Starting a Personal Knowledge Management System

This post from my other site ( details how to create a Knowledge Management System or KMS.

As a knowledge worker, there always comes a time when information needs to be accessible quickly. What usually happens for me is I will go through old emails or search in our chat group history to find that specific topic that mentions that document I need to refer, to find that specific info.

We probably have a lot of tabs open in our browsers that we don’t even close because we might need any info from those tabs “soon”. Or we probably have lots of text files, presentations, or spreadsheets in our folders and Google Drives or Dropboxes. It’s a mess, because most of the time all we have are these contiguous sources of info, and we don’t have a systematic way of putting them together to make searching easier.

This doesn’t need to be so hard to manage.

What is a KMS?

A Knowledge Management System (KMS) is a way of collecting and organizing info that makes it easier to access and retrieve at any time. This can be used for work, but can also be used to manage our daily activities. The P stands for “Personal” in “PKMS” when you use this privately.

I feel this is especially relevant nowadays since there is an overload of data we process in our daily lives. No matter where we are, we consume so much data that it is imperative that we also curate what we take in.

It would be a waste to let all of the data we consume just lay dormant, or let it pass uncaptured. Any snippet, clip, or article we’ve come upon may become something that can be important for us in the future.

Why Notetaking is not PKMS

It is important to take notes, as it is one way of offloading info we receive into a medium that we can review later. However, this is only one part of a KMS. We should also consider the classifications and ramifications of what we are taking note of and how it stands with all of the data we already have.

I remember the time when I was in school, I usually had a notebook per subject. One notebook for English, one notebook for Biology, and one notebook for Math. It was easy to manage because subjects were taught with specific boundaries per topic. However, there were instances when there were overlaps in info, and you needed to do cross-references between your notes.

For example, you have the equations to solve a particular problem for Physics, but you also need to remember how to do integrals. So you cross-refer between your Calculus and Physics notes to be able to proceed. This can become more complicated as you go deeper in your study.

A KMS would allow you to do this easily and efficiently.

Benefits of a Personal KMS

The two main objectives of a KMS in my opinion are to:

  1. Store info in an orderly way.
  2. Search and retrieve info at any time.

Storing info we consume gives us more space to be creative. Most of the time we are hampered by the amount of info we are trying to process — once we store it then we can sleep better and let other ideas seep in without forcing anything.

Searching and retrieving from a single repository is one big benefit. Looking into multiple silos of data can be minimized by centralizing it.

Having a Personal KMS is also having a second brain mainly for storing data.

Parts of a KMS

In my practice of using a KMS, there are three parts needed for the system to work. There may be other parts in other systems, but essentially it boils down to these:

Data Capture

Any KMS manages data, but where does this data come from? It comes from the user being consistent with capturing it. When we get an inspiration or a spark of insight, we should capture it. As we consume lots of data every day, so should our capture be as much, in my opinion.

We should also deliberately capture data that we deem important, for example, if we are reading books, we shouldn’t passively read them and rely on memory to recall points of interest. We should record concepts as we encounter them. Other systems push even putting in the page and datetime for more structured recall, at the very least we should summarize any excerpts that interest us.

I realized as I was getting older that social media gets a lot of flack, but I should be in control of what I consume. It’s easy to scroll mindlessly through the front page, with attention being the new currency of the Information Age. But I refuse to fall into that. We can direct our attention to what is valuable to us. Have you checked your subscriptions lately on YouTube? Is a 30-minute video from someone you subscribe to truly worth your time?

But I digress. The point I want to emphasize is that the data we capture should be worth capturing, no matter where it comes from. And that capturing data is the most important part of the KMS.

Using Getting Things Done (GTD) with Data Capture

Personally, I’m using the Getting Things Done (GTD) framework when capturing data. I have multiple “landing spaces” as points of capture — one digitally through a notes app, and another as physical landing space.

For example, if I get an insight from something that I read online, I summarize it and put it into my notes app. If I have a physical item that needs action (e.g., a receipt that needs recording, or trinkets that need sorting), I put it in the physical landing space. You could also have small sheets of paper and write notes and put them on your landing space.

