process, you can space it out more.

Just remember, the more you process, the better off your system will be and the easier it will be to use in your content creation. And don't forget to enjoy the process, too - it can actually be fun to go through all your most interesting articles and best ideas.

What’s all this about metadata?

When I say metadata, I mean information about the information you’re saving. This is all the stuff that will help you surface and reference it in the future. It’s also highly dependent on what tool you use.

I use a Notion database (well, databases, but we’ll talk about that more later), and have different fields for different metadata like:

  • The content type
  • The content topic
  • The URL
  • Related content ideas
  • Other resources I’ve saved that are related
  • Notes on my main takeaways

This makes it so that when I’m writing about something, I can easily reference all the saved items that I’ve already noted are relevant to it.

If I haven’t done that, I can use progressive summarization and go to the topic I'm writing about, see everything I’ve saved on that topic, and pick out what’s relevant.

Why is all this necessary?

It’s what makes it possible to easily find and use your notes later without it taking up time and frustration. It’s how all these notes speed up your workflow. It’s how all the time you spend capturing your reading and ideas pays off in your productivity.

Processing is the key to making that happen - it's what turns your raw information into something useful, searchable, and organized. It’s the essential step that makes knowledge management something more than just hoarding notes. 

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