Ten Personal Knowledge Management Practices to Explore and Master

Ten practices that you should explore to improve your Personal Knowledge Management skills

Ten Personal Knowledge Management Practices to Explore and Master
Personal Knowledge Management practices can empower you. Image generated using DALL-E

In this article, I want to discuss ten practices you should explore and try to master to improve your Personal Knowledge Management skills.


Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) is a wonderful way to learn more efficiently and amass useful information and knowledge. It's also an excellent engine for personal development. In this article, I don't want to argue about the value of PKM. Actually, I already did:

Why is Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) useful
The key reasons why Personal Knowledge Management is useful

No, instead, I'm going to assume that you're convinced, but that you need some help to find the (best) path forward.

Personal Knowledge Management Practices Overview

Here are the ten practices I recommend in this article:

  1. Goal setting, prioritization, and organization
  2. Learning how to learn and continuous learning
  3. Searching and filtering information
  4. Capturing and synthesizing information
  5. Reflecting and making notes
  6. Linking notes
  7. Tagging notes
  8. Organizing information
  9. Journaling
  10. Periodic reviews
  11. Bonus: Keeping it simple stupid (KISS)

Goal setting, prioritization and organization

First and foremost, before you spend your time exploring Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) practices and tools, you need to know what your goals are. Without that, you'll just waste your time and energy. Just like any other endeavor, you need to define your goals clearly before you start. Of course, those can evolve over time, but you should really know what you are after. PKM has a lot of value for lifelong learners and knowledge workers. But it's also a wonderful tool for personal development.

Once you know what your goals are with PKM, you need to prioritize your efforts and organize yourself. Prioritization is about knowing what needs your focus and attention. It's all about prioritizing "actions" that will move the needle towards and will help you achieve your goals. If your goal is to succeed in your studies, then you'll need to prioritize identifying/capturing relevant knowledge and ideas, then dedicating enough time to explore those further.

On the other hand, organization is about how you are going to introduce and use PKM in your life. It's about the systems and processes you'll rely on to maximize the value you get out of it. It's about the tools you'll choose to use. Organization doesn't mean complexity. On the contrary. You should aim to use as few tools as possible and to rely on lean processes and systems. The easier and simpler your systems/processes/tools are, the better off you'll be. When thinking about organization, less is often more!

Over time, and depending on your needs, you could later learn about more advanced PKM concepts and techniques such as the LIFT principle, the PARA method, the Johnny Decimal system, the Zettelkasten method, Maps of Content:

The LIFT principle
Discover the LIFT principle and why you should apply it to improve your personal organization
The PARA method
The PARA method is a great way to organize your digital information. Here’s a quick introduction
The Johnny Decimal system
Discover the Johnny Decimal system and organize anything with grace
The Zettelkasten method
Discover the Zettelkasten method, one of the most powerful note-taking systems
Maps of Content (MoCs) for better Knowledge Graphs
Understand what Maps of Content (MoCs) are in the PKM ecosystem. Discover why they are useful and how they can help strengthen your knowledge graph

Learning how to learn and continuous learning

Once you know what you want to achieve and how, you need to take action. But consider that it's not a sprint. It's a marathon. Learning is a continuous activity. You need to internalize this idea: try to discover/capture/learn/explore something at every single opportunity.

Small efforts repeated for long enough will very often vastly outweigh big efforts repeated for a very short time. That's where habits come in, and why they're so valuable. Habits are way more powerful than willpower. Willpower will quickly deplete as we rely on it, and exhaust ourselves. Habits require much less willpower and are thus much less taxing. Once they are established, they can make the hardest things seem easy and natural. Habits can keep us going for a very long time in comparison to willpower. For this reason, I recommend making a habit of learning and "doing" PKM.

At some point, my son (12) and I wanted to start exercising. I told him to do a few exercises a day, without pushing too hard. He didn't want to listen to me and gave it everything. Meanwhile, I just did a couple of push-ups and abs, then stopped. After a few days, my son lost motivation. He depleted his energy, and consequently, his willpower dropped. After a week, he slipped and didn't train anymore for a few days. On my end, I just kept going, day after day. You could say that he had less willpower than I did, but the reality is that I didn't care about the exercises. I only cared about establishing the habit. Once it was anchored, I started increasing the pace. I added other exercises, additional push-ups, etc. It slowly got harder, but since it became a habit, I kept showing up, day after day. My lesson is simple: establish the habit first. Then, and only then, increase the pace.

