Why you need a single source of truth for your PKM system

Having a single source of truth for all types of data in your PKM is key to a solid system

Why you need a single source of truth for your PKM system
A single source of truth is much more powerful than isolated/disconnected knowledge bases.

In this article, I explain what a single source of truth is and discuss why you need one for your personal knowledge management system.

What is a single source of truth

An essential idea when it comes to Personal Organization and Knowledge Management (PKM) is to define a single source of truth for everything. Let me explain what I mean by this.

A Single Source of Truth (SSOT) is a central location where you aggregate data or metadata about specific information.

The core idea is to have one reliable source to go to when you need to find or store something. If you have a single source of truth for your pictures, then you only need to check there to find what you need. If you have a single source of truth for your invoices, then it’s easy to file those.

A single source of truth makes it easy to locate what you are looking for (i.e., helps with findability), and it makes it a breeze to file new things. But it has other important benefits!

Why you need a single source of truth for everything

In a Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and even in a larger Personal Organization system, having a single source of truth for each type of information and each project is of the utmost importance.

When there are multiple input sources for a certain type of information, it’s critical to decide where you want to store that information. It may be okay to store it at multiple locations (either with or without duplicates), but you need to have a single source of truth. If you don’t, then you’ll keep wasting time, wondering where to store your information.

Once you have created a single source of truth, then everything becomes easier:

  • finding information
  • storing new information
  • backing up, restoring or migrating your data
  • explaining
  • sharing

Approaches to create a Single Source of Truth

There are two ways to create a single source of truth:

  • Put all the data (e.g., all your pictures) in a single location
  • Create a reliable index for all the data
    • For instance, if you have pictures stored on a NAS, on Google Photos, on different offline hard disks, etc then the single source of truth might be a wiki page where you list where each part of your collection is stored

Combining both is actually the best approach. You have a central storage location for the information, and if you forget about it or someone else needs to find something, then it's still possible to use the index to quickly find the information.

That being said, there are important benefits to regrouping information in a single place: backing up, restoring, migrating, mass renaming, detecting/removing duplicates, etc.

Single source of truth example

Let’s take an example: family pictures.

You regularly take pictures with your phone. Maybe your partner also takes some with his or hers. Those pictures may be automatically synchronized with Google Photo or iCloud. Maybe you also have a DSLR camera and memory cards filled with pictures and videos. Your friends and family take pictures of you, and store those in a gazillion places: Instagram, Facebook, e-mail, etc.

Without even looking at the details, you can imagine how messy this can be, from a personal organization point of view. Where is all that information stored? At least:

  • On your phone
  • On your memory cards
  • On your computer
  • In the cloud (Facebook, Instagram, Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud, etc)
  • On your friends/family’s phones
  • On their computers

Let’s ignore the privacy concerns for a minute. Even without that, isn’t it scary to think about? The information is duplicated, scattered all over the place. Worse still, it is messy. Where will you go when you need to find back pictures from a specific event/date? Your default might be to look at your phone. Ah bummer, maybe you have a new one and your pictures are gone. Oh but you may have moved those over to your computer? But where?! Oh, maybe your friends didn’t send those pictures. But who took those pictures already?

It’s a really mess. Truth be told, it’s the reality for most people. They don’t even think about organizing their information. I suppose they don’t care enough. At least until they lose precious souvenirs. It’s true for pictures, but also for many other types of data.

The thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way. You need to think seriously about how to better organize yourself. And it all starts with defining a Single Source of Truth for your information.

The path to your knowledge is easier to find if it's all in one place.

Continuing with the family pictures example, you certainly want to store them all in a single location, and then make sure to backup everything. Photos from your phone should go there. Pictures from your partner’s phone should go there. Photos from your camera should go there. Images that were received from friends as well. You get the point. In my case, the single source of truth for family pictures is my NAS. Every single picture we take ultimately goes in there. When people share pictures with me through Facebook, Instagram or other online platforms, I save a copy and store it along with all my pictures on the NAS. When I need to find one, I don’t have to think twice about where to go. If I lose my phone, I generally won’t be worried about lost pictures. If Facebook takes down a post, my pictures are still there. If my friends lose their phone, my pictures are still there.

Information types that benefit from having a single source of truth

Having a single source of truth is useful for all kinds of information. Here are some examples:

  • Bookmarks
  • Contacts
  • Documents
  • Furniture
  • Goals and plans
  • Hardware
  • Ideas
  • Invoices
  • Inspiration: articles, books, expressions, quotes, videos, etc.
  • Knowledge
  • Notes
  • Pictures
  • Projects
  • Software
  • Tasks
  • Videos
  • etc.

