015: What is PKM?
3 min read

015: What is PKM?

You can find many takes on PKM out in the wild, but, at the core, what is it?
015: What is PKM?
Photo by ConvertKit / Unsplash

Welcome to Toolbox Tips, Effective’s weekly newsletter aimed at putting more tools in your productivity toolbox.

This week’s newsletter topic comes from Menlein1, who asked:

What is PKM? You make reference to it a number of times.

Let's dig right in. PKM stands for Personal Knowledge Management.

You’ll find many different takes on what PKM means out there. Some say it’s about taking notes, where others say it’s about building a second brain. Even further, a few refer to it as a class of note-taking apps like Obsidian.

Here’s how I define Personal Knowledge Management:

PKM is the process an individual engages in to capture, process, store, and use relevant and valuable information.

Interestingly enough, knowledge management as a field developed to help organizations manage information. And now, in our information-rich age in time, individuals have co-opted some of these ideas to help them manage the firehose that is the Internet and all the data that comes with it that we now have to deal with.

There are many approaches to the PKM process out there. I like to think of the process as a relatively simple set of stages we’re constantly working in. It’s not related to tools or workflows (though it could be), but it roots back to core human behaviors that technology has the potential to augment as an external thought workspace.

The stages are:

  1. Learning - You’re taking in information, trying to contextualize it, discern its usefulness, and recall it for later use.
  2. Thinking - The information you’ve learned is exposed to your other learnings, forging new connections. New ideas might start to spring up out of the interaction of those ideas.
  3. Creating - What you’ve learned and thought have come together and results in action. This can be as straightforward as making a YouTube video or a report at work, or as nuanced as a behavioral change because you now see the world differently.

There’s a key component behind my view of the PKM process: all of this happens inside your brain.

Yes, we use tools like Obsidian to capture, process, and store information.

Yes, sometimes the systems we create can automate segments of the tactical process of PKM.

But our tools don’t learn, think, or create themselves... we do.

We simply use the tools to make the process of learning, thinking, and creating easier or more effective.

So that’s what PKM is in a nutshell. I think it’s important to keep the big idea of PKM simple, and not overburden it with lots of jargon and complicated reasoning, as it has the potential to be impactful across a wide base of people (not just us productivity and note-taking nerds).

For Your Enjoyment

I recently achieved certification as a Scum Master, and spent some time on a livestream studying for the test. We had some interesting conversation about workplace productivity and Scrum as a result.

Another throwback episode from Process that’s highly relevant to my definition of PKM. What’s at the center of your system? Is it the right thing?

The Center of Your System
What’s at the center of your productivity system? Is it a task manager? In this episode, Justin makes the case that there’s something better to help you drive your day.

Here to Help

I can help you in three ways on your productivity journey when you’re ready:

  1. Have a question about your system or productivity concept and need help? Ask it here.
  2. Wanting to level up your Obsidian skills? Check out Obsidian Made Simple.
  3. Looking to streamline your PKM workflow? Get a 60 day free trial of Readwise.

That’s all for this week. Until next time, stay effective!

We share affiliate links in this newsletter, so we may make a small commission from purchases you make.