The Capture Habit
Why capturing ideas and concepts can make a huge difference for your personal development and career

Also, explore the topic of meta-learning. Learn how to learn. Learn what the best conditions are for you to learn:

Meta-learning, the missing link in (your) education
Meta-learning (learning how to learn) might be the key that you need to build a better future for yourself.

Explore techniques to better learn, such as the Feynman Technique:

The Feynman Technique
Richard Feynman has given us a wonderful technique to improve the way we learn. Discover the famous Feynman technique and start learning more effectively

In addition, as a systems thinker, I want to mention that systems and processes will become key over time. Check out my article on this topic if you want to go further:

Systems for health, intention, productivity, learning, knowledge, information management and control
How systems thinking can change your life

Searching and filtering information

In today's world, a very important skill (IMHO) is being able to find information efficiently. It's also of the utmost importance to be able to quickly identify what is relevant and what isn't. Whatever you want to learn or do, you need to have solid searching and filtering skills.

A year or two ago, I would have said "Google-fu" was the most important, but the reality is more complex now. With the rise of Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT, there are more options to find information and acquire knowledge.

Amplify the Signal, Not the Noise: The Power of Personal Knowledge Management
In this article, I want to highlight the benefits of Knowledge Management in general, and Personal Knowledge Management in particular when it comes to dampening the noise in our lives and amplifying the signal. Introduction In today’s digital age, we’re inundated with an overwhelming amount of information. This constant stream

Some advice:

  • Whenever you need to learn about a topic, make sure you find relevant sources, read from experts in the field, and ask the right questions to the right people
  • Use ChatGPT or similar tools to quickly get a summary, simplified explanations, find related ideas/concepts, understand the links between different ideas & concepts, etc
  • Use search engines efficiently. Learn how to find exact terms, how to search only on a specific site, how to remove terms from search results, how to find specific file types, etc
  • If there are reference books, try to find a copy and learn from those first. Generally, those will use the correct terms, will explain those, and will have a linear structure that makes it easier to go from zero to one
  • Pay attention to where you learn from. Identify valuable information sources vs crappy or bogus ones. Don't judge a book by its cover. Ugly Websites are often gold mines

Capturing and synthesizing information

Searching, filtering, and capturing information go hand-in-hand. Whenever you find a currently relevant, useful, and/or interesting piece of information/knowledge, you need to capture it, unless you already have it in your knowledge base. Don't misinterpret this though. "Currently relevant" is key in the sentence. And relevancy really depends on your current goals and priorities. You really need to avoid capturing information/knowledge because it might, someday, become useful. Focus your efforts on currently relevant information!

The Capture Habit
Why capturing ideas and concepts can make a huge difference for your personal development and career

Capturing information means extracting the pieces that you (currently!!) find interesting and/or useful. Capturing can be done in a myriad of ways:

  • Taking screenshots
  • Creating highlights
  • Taking notes (using your own words or not)
  • Creating mind maps
  • Creating visualizations or diagrams
  • ...
How to Capture Your Thoughts And Ideas
Discover how to capture all your ideas and insights. Never lose a great idea again!

While you capture information, or shortly after, you need to summarize. You need to be able to express the essence of the information. While I'm writing this, I'm thinking about the idea of atomic notes. That is, notes that focus on a single idea/fact/concept and express it as clearly as possible while remaining concise.

Mastering Atomic Notes: Unlock Efficiency and Knowledge Management
Discover the power of atomic notes with this comprehensive guide. Learn how to streamline your note-taking process, enhance learning efficiency, and build a robust personal knowledge management system.

There are various ways to summarize information. You can for instance:

  • Use Large Language Models like ChatGPT to generate a summary
  • Rewrite the information yourself, keeping only the key elements
  • Create a visualization (an image is often worth a thousand words)
  • Create a mindmap
  • ...

Synthesizing information will help you and your future self to easily grasp ideas and concepts. Also, as I've explained in my article on the topic, atomic notes (i.e., shorter notes) have many benefits.