Recommendations for organizing your information

Here are some recommendations:

  • Define a single source of truth for each type of information
  • Create and maintain an index of what is where for each type of information (i.e., create a single source of truth about your single sources of truth!)
  • Regularly review your index to make sure it still reflects the reality
  • Make sure to backup your single sources of truth

More generally, make sure you actually design your Personal Knowledge Management and Personal Organization systems.

How the Obsidian Starter Kit helps

The Obsidian Starter Kit I've created provides a clear folder structure to centralize and organize the following types of information:

  • Articles and books
  • Contacts
  • Ideas
  • Inspiration
  • Knowledge
  • Notes
  • Personal goals and plans
  • Project plans and details
  • Tasks
  • and more (up to you)

The main benefit of centralizing all of this information in a single tool is that it makes it possible to link everything together and reuse content easily without duplicating it needlessly.

Obsidian Starter Kit and community
Who is this for?You are just getting started with note-taking or you’ve recently switched to ObsidianYou wonder how to take smart notesYou want to know how to properly organize your notes and avoid creating an overwhelming messYou want a solid system that scalesYou wonder what Zettelkasten, the PARA method, and the Johnny decimal system areGetting started with Obsidian is not the hardest thing in the world, but it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out how to structure and organize your knowledge base. You have a busy life, and you don’t want to spend weeks or even months figuring out the “right” approach.What is this?I’ve been passionate about information, knowledge management, and PKM for more than 20 years. As an author, blogger, knowledge worker, and entrepreneur, I needed solutions to store and organize an enormous amount of information.Over the years, I’ve explored, used, and advocated many tools but have been using Obsidian extensively since 2020. With the Obsidian Starter Kit, I offer you the result of my own research and experimentation. It’s like a cheat code to jump straight to stress-free note-making.I’ve spent months refining and perfecting my Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system, and have spent countless hours tweaking my system. I’ve published a few articles to share some ideas about this. My system combines the Zettelkasten approach, the PARA method, the Johnny decimal system, and other ideas to create a solid basis for my work as an author, blogger, and content creator.The Obsidian Starter Kit is a ready-made Obsidian vault that includes my recommended organization system and plugins, as well as example notes to help you get started. It also comes along with a user-friendly guide.What’s included?If you buy access to the Obsidian Starter Kit, you’ll get:The Obsidian vaultA comprehensive and solid structure with support for Journaling and ZettelkastenLeveraging the PARA method and the Johnny Decimal systemMany recommended plugins to boost productivity and automate actionsA clear system for Journaling, Meeting Notes, Periodic reviews, etcMany templates to improve consistency and productivityA powerful dashboardMaintenance notes (e.g., find duplicate and orphaned notes)Automation rulesMany examplesThe user guideLifetime access to the Personal Knowledge Management community for support and knowledge sharingIn addition, you’ll also get free access to all future updates. Over time, I’ll expand it step by step to include tutorials about the various aspects; from exploration/curation to summarization and reuse.What’s in the user guide?The user guide is a growing and evergreen knowledge base about how to take smart notes. It includes:Installation instructions.Details about the contents of the Obsidian Starter Kit (i.e., Obsidian vault structure, key design principles, included plugins, etc.)A clear overview of Obsidian and its core concepts (everything you should know and care about)Clear explanations about...The Zettelkasten methodAtomic notesProgressive summarizationThe PARA methodThe LIFT principleThe Johnny Decimal systemJournalingMaps of Content (MoCs)Periodic reviewsWhy and how to tag notesTemplatingThe Markdown syntaxWhy you need a single source of truth for everythingThe collector’s fallacyThe Inbox Zero principleHow to capture informationHow to capture quotesHow to capture information about persons of interestHow to extract knowledge from daily notesHow to save mental contextsObsidian tips and tricksWhat’s in the video course?The Obsidian Starter Course is a video course (~2h20) of content covering:Obsidian: installation, user interface, key features, plugins, automation, tips and tricks, etcThe Markdown syntaxYAML metadataPersonal Knowledge Management techniques and principles: the Johnny Decimal system, the PARA method (e.g., the Zettelkasten method, the LIFT principle, Atomic notes, Maps of Content, knowledge capture & extraction, etc)JournalingPeriodic reviewsTemplatesAutomationTask managementBest practices and recommendationsHands-on explanationsand more!Evergreen contentThe user guide of the Obsidian Starter Kit is expanding day after day, week after week. It will soon include:More theoryDetailed processes (e.g. when to take notes, how to use Zettelkasten in practice, daily notes, periodic reviews, ...)Additional how-to guidesMore tips and tricks...The Obsidian vault also evolves over time:The structure improvesNew templates are addedNew plugins are addedetcRefunds policyIf you’re not 100% satisfied, then just let me know, and I’ll issue a full refund. I’ll only ask you a single question: How can I improve the product?If you think about asking for a refund, then consider reaching out to me with your issues, questions, and remarks. I’m always available and happy to help. My goal is to help you succeed.Testimonials”Finally clickeđ how awesome @Obsidian is! Thanks to your excellent Obsidian Starter Kit!”— Cal Desmond-Pearson (@CalSocialHermit)“Off and running w/ @obsdmd. I’ve installed the app & have @dSebastien Starter Kit & my own fresh start Vault open. Learning from former & putting into practice w/ real content in latter. So far, so good”— Raymond D Sims (@rsims)“Great content - got me up to speed with what I was looking for fast ! Sébastien answered some questions by mail also which was much appreciated ! Thanks”— Sam Gonzales”As someone who has bounced around trying to find the right Knowledge tool, I’ve realized that many of my issues have been related to the complexity of the tools and the processes. The structure, design and explanations provided in the Obsidian Starter Kit have finally given me the foundation I’ve needed. 100% worth it”— Michael Aaron (via e-mail)“I absolutely love your kit and it has been so immensely helpful”— Ashwin Appiah (via e-mail)“Thanks for making the product. I’m making efforts to start using Obsidian more in my daily workflow and having a place to start makes the task much less daunting!”— Liam Weight (via Twitter DM)“I’m very new to PKM, but the Obsidian Starter Kit has been a tremendous help in getting me started”— Fredrik Nordström (via the PKM community Slack)“Sebastien’s Obsidian Starter Kit is a powerful tool for those looking to dive into the world of Obsidian without being overwhelmed. It’s a comprehensive solution that significantly shortens the learning curve, providing an impressively structured way to start capturing notes and facilitating daily journaling. The kit’s integration of automated tasks and pre-designed templates are a boon to beginners, alleviating the initial intimidation of starting from scratch. If you’re new to Obsidian and need a solid starting point, this starter kit comes highly recommended. It doesn’t just help you navigate Obsidian, but also empowers you to harness its full potential right from the get-go.”— Lubos KolouchFredrik (via the PKM community Slack)“Just to thank the work and content that allowed me to discover the background of a custom vault. It was a real boost for me and given the price, it was a real investment of time and learning.”— Trobrillant

