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Knowledge Management
The Power of Personal Knowledge Management [A 2023 Guide]

The Power of Personal Knowledge Management [A 2023 Guide]

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💡 What is personal knowledge management?

Personal knowledge management (or PKM, for short) is:

  • A term to describe how we collect, sort, store, search, recall, and share information.
  • An intentional system to manage the flood of information—and ideas!—that flow through our brains on a daily basis.
  • A bottom-up approach to knowledge management.

How many tasks do you do just infrequently enough that you can’t do them again without a refresher? How much time do you spend struggling to remember if, when, and where you jotted down notes for your future self? How frustrating is it to know you did something successfully before, without being able to quickly remember how?  

It’s not a personal failing. Or a question of intelligence. It’s a side effect of the sheer volume of information available today.

  • We have an average of 70,000 thoughts a day
  • A recent study reported we read an average of 1,968,000 words on our browsers, looked at 1,596 articles, received 6,852 Slack messages, visited 9,888 pages, did 3,528 searches, and spent 540 hours viewing, creating, and editing documents in 2022 alone. 
  • Over the course of a lifetime, each of our brains will hold 1 quadrillion pieces of information. 🤯

If information overload is the new normal, personal knowledge management is the new necessity. 

In this article, we’ll go deep on personal knowledge management (PKM), explain the benefits of building a second brain (especially if you feel too busy to build anything!), share a four-step framework for effective PKM, round up nine popular PKM tools, and flag a few mistakes to avoid when creating a personal knowledge management system.  

What goes into a personal knowledge management system?

If you’re familiar with personal information management (PIM) and knowledge management (KM), you can think of what goes into personal knowledge management as a blend of both.

If that sounds like a lot of acronyms, here’s what you need to know:

  • Personal information management → Covers the way you find, save, and apply information in context. 
  • Knowledge management → Covers how you create and share knowledge. 
  • Personal knowledge management → Covers how you do all of the above, in pursuit of individual and/or organizational goals. 

If you subscribe to the idea that we’re all responsible for our own growth and development—and everybody wins when we share what we’ve learned—personal knowledge management is a prerequisite.

Here are a few things to consider as you build your personal productivity stack:

Category 🔍 Advantage 🙌
Communication tools Avoid channel confusion and streamline cross-functional collaboration.
Task/project management tools Improve organization, prioritization, efficiency, collaboration, communication, and project outcomes.
Time management tools Enhance productivity, make more informed decisions, create space for strategic thinking and creative work, reduce stress, and increase accountability.
Learning management tools Centralize where you organize and manage learning content, assignments, assessments, and progress tracking.
Real-time capture tools Capture an idea, instruction, or insight *as* you come across it.
“Read it later” tools Circle back to content you’d like to revisit—without revisiting your browser history from yesterday, last week, and last month.
Note-taking tools Hang onto things your future self will thank you for in one location, with a solid search function.
Visual mapping tools Connect the dots between ideas (literally and figuratively) to reframe information in ways our brains can’t easily do on their own.
Automation and artificial intelligence tools Automate routine tasks in your PKM system, and use AI to enhance your learning and knowledge management.

What’s missing from this list? Tools that help you convert existing knowledge into new knowledge. More to come on the purpose of a personal knowledge management system in a second!

Personal knowledge management system goals

There are just as many ways to set up a personal knowledge management system as there are reasons to do it.

We touched on some common ones above—including increased productivity, efficiency, and accountability. Here are six more to add to the list:

  1. Faster time-to-learn. 🙌 So you can wrap your head around new data, technologies, tools, processes, and procedures more effectively—and learn from failure and feedback more quickly.
  2. Faster time-to-remember. 🕺 So you can spend less time searching and more time making an impact.
  3. Better focus. 🤓 So you can keep your brain from feeling like it has too many tabs open—and work on what matters most, in clear alignment with your goals.
  4. More knowledge applied. 🙏 So you and your team can shift from incubating knowledge to actioning new ideas.
  5. Fewer information silos. 🧡 So everyone's equipped to teach, learn, and do their best work.
  6. Smarter energy expenditure. 🎉 So you can spend less energy moving through cognitive overload and more energy sharing key insights with others.

Speaking of cognitive overload…let’s talk about something many of us wish we had: a second brain.

Benefits to building a second brain

Fun fact: Having access to a second brain isn’t just a pipe dream. 

You may already be familiar with the second brain movement. If yes—see you in two paragraphs! If you’re scratching your head—stick with us. 

There are two concepts to know. A second brain is an external digital filing system with ideas and insights to help you do your best work. “Building a second brain” refers to the act of expanding your ability to retain and apply knowledge.

None of us can remember everything—and it wouldn’t make sense to try. There are countless benefits to having a literal extension of your mind, including: 

  • Less information overload (with a carefully curated information stream)
  • A centralized “holding tank” for inspiration and insights gained through experience 
  • Decreased forgetfulness 
  • Less time spent inadvertently reinventing the wheel
  • Deepened subject matter expertise 
  • An organized way to stay current with new developments in your field 
  • Increased ability to make connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information
  • A valuable body of information to advance new initiatives and goals 
  • More mental space to imagine, create, and be in the present moment
  • A collection of knowledge that appreciates in value over time
  • A chance to take full advantage of all the learning opportunities around you
A Tango-branded image of sticky notes being organized into a folder.

A four-step framework for personal knowledge management

To reiterate, a five-star personal knowledge management system isn’t just a storage unit. It’s more like highly organized chaos, with a high probability of moments of brilliance. A good PKM system will help you minimize time spent sifting through the boxes, and maximize the collective impact of the invisible threads connecting the contents inside.