Capturing information and taking notes is a wonderful way to acquire knowledge and capture what you find interesting in your life, whether it's at work, for personal projects, or just for fun. It will help you create better mental models for the topics you explore. You will better understand those. You will also have solid references you can rely on to explore further and study (if you need to!).

Check out my article about note-taking tips if you want additional ideas:

Effective note-taking tips
Top tips for effective note-taking

If you're curious, you can also check out how I capture book notes:

How to capture book notes and turn those into smart notes
How to capture thoughts, ideas, and knowledge to retain more from the books you read

Reflecting and making notes

As I've mentioned in my article about note-taking vs note-making, those are two sides of the same coin. Capturing information, knowledge, and ideas is only one part of the work. The other part is taking time to reflect and make notes.

Note-taking vs Note-making
Taking notes and making notes are different but complementary. Learn about the difference and why you should care

Reflecting means thinking (seriously) about what you capture. If you did capture (currently) relevant information/knowledge, then you must understand the information, but also make up your mind about it.

There are countless questions to ponder. For instance:

  • What do you think about those ideas? Do you agree? Do you disagree?
  • How would you improve the current status quo?
  • What is missing? What could you add?
  • How does it relate to other ideas/topics?
  • How would you explain it?
  • Are there alternatives?
  • What don't you understand?
  • ...

To help you reflect, and to capture the output of your reflection, you need to make notes. Making notes, as opposed to taking notes, means writing notes using your own voice, your own words, and your own ideas.

You can make notes to:

  • Capture your thoughts
  • Capture your ideas
  • Capture your own way of explaining something
  • ...

Making notes is an essential part of Personal Knowledge Management, and is actually where you should put most of your energy (again, depending on your current goals and priorities!).

Linking notes

A knowledge base is much more valuable when the information/knowledge it contains is well connected. A personal knowledge base is a graph. That graph contains 1-n nodes. Each node being a note, or a tag.

A knowledge graph

When there are many notes without links to other ones, the knowledge base is "dry" and not very useful. When most notes don't have links, it means one of two things. Either you failed to create those links, or you are just storing unrelated "facts".

On the contrary, when there are many links across the notes in your knowledge base, it becomes much more valuable and useful.

A lot of the value of PKM comes from identifying and exploring the links between the ideas you capture and the notes you make.

Check this article to learn more:

How to connect ideas together
As you learn and grow, you’ll accumulate more and more knowledge. While each piece is important, the relationships between ideas is, at least, as important as the ideas themselves.

Tagging notes

Tagging is a technique that we can use across a variety of tools to organize and categorize information using keywords. It helps to easily identify and retrieve information.

Tagging notes in a knowledge base is a rather "controversial" practice. Some people will tell you that it's useless and a waste of time. They will also tell you that the search functionality of your tools is the only thing you need to find what you want in your knowledge base.

Others, like me, cannot live without tags and see the value of tagging. That's not to say that it's easy or not time-consuming. It is actually hard to avoid creating duplicate tags, and it does take time to tag notes correctly. But to me, it's an enabler for all sorts of cool things.

For one, tagging enables finding information without having to search for exact terms used in the notes you're after. Let's take an example. If I want to find all the notes I have taken about "motivation", I would search for that exact term, and would definitely find some of the notes I want. But I would never find the notes that don't use that specific word while still discussing that topic. Assuming I did tag those other notes with the "#motivation" tag, then I would find those!

Tags make it extremely easy to create Maps of Content (MoCs) (aka indexes) for specific topics. Not only that, but those even enable automating the update of those MoCs.

Maps of Content (MoCs) for better Knowledge Graphs
Understand what Maps of Content (MoCs) are in the PKM ecosystem. Discover why they are useful and how they can help strengthen your knowledge graph

Moreover, one note can have many tags, allowing one to find that specific note in various contexts. Even atomic notes often deserve multiple tags.

Finally, the killer benefit of using tags is automation. Tagging notes with specific tags makes it possible to automate various actions around specific types of notes. In the Obsidian Starter Kit, I have defined a set of tags that identify the types of notes (e.g., #daily_note, #permanent_note, #moc, etc). Based on those tags, I have automated the filing of those notes. It means that thanks to those tags, I don't have to worry about moving notes around. They're automatically moved where they belong, and I can focus on what really matters, confident that I'm not creating a mess.

