Okay, please forgive this relatively immodest subject title, but it’s my system – and also, by that, I mean that it’s fine if you disagree with it – it works for me and organising a Personal Knowledge Management system for notes is something very personal. But maybe that can be of inspiration to someone struggling with organising notes. Any feedback of course is welcome!
I have taken Tiago Forte’s Build a Second Brain class and I have been underwhelmed considering the price tag (more on that thread https://talk.macpowerusers.com/t/does-anyone-have-experience-with-tiago-fortes-building-a-second-brain-course-ebooks/ ). Especially, I do not believe the PARA system (Projects / Areas / Resources / Archives) is as universal as advertised. In my case, I have found it’s even actively counterproductive. (PARA is detailed on https://fortelabs.co/blog/para/ )
I have discussed this with Tiago on the BASB forums and I have decided that, considering what I do (more on that later), I need my own system, adapted to my needs. It’s actually an old system of mine that fell by the wayside when Evernote has their big privacy problem, I left them, and never found a new house for my notes. Only recently have I been deciding to put some order back and rebuild a notes system (hence my taking the BASB course) improved with my reading of Sonke Ahrens’ How to take notes and intense browsing of the http://zettelkasten.de posts and forums.
In the hope that it may help people out there in similar occupations, I wanted to give a little back to the MPU community and share this system here (these is basically one long post from the BASB forums adapted). Once again, it’s mine – but hopefully you will find food for thought in there.
Work: pro fiction writer, podcaster, blogger, semi-pro musician
Use of the PKM and its difficulties: any random fact that strikes inspiration can serve as fuel – some very narrow and sometimes focussed areas of research on facts – lots of ideas all the time that need storage and retrieval
Chosen app: Bear, because of its unparalleled ability to create wiki-style links on the fly thus allowing for the replication of Zettelkästen-like system that can be reconfigured constantly as knowledge evolves (plus, the app is so beautiful and well-crafted it’s a joy to use). The value of knowledge is as much in the relationships as it is in the data. I want an app that makes it easy to build links and encourages me to do so (would use Roam if it wasn’t so alpha and ugly).
I use tagging scrupulously (with Bear, you kind of need to) both acting as folders and “facets” the way a library system works, or more recently like Gmail labels, allowing for multiple points of entry in a piece of data. But I also want quick and easy tagging without overcomplicating things. Three tags maximum (an average of two, often, only one).
My top-level tags are
Projects, very much defined in the GTD sense. All things that are in my OmniFocus and that have support material show up here. I also put here the Areas material in the PARA sense because I adhere more strictly to GTD (or from what I understand of it, at least). Everything is tagged Projects/Area of Responsibility/Name of Project in the exact replication of OmniFocus. I will then have the inventory of my home studio (which would be an Area in the PARA sense) alongside material for a movie soundtrack I’m going to do (which would be a Project).
At the moment, internal wikis about my fictional worlds do live there, because they are writing projects (but would be Areas in the PARA sense). I am considering making them top-level tags because I use them so much. (Universe/Given world)
Themes, which are my personal “library”, so to speak. It would loosely be mapped to Resources, I guess, but here I’m building a Zettelkästen without any bias to whether a piece of information is actionable or not (I strictly separate actions from support material, following the GTD canon: things live in OmniFocus, or in Bear, never in both). If I do research for a book – which would very much be an ongoing project – it still goes here, tagged loosely with subjects (in the Zettelkästen spirit). Contains snippets of information as well as personal random thoughts on anything (meditation, social media), in the spirit of Sonke Ahrëns – write if you want to think.
Ideas is random original ideas I get – a character idea, a cool punchline, a melody. There are not attached to any project but might fit in one some day. (Ideas is like your average Moleskine notebook.)
Incubator goes beyond ideas: it’s a little like “Someday / maybe” projects, it’s things I’d like to do maybe one day but I’m not sure I’ll get to it, such as a book idea I’m not sure I fully want to commit to yet.
Who is related to people in my life – provides another entry point, such as remembering a workshop or lecture I gave for a company, it will be tagged accordingly.
What is the type of note. Allows me to find quotes, “how-to’s”, and most importantly, “table of contents” notes (structure notes in Zettelkästen) which give me an overview of a given subject when it becomes unwieldy and I need to build an overview.
Attic works exactly like PARA Archives.
I am not building my system with a flow on actionability (as PARA recommends, going from the most actionable to the least) but with a flow of clarity. I believe artistic endeavours clarify and reveal themselves as you work on them, until they are clear (and viable) enough to be committed to. You could argue clarity in that sense is actionability, but in fiction writing, I find it nearly impossible to separate PARA’s Areas with Resources. Everything is a little bit of both.
The interest of this setup
- Above all, tags (instead of EN notebooks) allow for a note to live in several places, which I find crucial to knowledge work as you build networks.
- Remains simple (avoiding overtagging) – each note can be tagged at maximum with one tag from several of the categories above, never all of them (you can’t be a Project and be in the Attic)
- Allows for cross-referencing which I find vital as a project matures: an Idea can then be attached to an Incubator project without any effort (“oh, this character could go in this book idea I have, but I have to think about it”), I just have to add the corresponding tag (Bear makes this ridiculously easy)
- Knowledge can be “clipped” without effort to a project (“this piece of strategy is central to this story project”), just add the tag, remove it when you’ve treated the relationship between the two and replace it with a link to the “Zettelkästen”
Hope this helps! Of course, questions and comments very welcome. Do not hesitate to try and punch holes in the setup.