Tiago Forte, the mastermind behind the movement to build a second brain, has a four-step framework for personal knowledge management that needs no improvement. It’s called CODE, and it stands for Capture, Organize, Distill, and Express.

Step one: Capture

If CODE is the equivalent of a supply chain of information, you can think of the capture stage as the place where raw materials come together. Your antenna for interesting information should always be up. Whether it’s an article, an infographic, a webinar, a podcast, or a way of doing something, you should have a way to bookmark it (literally or figuratively).

Step two: Organize

To transform your raw materials into building blocks, you need a way to categorize everything you’ve captured. You might think about projects (with a start and end date), areas of responsibility, resources, and archives (to move inactive items as needed).  

Step three: Distill

Now you have lots of useful things—maybe too many. This is a good time to extract the knowledge that’s most relevant to your current goals. 

Step four: Express 

Capturing, organizing, and distilling are relatively easy, with a little discipline. But if you never go beyond those three stages, you’re keeping valuable information (too) close to your chest. To avoid information hoarding and promote knowledge sharing, it’s important to express what you found into the world.

Nine tools for personal knowledge management

Random acts of knowledge management won’t move the needle for long. But systems, habits, and top rated tools will. 💪🏾

Used to sending yourself emails, filling up your iPhone notes, bouncing between legal pads, fishing crumpled Post-its out of the recycling, throwing notes into assorted Google Docs, and/or scrolling through way too many browser bookmarks to find what you need?

There’s a better way. Or—more accurately—multiple better ways. Here are nine personal knowledge management tools waiting to transform the way you work. 

A list of nine popular tools for personal knowledge management.

Tango—to create how-to guides, in seconds

Tango is a popular Chrome extension that takes the pain out of documenting processes by automatically generating how-to guides while you work. Learn how to execute any process on your browser or desktop once, offload it to Tango, and click “Guide Me” to do it again in the future—effortlessly.

Build your second brain with Tango.
See how it works:

Notion—to centralize all your knowledge in one place

Notion is an all-in-one workspace for tasks, notes, wikis, databases, and pretty much anything else you can think of. The simple but powerful platform makes it easy to retrieve relevant information from the past to achieve your goals and projects faster.

Roam Research—to organize related thoughts 

Roam is a note taking and knowledge management tool that allows users to organize related thoughts without having to worry about which file and folder the thought needs to go into. They’ve been called everything from "the Superhuman of Notes" to a "magic junkyard for connecting ideas."

Obsidian—to make and follow connections with ease

Obsidian is a powerful and extensible knowledge base that works on top of your local folder of plain text files. Their graph view depicts your knowledge at a glance. With group, filter, and display options, it couldn’t be easier to see things your way.

Logseq—to give your notes a safe space

Logseq is a privacy-first, open-source knowledge base that makes it a breeze to organize thoughts and information using a combination of plain text and Markdown. You can add tags to notes and create links between related notes to make it easier to find and navigate your information.

Kinopio—to build new ideas and solve hard problems

Kinopio is a mind-mapping tool that allows you to take basic notes and sketch interconnected ideas. It works the way your mind works, with space to brainstorm, research, moodboard, plan and take notes.

Craft—to create beautiful, shareable docs 

Craft is clutch when it comes time to express your newfound knowledge in words. Craft AI Assistant will instantly improve your writing and take your documents to the next level, and with Craft Connect, you can send and receive info from a variety of apps.

Nuclino—to share information in real time

Nuclino is a cloud-based team collaboration software that allows teams to quickly collaborate and share information. It brings together knowledge, docs, and projects together in one place, so you can spread recent, relevant discoveries with the people who matter most.

Anytype.io—to break down barriers between applications

Anytype a personal knowledge base and digital brain that allows you to capture, describe, and connect information. Privacy is paramount for this one. Any digital assets and communities you create are truly yours, and you get to decide how your data is used, shared, and valued.

Five mistakes to avoid when creating a personal knowledge management system

Learning is easier when you can learn from those who came before you. Here are five things to avoid when you create your own PKM system:

  1. Overcomplicating the system. 🤦🏽 You want something appealing to use and easy to maintain. 
  2. Punting on prioritization. 😅 What’s a total joy? Surfacing what’s most useful with little to zero digging.
  3. Failing to use (and integrate) the right tools. ⚙️ To build a second brain, you need to take advantage of the latest technology.
  4. Not considering security and privacy. 🔒 Protect your sensitive information and data—the first time and every time.
  5. Forgetting to back things up. 🆘 Peace of mind is what we’re going for, here!

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can create a personal knowledge management system that is effective, efficient, and easy to use.

The bottom line

As you might have guessed, personal knowledge management helps us manage our knowledge. But it also helps us apply that knowledge—and share it with others. 

By shifting from capturing, organizing, and distilling information to expressing it, we can quickly move from incubating knowledge to actioning new ideas.


Why is personal knowledge management important?

Personal knowledge management is a key part of continuous learning, with outcomes like improved productivity and efficiency, increased creativity and innovation, better decision making, and enhanced personal and professional development.

What are some popular tools or software for personal knowledge management?

Popular tools for personal knowledge management include: Tango, Roam Research, Obsidian, Logseq, Kinopio, Craft, Nuclino, and Anytype.io.

What does PKM mean in productivity?

PKM stands for personal knowledge management, and refers to a systematic approach to collecting, storing, accessing, applying, and sharing new insights.

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