Check out my article on this topic if you want to dive deeper:

Why and how to tag notes in your PKM
Tags are a great way to categorize, describe and track your notes. This post will show you how to approach tagging the notes in your PKM

Organizing information

Creating a maintainable knowledge base requires structuring and organizing a lot of information. Maintainable is the important keyword. Of course, you can drop everything into text files in a single folder and get away with it. But unless you have created a system, it's very easy to create an unusable mess. Tools can help, but you will always need to organize something.

Organizing information is not a science, but an art. I don't want to dive too deep into this topic here, but I still want to emphasize the fact that, at some point, you will need to design your own system. Information and knowledge need structure to be useful and "usable". Start simple and keep things as simple as possible, but take time to name things correctly and organize everything logically.

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

In the Obsidian Starter Kit, I've created a simple but very powerful structure using the Johnny Decimal system and the PARA method. Combined with tags and automation, it keeps everything tidy without manual effort.

The Johnny Decimal system
Discover how the Johnny Decimal system simplifies information organization, making data filing and retrieval simple, efficient, and intuitive
The PARA method
Discover how the PARA method transforms digital chaos into structured clarity, revolutionizing your productivity and knowledge management.

The cool thing about information management (as it is called) is that it can be applied everywhere. For instance, I also apply the PARA method to my Google Drive folders, to my NAS file system, etc.


While journaling is orthogonal to Personal Knowledge Management, I consider it to be a practice that truly helps and deserves a lot more credit. I feel like most people think of journaling as the act of writing a diary like little girls do (no offense) and reject the idea. The truth is that keeping a journal does not necessarily have to be (only) about your personal life, feelings, and love stories. Journaling is an incredibly powerful tool to know more about yourself, what you feel, what you think, and what you want. Interestingly, it can also be used to keep track of what you discover, what you learn, etc.

Currently, I use my journal to log all my discoveries, without necessarily creating separate notes right away. This saves me a lot of time and lets me focus on what matters: capturing what I care about and what I think. I've shared my template here (note that it's also part of the Obsidian Starter Kit):

My daily note template in Obsidian
In this article, I want to share the template I use in Obsidian for my daily notes. Introduction As journaling is part of my habits, I use my daily note template every single day. That’s why I like to keep it simple and usable. My daily note template Let me

I have written some articles on this topic

journaling - Sébastien Dubois
Explore Knowledge Management, Lifelong Learning, Note Making, Personal Organization, and Zen Productivity

In the following ones, I have also included a description of how I rely on journaling to improve my PKM system:

Journaling every day is powerful - Part 1: Introduction
Discover journaling and how it can help you live a happier, more fulfilling and more productive life
Journaling every day is powerful - Part 2: Going further
Discover journaling and how it can help you live a happier, more fulfilling and more productive life. Part two

Periodic reviews

Keeping a journal is transformative, but performing regular reviews of your goals and progress toward those is incredibly insightful. Periodic reviews enable you to look back and observe what you did, what worked, what didn’t, and what you should do next.

In the context of Personal Knowledge Management, periodic reviews are a perfect opportunity to do some maintenance work, review fleeting notes, link notes together, or tag notes.

During my periodic reviews, I extract the notes I’ve left in my daily notes into separate notes. In addition, I also create weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly notes, in which I regroup all of my discoveries, what I’ve done, what I’m grateful for, etc. Going back to those notes from time to time generally makes me feel more empathetic towards myself.

Check out the following articles if you’re curious:

Periodic reviews for a happier and more productive life
Discover how to leverage periodic reviews to achieve your goals and get more out of your life
Meeting with yourself
Meeting with yourself can profoundly impact your wellbeing, happiness and productivity. Don’t miss out on the opportunity!

BONUS: Keeping it simple stupid (KISS)

Last but not least, an idea that I want to leave you with is the fact that you should really strive for simplicity. It's all too easy to fall into the trap of exploring dozens of tools, trying to combine them in various ways to "improve" your PKM system. The truth is that simplicity is key for long-lasting PKM success.

The KISS principle
We should all apply the KISS principle to everything in our lives

You certainly don't need many tools and advanced workflows. What you need is a simple structure, a simple process, and to rely on habits more than anything.

Spending too much time fine-tuning a PKM system is just another form of procrastination.