What Is Personal Knowledge Management?

This blog is all about personal knowledge management (PKM). But what the heck does that mean, anyway?

The answer matters, because the way that we define PKM influences how we do it and why we do it.

Taking a cue from William Jones’s wonderful book Keeping Found Things Found: The Study and Practice of Personal Information Management, I define PKM as getting things done through information. (William prefers the term personal information management, but we’re really talking about the same thing.)

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I like this definition for three reasons.

First, it reminds us that information is a means to an end. If we forget this point, then PKM can lead us down the rabbit hole of endlessly collecting information for its own sake. This fate is described by the Biblical author of Ecclesiastes: “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”

As Richard Saul Wurman points out, there is no such thing as “keeping up” with the infinite flow of information. All that matters is following the trail of your own interests and completing the projects that matter to you. These are powerful filters that prevent information overload and make PKM a truly personal enterprise.

Second, my definition reminds us to distinguish knowledge from information. Knowledge is information that you can act on — i.e., use to get things done. Wisdom, in turn, is enduring and universal knowledge — used by many people over time as a guide to behavior.

Third, this definition also gives us clear marching orders. That five-word phrase — getting things done through information — directs you to specific behaviors:

  • Capturing information from any source that will help you complete projects
  • Capturing any other information that resonates with you
  • Organizing your notes into a single, searchable repository
  • Transforming your notes into original, memorable, and usable ideas
  • Implementing your best ideas

I encourage you to find a definition of PKM that resonates with you. There are many options. For example, you might choose to define PKM as:

  • A system for lifelong learning and continuous content creation
  • A system for increasing the quantity and quality of my creative work
  • Using a notes app to learn more and earn more
  • Creating a knowledge base that grows in value over time and increases my career capital
  • Turning my notes from a pile of junk into a gold mine for gaining knowledge and getting things done
  • A reliable system for completing creative projects
  • Transforming information into results
  • Having the right information in the right form and at the right time to complete the task at hand
  • Capturing, organizing, and finding the information I need to meet my goals and fulfill my roles
  • Creating a collection of all the “greatest hits” (best ideas) from my reading, conversations, and personal reflection
  • Collecting ideas on a continuous basis, refining them, and channeling them into a stream of publications, presentations, products, and services

In any case, I wish you loads of fun as you play with ideas and create breakthroughs in your life.

Photo by Rhett Wesley on Unsplash

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