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With the right tools you can do what you need efficiently

PKM _ What is it.

Personal Knowledge Management (aka PKM) is the management and retrieval of all of the information you save on your computer. The information your future you will use. The data includes everything you have captured and saved: notes, articles, book summaries, book reviews, personal data, internet articles, personal documents, pictures, videos, podcasts, etc.

All of this information has to be stored and be easily retrievable when you want to use it for your writing, to answer questions about your personal data, and to generate new ideas in a new creative way. There are new tools to help you manage your stored information. And more are being developed each year. They are emerging as new note-taking applications that have unique philosophies around how you store and retrieve your information.

Note-Taking forms

You can either store your information in a hierarchical (filing cabinet) or nodal (mental model) structure.  Dan Shipper wrote an excellent long article contrasting these two styles or structures on his Super Organizers on Productivity website. This is a paid website but well worth the cost to get access to the group of thought leaders on productivity he has joined with.  The article is

The simple way of viewing this issue is to think about how you want to save, relate, and access information. You can use the familiar filing cabinet or you can store your data in a network nodal that has links between pages and words within these pages.

For me, I have ventured into the new world of nodal relationships. I did this because, as a writer, I am looking for new ways to generate topics and relate the information I have saved. I want to easy retrieve related original ideas. The networked concept makes more sense to me. However, there are others who are happy and productive using the more familiar hierarchical systems.

 Throughout my work life, I stored everything hierarchically. The difficulty with this kind of organization is retrieval. I have over 4000 items stored in Evernote, which I may never get to because they are not interrelated. I was a project manager for a mine development project. For that project, we had, after 10 years, more than 160 feet of files. You can imagine how difficult it was to find something from 5 years ago. So I have chosen nodal storage for my future information rather than hierarchical. Both will work if that is what you want to work with.

Those that prefer the hierarchical system today argue correctly that the systems have very improved search functions that will find every instance of a word or phrase in your storage of articles and notes. So whichever way you choose to store your information, your system is only as good as the search function.

Note taking and PKM Tools

Hierarchical tools include



         Microsoft one-note

         Bear Notes

Nodal Network tools include

         Roam Research


all-in-One Productivity and PKM Tools

     These are the three tools that exist that try to do everything in one tool. They allow you to handle Projects and tasks, your personal knowledge management, scheduling, etc. Each of them does them either easily or is just adding functionality to their system. So whichever system you choose, you can expect to have to wait for certain functionality. Those missing functions may or may not be important to you.

         Evernote- has a long history as a note-taking and storage system. They are adding more functionality each year onto their platform to make it a more multi-function tool. It has been around the longest and does the best job of capturing data.

         Notion- is like a blank canvas that allows you to create any kind of system and data structures you want. As you can imagine if you stare at a blank canvas and have your palette of colors, it can be very daunting and intimidating.  But if you go through it step-by-step and learn the fundamentals before you try to paint a Van Gogh, it can be very exciting to end up with everything all in one place. All of your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly productivity systems integrated into one picture.

         Roam Research – Usually shortened to Roam, is the only system that uses a bi-directional nodal model to hold your data. It is a general purpose system that will allow you to handle all your processes. Unlike Notion, which leaves you with an ascetically pleasing picture, Roam is more bare bones at this point in its evolution. However, to keep and interrelate your notes and information, it is the most intuitive to me.

         Both ROAM and Notion will allow you to do everything you want to do in a single application. But they do it differently. Notion is more pictorial and colorful and Roam links your information in a more natural way.

     Obsidian is newest entry in the networked note-taking systems. It allows you to import and link markdown notes in text files and then link them. It is a different, but very similar approach to note taking built around the note, allowing you to link original notes together.

How do you choose the tool that will work for you?

     Well, it isn’t easy since you can make any of these work. But here are some thought processes to go through to arrive at your conclusion.

     1. Choose the basic philosophy that resonates with you. Does hierarchical make the most sense to you? You have used filing cabinets, folders, and notebooks all your life. You understand them. Or does the linking of nodes make sense to you?

     2. Decide what you will do with this information. Is it just used for reference or do you use it to provide and connect ideas you will write about?

     3. Which tool are you willing to learn and become proficient at using. This is probably the defining question. Some people fall prey to the new shiny tool syndrome and always want to jump to the latest tool regardless of what it is. I fight this temptation all the time. Obsidian is the new shiny tool this month. The way it relates notes doesn’t work for me.

     4. Which tool or group or group of tools will help you become more productive for the near term and long term.

     5. How many tools do you want in your toolbox- one that does it all (Marie Poulin and August Bradley are Notion Masters and use Notion for everything.) Or do you want to use more than one tool as I am doing? If you follow this method, then you need to decide which is the primary tool that will make you the most productive each day and build around that one.

Here is My answer

     For me I capture my information in EVERNOTE, then use Roam to link ideas and Notion to keep track of projects and tasks and my daily calendar (or I will when they let me move from google calendar directly to a Notion calendar.) One of those annoying missing pieces I mentioned above.

     Many other people use Evernote for everything because it has been around the longest. It has been around the longest and therefore is a more stable system. It is the most used and solid application (over 10 years old.)

     Roam has a growing following but has a lot of useful things that are in the process of being added that will make it a more useful tool. Most of the Roam users are experimenters and work around any shortcomings that may exist. They will wait for the Roam team to add the things they need.

     Obsidian is in the beta stage. This generally means it isn’t ready (stable enough) to make available to the public yet. It is in the testing stage. Problems may arise as you use it, and you may have some chance of losing your work. This is for the brave experimenters who like the newest shiny tool or think the foundational philosophy of the developers is better than what they are using. Don’t misinterpret my comments, I expect it to be a viable contender soon.

     So as the saying goes, pick your poison.