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Knowledge Management, Why Is It Important?

by Staff

“Your head is for having ideas, not for storing them”. It is an old and powerful saying that reflects how our brains work. The memory is not perfect, it holds to facts selectively and unreliably, and even the brightest emotions are blurring over time. There are numerous benefits to unloading ideas and knowledge from the brain to paper, but the most important one is giving a perspective.

Imagine average persons who never keep records. They would have to rely on their memory, which selectively stores certain emotional moments and barely holds on to facts, let alone any numbers. It makes it harder to reflect and draw on past experiences, as they are not stored anywhere. The growth slows down while the resentment grows. The world seems unwelcoming and cruel to those who can’t see their own mistakes and wrongdoings.

Here we will outline three different ways to keep notes. They all help to reflect on the past, organize the present, and prepare for the future, making you a better manager and a more effective leader. They allow to store, organize and retrieve information, making life much easier.

Journal/Diary

It is possibly the oldest form of note-taking. A journal is a set of notes, usually taken daily, where a person can unload what’s on her mind: what has happened on that day, mood, ideas, and troubles. The most basic version of the journal or a diary is already a good instrument, but it’s easy to take it to the next step.

Review your notes for the past week and sum them up in a short review. Do the same every month for a broad perspective. The next step is doing it once a year to set yourself up for a successful life. It is the power of journaling. Accurate and practical reflection of one’s day-to-day life can become a superpower when combined with good planning.

Analog

Numerous businesses offer journals of all kinds: with prompts, dates, and even pretty drawings. The stationery can be appealing. However, it may distract you from the very purpose of buying it. So choose a modest notebook, maybe even without dates in it. Experiment with outlines, write weekly and monthly reviews every so often and do not stress too much about the aesthetics. A journal is a powerful tool that is supposed to be used and worn out, not an art project.

Digital

Numerous businesses offer journals of all kinds: with prompts, dates, and even pretty drawings. The stationery can be appealing. However, it may distract you from the very purpose of buying it. So choose a modest notebook, maybe even without dates in it. Experiment with outlines, write weekly and monthly reviews every so often and do not stress too much about the aesthetics. A journal is a powerful tool that is supposed to be used and worn out, not an art project.

Drawbacks

There is, however, a problem with keeping a journal: referencing becomes a nightmare. Yes, it is possible to reference an entry by date, but it requires one to remember at least a year and a month. It is not a problem in digital format, where the full-text search is possible but tricky with a printed one. Besides, a journal lacks structure: daily entries may contain information on vastly different topics, and sorting through these is not a pleasant experience. A Bullet Journal solves this problem, but it cannot cope with large amounts of information.

To sum up, a journal is the easiest to set up and still quite applicable, which makes it the best starting point. It is also the best option for capturing memories, along with a personal photo archive.

Commonplace Book

A commonplace book is a natural evolution of a journal. The daily entries were poorly organized and unstructured, so an alternative, more flexible format for note-taking emerged. It is a commonplace book: a notebook with an index and a collection of quotes, ideas, and spurs of inspiration captured on paper. The index makes it easier to use and reference notes, as it is readily available. Pages are usually numbered. Some people separate book notes and personal journals, which works best for avid readers.

The commonplace book integrates with the getting-things-done system flawlessly. One of the notebooks can be allocated for the inbox and daily planning. The ideas are sorted and put in their respective categories (notebooks), while the planning happens under the existing system. It is also possible to integrate your commonplace book with kanban board planning. “Incoming” ideas and tasks are neatly stored and transferred to the board later.

Analog

Notebooks with unlined pages work best for commonplace books. The dotted paper is another popular choice, giving some guidelines while not obstructing the view. Notes often contain diagrams and tables that make horizontal lines look unnatural. However, look for your perfect notebook by trial and error. It is the best option to choose durable hardcover notebooks with heavy paper. Referencing and re-reading will wear out thin materials.

If there is a choice, opt for a notebook with a pocket under the cover. It is a great place to hold your discounts, checks, memos, printed photos, dried flowers, and anything that fits there.

Digital

Evernote. A very robust note-taking app that has been around for a long time and has a solid user base. Many people use it to write, store and share documents across all platforms. There are all the features one may need, a free plan is good, and the price for extended features is not insanely high. Along with good integration with other apps, it makes Evernote a good option.

Notion. A relatively new app packs many features. It can serve as a database, a shared workspace for teamwork, and a planner all at once. The free plan is good enough for personal use, while the paid version allows collaboration and unlimited file uploads. Notion has many advantages, yet it is heavier than Evernote and does not work as well offline. Be aware of these when choosing your preferred app.

