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5 lessons I’ve learned in 2023 about PKM and Digital Systems

nothing groundbreaking!

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It’s not about the apps you use, it’s what you’re doing in them that matters

I was stuck in this idea that I take literature notes in App X and put the summarised, referenced version into Capacities, as discussed at length here:

But, as someone with a growing following who use lots of different apps, I started to think that distilling my message to what I am actually doing in those apps is more important, because I hope my advice can be applied outside of the apps I use.

So carrying on with the note-taking example, let’s zoom in on what I’m actually doing: I read someone else’s work, I write down what I’ve learned from it and I continually summarise and re-write until I’ve understood it properly and can create a final, more succinct summary. It’s only at that point that I will create links in a networked note-taking app to other related notes.

It doesn’t matter which apps these fall in. I think the only pre-requisite to what I said above is that you use a networked note-taking app. Which app is a question of personal preference and circumstance. Your system has to work for you, it doesn’t need to be the copy of anyone else’s.

PS- I think the nuance here is that distilling my advice to its essence is useful in some ways, but it can be a bit abstract. Therefore any advice presented like this should also be presented with a demonstration/screenshots/video. Of course for me that will be in Capacities, but hopefully doing both will lead to more tangibly useful content, as hopefully it’s more easily applicable, which is always the hope.

Deciding to do the work isn’t doing the work. Put (digital) systems in place that support you.

I honestly feel a bit sad that I currently rely on checkboxes to remember to do the things I want to do. I wish I could just do them.

But deciding to have certain habits ≠ doing the habits. Writing down your goals ≠ achieving them.

Instead of beating myself up, I’m asking if that matters.

I’ve had more success since putting my habits, goals, open threads in front of me in two Notion home pages (life/work) and using Sukha to focus me during work hours than any other previous iteration of a system. Why am I conflicted about that? It’s working!

So identify your friction points and put systems in place to support that.

For a brain like mine, I need the information in front of me or I will forget it exists, hence the two Notion homepages with lots of checkboxes. It works! I’m just going with it. For me, the solution is digital because it’s how I run my life, but that’s not necessarily the best way for all.

Workflows are best practices, not immovable rules you must obey

In March I wrote about my capture process: links in raindrop, notes in apple notes. Months later, it still works fantastically, but for some things it’s not the best.

For example, we’re nearly at the end of the house buying process so I am eagerly consuming interiors Tiktoks.

I want to save them to review later, with the aim of screenshotting stills to add and categorise in Capacities where my interiors inspiration lives. The amount of clicks, popup windows and apps involved in reviewing those bookmarks via Raindrop soon became ridiculous, and I realised it’s just easier to bookmark them in Tiktok and review later. Instagram is the same.

Tiktok Screenshots get tagged in Capacities

I’m not going to consider my Capture Process broken or unfinished, because literally everything else is captured in that way. As soon as we’re in the house, and reality hits that furniture is expensive and painting is so dull, I’m sure the amount of inspiration I collect will slow down, as will the need for constant review, so this extra branch of my workflow will slow.

The fear of straying from workflows is that information becomes unmanageable and overwhelming, which is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do. But the Tiktok bookmarks are so specific that when I ask myself “where’s that Tiktok about…”, the answer is just Tiktok, in the same way links go to Raindrop and words to Apple Notes.

So I’ve decided that my capture process is my best practice and if life throws me something really exciting such as content to help my house look like a Nancy Meyers house, I’m just going to capture that in whatever way makes sense, and I’m not going to dwell on it like it’s a serious problem!

Making it more general, workflows are best practices, if things get in the way for a bit, let them. If the core workflow is still good and useful, I don’t think you need to go back to the drawing board and rethink your practices.

Which leads us to the next point…

If it ain’t broke…

I imagine if you’re reading this, you’re interested in PKM/digital systems in some way. You might have previously tried different analogue methods to manage yourself, your knowledge and your time. We’re always making improvements, changing tiny things or whole systems to try and fit ourselves best. You might watch other people’s content and decide you want to emulate what they’re doing, I’ve certainly done that a lot.

But, unless you feel specific friction and discomfort somewhere in your system, you probably don’t need to change anything.

I saw a Notion template this week that looked brilliant and it made me want to change my work homepage to look like that. When I started thinking through what was needed to do that, literally just to look aesthetic with no guarantee it would actually work better, the novelty wore off and I made no changes.

What I have works for me now. If it stops working, I’ll re-evaluate and indeed that template will be inspiration. But my homepage isn’t broken, I don’t need to fix it. “Doing what works for you for exactly how long it works for you” seems a very logical principle.

That also means it’s more than ok to change things up when it’s time, but waiting for a specific reason is often when you’ll find something that does indeed work better than previous iterations because you’re changing something with a specific reason in mind. If our systems meet our needs, they’ll probably work pretty well and make you feel good in the process.

I’m not sure everything I do is PKM, but it’s inspired by PKM because it changed my world view

I really don’t want to get bogged down into the intricacies of the initialisms that run the digital space we find ourselves in, but I don’t think I can say that everything I’m doing is PKM.

My brand name is PKM Beth because that’s how I started. I was consuming content about PKM from some genius creators, who showed me the power of a networked note-taking app, and now my entire world view has changed.

It started just with notes, but has snowballed into everything else. There was PKM in the Wild.

See more posts like this on my instagram!

After a year of living my digital dream, I’ve come to the decision that I’m actually doing PKM-inspired Digital Beth Management. Catchy!

Rather than thinking too much about this and worrying about needing to change my brand name, the lesson I’ve learned is to accept that PKM will change your brain in the best ways and to run with that and enjoy all the new avenues possibilities it opens up.

So nothing groundbreaking here, but I still feel I’ve learned so much this year from writing, sharing and discussing my thoughts.

What have you learned this year? Would love to learn from you!

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