Linking helps you create a strong private Web of knowledge. You might work on a specific project with one of your contacts. You can then take your meeting notes and link those with your contact and with your project, giving you various ways to look at the information.

In addition, you can also use the Obsidian vault to act as the single source of truth for the rest of your PKM system. You can create notes to document all sorts of things:

  • List all the places where you store your hardware
  • Document the inventory of the things you own; when/where you bought each, etc
  • List your favorite movies, TV shows, and ratings
  • List what you’ve lent to friends
  • List what you store in the attic
  • etc

Of course, it’s up to you to decide whether to use the proposed structure or only a part of it. There are no rules!

Again, this makes it much easier to find things later on. No need to think much: go to your single source of truth to find out where what you’re looking for is located.

Going further

If you want to further explore Personal Knowledge Management, then take a look at starter kit for Obsidian. It will give you a solid starting point for your note-making efforts.

Obsidian Starter Kit
Jump straight to stress-free note-making with Obsidian

Also check out my Personal Knowledge Management Library. It’s a huge collection of resources (articles, books, videos, YouTube channels, and a lot more).

By the way, I publish a weekly newsletter about PKM, note-taking, lifelong learning, and more!

If you find PKM interesting (I really hope you do!), then you might want to join our community.

Conclusion

In this article, I've explained the idea of a single source of truth and why it's so useful. This concept applies to PKM, but also to many other domains (e.g., software development, documentation, data management, accounting, law, etc).

Keeping this concept in mind will help you avoid ending up duplicating information, forgetting where you put X or Y, and whether this version or that version is the right one.

That's it for today! ✨