The main objective is anything you capture, you should process at a later time. So these “landing spaces” should become empty as soon as you process it regularly. Do not leave things uncaptured and unprocessed as inactivity breeds mistrust in your system.

Data Workspace

After capturing data, we should be able to process it into a workable form. Usually, I do this at the end of the day or a set time each time. Whatever I capture, I put it into different buckets.

It can be an action item with a date, and it goes into my calendar. It can be something that is an action item but does not have a date, then it goes to my projects page. If it is not an action item, then it goes to a list. If it is something that you are tracking, then put it in your tracker or spreadsheet.

This workspace allows you to sort your thoughts and work on accomplishing an output for these data.

An output can mean a lot of things, such as it can be a journal entry, or it can be the completion of a project, a report, or even a blog post. This depends on what is relevant to you.

I would recommend that you keep your workspace as simple as possible, as over-optimizing is a waste of energy. The function should always supercede form. I have seen people trying to make Notion templates as “perfect” as possible but lose track of what they should be working towards.

We should also limit trackers to what is important for us to track. If you are tracking your everyday expenses because you review them every end of the month, that is well and good. But you shouldn’t make a tracker for everything you are doing or consuming. You likely won’t be able to update it as regularly because it becomes a chore after a while. Lists more often than not do the job better.

Choose a tool that allows you to search all of these for easy recall.


While working with our data, there comes a time when we encounter lists or projects that are not actionable now but are still important. In this case, we can put these into reference. These make it so we can access them when there is a need.

Old trackers and spreadsheets as well as finished or consumed lists and projects are also put into reference.

Being in reference doesn’t also mean that we shouldn’t review what is inside regularly. I recommend we check these out at least once a week. I believe that everything we create should be reviewed and revised regularly. Otherwise, data becomes stale. Once data becomes stale, we lose our trust in it.

Tools for KMS

There are a lot of notetaking tools out there, and there are lots of features to consider. The main consideration here is your KMS is tech-agnostic. Your system can be made of separate tools, or you can use a single one. It doesn’t need to be digital (i.e., handwritten notebooks or planners), but in my opinion, digital will help a lot as cell phones are now ubiquitous. Also, a lot of tools also leverage AI now, and that can help you with some repetitive tasks.

What I recommend is that you as the curator should have absolute confidence in using your tools. If you lose confidence in your system, you won’t be able to maintain it because you will simply not use it at all.

Some Considerations with your KMS

Hierarchy vs Linking

There are different ways to take down notes. Some utilize hierarchy through the silo format (folders and files) but this in my opinion makes maintaining the system too tedious, as you will likely need to regularly transfer files to different folders. Also, you would need to be strict in your categories as one ambiguous entry can make you transfer all your notes.

Making your notes flat, and utilizing links and tags would make it easier to maintain. Linking means creating related notes from another note. These links can be reused by others without duplicating notes. One feature I look for in note-taking apps is the ability to see which notes are linked to a certain note (double-linking). Also, I would be able to loop together different notes through tags.

The Value of your KMS Always Scales Up

Imagine the value of 10000 notes in your KMS. It’s a gold mine you’ve nurtured and will in turn nurture whatever outputs you need to accomplish. As we age through our current timeline, I believe there will come a time when KMSs will be something that can become generational and can be inherited.

And so we should also consider the long-term backups of our KMS. Not all companies save data once they go under. This can also be a consideration with your choice of tools.

If you find a new tool that looks promising, don’t discount the power of exporting and importing features, especially once you have a big enough data source.

Security and Encryption

Your KMS is your data, and more often than not it also contains your personal data. Does your tool have end-to-end encryption? If a data breach happens, can you be sure that nothing important is exposed?

Also, how secure is the tool? Does it have two-factor authentication when logging in? For most people, this would not be a big thing to consider, but at least you should be informed of the risks before you use a specific tool.

Wrapping Up

I discussed Personal Knowledge Management Systems (KMSs) — what it is, its benefits, and parts — and how these can make us more productive in managing our know-how as knowledge workers (and consumers).

I also enumerated some considerations I think are important when creating our KMS using available tools.

As we are in the Information Age and more and more attention has been taken from us, we should also consider putting more emphasis on creating rather than consuming.

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