Drawbacks

The commonplace book system is quite rigid. The author is limited to notebooks and their page count, which makes it difficult to maintain the system in the long term. Referencing and grouping information become a chore. At some point, the separate notebook has to be dedicated for indexing, and the amount of paper makes it difficult to transport the whole system.

Zettelkasten

The zettelkasten is a knowledge-management system that stores information as a set of small notes and organizes it with links. It is the most intuitive and flexible system of the ones mentioned here, but the most difficult one to set up and maintain. The two most important principles are atomicity and linking. Atomicity refers to the small size of individual entries – building blocks of the system. One quote, one idea, a small diagram, or a list. Linking mechanism, implemented differently in any system, usually connects similar notes, providing context and depth.

Analog

Every idea is written on a small sheet of paper, usually the size of a notecard. It contains just one fact, idea, or quote. Meta information and context go to the other side of the card: title, source, date and links to other notes. These cards are stored in a box with drawers, each of them corresponding to a certain theme. A drawer with philosophy-related notes, one for psychology, and another one for historical facts, for example. This setup resembles a library catalog with cards instead of books.

Digital

In the zettelkasten method, a computer can do most of the work. Make a note, name it, use wiki-links (double square brackets) to link to other files. Tags can be used to group notes into themes, and utilizing folders for more rigid categories is often useful. It provides many powerful tools, among them full-text search and unlimited volume. However, some people prefer the physical version of this system, as it gives “weight” to the ideas they write down.

As this knowledge management approach is getting more and more popular, there are multiple apps for implementing it. The listicles and comparisons may get confusing, so we will name a few of them here for a curious reader to get started.

Obsidian. A great app that offers a free plan with all the features except synchronization. It stores all of your notes in markdown format on the computer, so you are in control of the data. The app provides a sound guide for beginners, and many tutorials are available in the community. The customization potential is endless as the app utilizes extensions and even custom CSS themes.

Roam Research. Online zettelkasten-based note-taking tool. Unfortunately, it only offers a paid version with a short free trial. It is a powerful organizational tool if you are willing to pay for it and entrust it with your data.

Zettlr. Free and open-source zettelkasten tool. It lacks the graph view that both Obsidian and Roam provide, but otherwise, it is a perfectly capable and very powerful app for building a knowledge base and linking notes together within it. For example, this text started as a note in Zettlr.

Drawbacks

The zettelkasten method is a powerful double-edged sword. With enough patience and research, it is possible to write an entire book off your system. Some even call it “the second brain”. However, the setup and maintenance costs are high as well. For most people not writing for a living, this would be hard, unless they like to play with these sorts of systems. Another complaint is the lack of structure: it may be a useful feature for some purposes, but sometimes having rigid folders is far more appealing.

Personal Wiki

For tech-savvy readers, there is an opportunity to create a personal wiki. It can be shared with other people and managed by one person or collectively. There are many advantages to this approach. However, it requires solid knowledge of the framework and tools used to host and maintain the bank. Additionally, the notes in the wiki are usually more complete and extensive than in zettelkasten or a commonplace book.

This approach seems to work best for large amounts of technical information, especially if it is easily categorized. Technical documentation, scientific research, and historical facts live well in wikis. But the setup is more difficult and requires the use of various technologies.

Which One Is Right For You?

These categories are just suggestions for a beginner who would like to take things further. A personalized, well-refined workflow is unlikely to fit any of these, as it only takes what is useful to the creator. But everyone needs to start somewhere, and here are our suggestions.

For beginners who are just starting their note-taking journey, a simple journal is a way to go. It enables a writing habit and doesn’t put much pressure related to organizing and linking notes. The entry barrier is non-existent as any device can be used for it, even the one that displays this text.

For more advanced writers, a commonplace book will work just fine. The burden of organizing and categorizing notes pays off, as it gets easier to make references. It is especially true for avid readers who would like to keep and access the ideas from books they read. A potential to store not just text, but diagrams, photos, and (in analog form) small memos that fit between pages is even more appealing.

The zettelkasten method is very appealing and can be executed in many different ways, from the simple web to an intricate system of folders, tags, and links. It is easy to get lost in optimizing your system and tweaking it instead of writing in it. There is a good rule of thumb for all note-taking methods: the organization and maintenance should take less than 1% of the time you spend writing and editing. If it takes longer – downgrade ferociously.

Author Bio

Alexander Chalov

Alexander Chalov is a chemistry researcher and a writer. A technology enthusiast and a scientist who writes in his spare time. Currently works with Jooble job search engine.

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