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Why and how I maintain a Personal Knowledge Management system using Obsidian


Personal Knowledge Management isn't new. Chris Alderich showed us at pkmsummit2024 that people have been keeping notes on all kinds of subjects for ages, and we seem to keep rediscovering the power of organising our thoughts, putting them to paper and thinking about how they connect to other notes in our system.

And that is exactly what personal knowledge management is for me. I've been keeping notes in all sorts of systems for a long time, but never organised them in such a way that I can access and leverage them for generating new ideas and publishing my writing.

As I'm diving into this rabbit hole and publishing Peter's Mind Vault. I'd love to share some of my findings and insights on getting started with Personal Knowledge Management

why personal knowledge management

  • Daily Journaling: I wanted to start daily journaling to better reflect on what happens during a day, how I've felt about it and what I'm grateful for. As I implemented this new habit, I've immediately found I was able to capture more thoughts and set form ideas that I could later progress into further writing
  • Writing and publishing more: I used to write occassionaly on very specific subjects, such as coffee and technology, but had trouble finding a proper outlet for all other thoughts and interests. The barrier to publish something is much lower when you don't have to commit to a full blog template and just publish a small note.
  • Consolidating: I drastically wanted to reduce the amount of services that carry note information: evernote, google keep, google docs, email, todoist, word docs on filesystem. Migrating these to obsidian has enabled me to access all this data from the palm of my hand, wherever I go.
  • Data Sovereignty: Taking back control of my own data and files, in a simple and future proof format puts my mind at ease. As paywalling and subscription services are taking over everything online, it feels great to own my own workflow without actively paying a subscription that might or might not exist in the future.
  • Distractionless: another plus of owning your own workflow and data is that you don't get served any ads while working, and that everything also works when you are offline and without internet.

How to start and cultivate your PKM

Many people have written excellent pieces on this topic. Whether you want to go full philosophical with a pure Zettelkasten system or just want to get started easily while not being a coder, check out the links for sure. These are a couple of my pointers:

  • Daily journaling. Start writing something every day. Don't make it too hard: sometimes it is just a couple of words, sometime writing the details of something that happened that stuck with me, sometime it is just a list of todo's. Start with some simple prompts such as "highlights of the day", "how i feel" and "what im grateful for", and start experiencing the therapeutic effect of putting your thoughts to paper.
  • Digital notes. For a long time, I was a big fan of writing notes and journal entries by hand, as the physical activity of writing helps remembering. To improve the chances of keeping my daily journaling habit, I decided to give digital journaling a try. Even though you lose some of the tactile remembering experience, consistently jotting down thoughts on a screen (using swipe typing extensively) is now triggering similar feelings of relief as I used to only get with pen and paper.
  • Access. Having the knowledge management constantly synced and close by is very important to its efficacy. Whether you build a custom private syncing setup, dropbox or git flow, having my notes on all the devices I work on has helped me capture ideas.
  • Indexes / Maps of Content (MOC). There are legion of systems available to keep track of notes, I started with a list of categories and topics, and tried linking each reference I added to at least one category or topic. Once the category and subcategories got too long, I extracted them into their own index note
  • Importing references. I took some time to collect every note I had laying around, created a suitable title for it and linked it from somewhere. This helped me seed my maps of content with a place to start, and now helps me to kickstart places to start typing ideas and summaries.
  • Reviews. I know you get sick and tired of asking to write reviews for everything, but this time it is for you, and for you to form an opinion about something. Why did you like a book, movie, game or piece of music? What was it about that quote that stuck with you? I find that my "reviews" of source materials always start some interesting thoughts.
  • Recommendations. Everytime I get a recommendation for anything, I'll keeping track of the recommendation, the type and the origin / person that recommended. Following up on recommendations with the people that recommended have resulted in some wonderful fruitful discussions and build far deeper relationships with people than only talking about the weather.
  • Tables. This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but for structured offline timeseries data capturing I use the markdown table format, which helps me jot down data such as workouts, scores and recommendations quickly without opening an application or database.
  • Learning, and Learning in Public. Keeping notes on references while learning, and rewording knowledge in your own words is a great way to learn by itself. Sharing this reworded knowledge while you are learning in a blog used to be called sometimes called "learners journey blog", and can be a great way to process new material and get feedback from the outside world whilst you are still learning a new skill.
  • Quantified Self. As you are keeping a daily journal, you can use the metadata in the daily journal to capture data that can be graphed over time, such as mood, allergies, alcohol consumed, habits done or not done. Especially when forming new habits (such as daily journaling) graphing this progress can provide extra motivation
  • Tagging. Don't sweat the structure too much, but for me using tags in todo's helps me keep separate todo lists for separate contexts. This avoids creating one big endless todo list you'll never get through, but still be able to capture TODO's that you want to follow up on some day.

Thanks for making it so far down the blog and I wish you a great journaling and knowledge management experience!

btw, interested in publishing your PKM? I've written a detailed blog on how to self publish your PKM whilst keeping your private notes private.