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How to use Notion for Personal Knowledge Management

I officially joined the Blanc Media team in September of 2021. When I joined the team, I had some understanding of productivity, habits, focus, and all of those exciting things. But when I first heard the term “PKM” I drew a blank. I thought, what is PKM?

Over the last few months, my understanding of what PKM is has grown quite a bit. I realized that PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) is not just for the super-nerd or the information hoarder. The concepts within personal knowledge management can be utilized by anyone, and at the end of the day it’s about doing more creative work.

So what is PKM?

So, if you are like me and have no idea what PKM is (or would like a refresher) let me help you out a bit, courtesy of my BFF Wikipedia:

Personal knowledge management (PKM) is a process of collecting information that a person uses to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve and share knowledge in their daily activities (Grundspenkis 2007) and the way in which these processes support work activities (Wright 2005).

Essentially, personal knowledge management is collecting, sharing, creating, connecting, and storing relevant information and ideas to use later for work activities (and not hoarding information because of FOMO). As it turns out, it’s not that scary or complicated. Mike wrote a fantastic article that is basically an intro to PKM. If you are unfamiliar with PKM, I highly suggest you take a look. Mike shares that the end goal of a PKM system is actually being more creative.

As my understanding of personal knowledge management has grown, my systems matured to support my slowly developing setup. I am also a huge Notion fan (I talked about how I track my habits in Notion a few weeks ago), so I am developing my PKM system inside of Notion.

Marie Poulin is the Notion Queen and has a ton of fantastic free resources on YouTube for how to use Notion, and if you are really interested in her stuff you can check out her amazing, in-depth Notion course, Notion Mastery. She shares a ton about personal knowledge management and how she uses Notion to store and organize relevant information.

In this article, I am going to give you a brief overview of some of my growing PKM systems, my library (and some of the connected databases), and how I quickly capture information on the go in Notion to be sorted and organized later.

My Library Setup

When I first started using Notion, I used their simple reading list template (Notion has some amazing native templates you can check out for free). Since then, my reading list has advanced quite a bit, mostly thanks to Marie Poulin.

My reading list has morphed (rightfully so) from a reading list to a Library. I have more than just books saved in the database. I save courses, TV shows, movies, podcasts, or whatever resource I want to save there to reference later or track while I dig into it. Some people take this to another level and add Instagram posts, Twitter threads, or literally anything that they want to read, watch, or listen to later. I will get there one day. For now, I enjoy saving some of the higher-level resources I want to keep track of and a few resources that I am slowly adding to my database.

Here is an overview of what my library looks like:

From this view of my library, I can see ALL the different resources I have logged into my library that are either Active/Reading O in my Queue (and a few I have saved as a reference. I have a few different views set up so I see only what I need to see, like only what is Active or if I just want to see the books I am reading (I know, I know I read a lot of books at once).

The beauty of Notion is that it is totally customizable. I have several views that I can jump back and forth to. You can set it up just how you want it and just see the information you need. I jumped into Canva to make a custom icon and cover image, in the next few weeks I am releasing an article that shows you just how to make custom icons and cover images.

Here is a breakdown of the main sections of my Library

  1. First, I organize each resource by type. I log books, TV shows, movies, online courses, etc. You could add eBooks, Notion pages, YouTube channels, webinars. The sky is the limit.
  2. Next, I add the name/title of the resource.
  3. The Status column lets me know if this is in the queue, active/reading, or finished.
  4. The author column links to my people database (a mind-blowing, brilliant database that I learned about from Marie in Notion Mastery; I’ll talk about this a bit more later).
  5. The category section for me is mostly for my books. I like to see at a glance what is fiction versus non-fiction.
  6. I use the genre column mainly for books or TV shows/movies. You can filter through to see just resources in a certain category, like Action & Adventure (one of my favorite genres).
  7. The tags column is another fantastic discovery I made with Marie’s Notion Mastery (I will also talk about this more a bit later).
  8. The score column lets me give a score to each resource. I give a score between 1-5 stars. I add the score once I finish going through the resource.
  9. The Summary column is a fantastic PKM resource. Once I finish (or sometimes during), I add some high-level notes about what I learned or what was fascinating.
  10. There are a few other helpful properties like URL (super helpful for online courses or podcasts), the cost (a great way to track how much you spend on books or online courses), and a place to link to a file (like a PDF eBook).

Here are all the properties I have for any entry in my Library.

A note on the “People” and “Tags” properties

The People and Tags properties actually link to other databases in my workspace.

The People database is a place where I create separate entries for every author, content creator, instructor (or honestly anyone) that I want to reference later. In each entry in my Library, I can add an author/creator to the entry to reference later.

So you might ask, why would this be helpful? It’s helpful because you can later go to the People database and find a specific author/creator and see all the content that is related to that person. So, I can go into my People database, click Jane Austen, and see all the content I’ve added to my Library that she is related to. This is one of the powerful features in a good PKM system — linking information.

The more you use this feature the better it gets. If you like an author/creator you can now find a central place to see all the resources they are related to in your Notion Library. Pretty cool, right? Again, thank Marie for this one.

The Tags property is pretty similar. I can create a tag and add as many tags that are relevant to that resource. For example, the book The 12 Week Year has the tags Margin and Leadership. Here is where this gets cool. I can go to my Tags database and find the tag Leadership and find ALL the resources I added that tag to. You can potentially have dozens of resources about leadership that you’ve saved and find them all in one spot. This is HUGE for connecting ideas. Again, pretty cool.

I don’t add tags to every item or resource. I am not really concerned with what skill I can learn that I want to reference later from Black List.

This Library helps me log important information and keep track of what I am learning. Long gone are the days of going, “What was the name of that book I wanted to read again?” My future self is thanking me for taking the time now to add all these resources that I want to tackle later on.

My PKM system is pretty small and still being developed, but I am glad I jumped on the bandwagon.

There is a lot more I could share about this database, but I just wanted to give a broad-strokes look at my current PKM/Library system.

Let’s take a look at how I quickly capture notes and ideas into Notion.

Unfortunately, every time I have a thought, idea, or see something I want to read later, I am not sitting peacefully in front of my computer with a perfectly steamed chai latte. Actually, in most cases, I am not even in front of my computer.

It can get frustrating when you have an idea and are not sure what to do with it. In most cases, it ends up being forgotten or written onto a sticky note that never gets read.

One of Mike’s big things about PKM is the importance of quickly capturing ideas. Luckily, there is a way to easily do this with Notion.

I have a page called Quick Notes. It is saved to my Favorites sidebar, so it is easy to find from any device. You can also create a Widget on your iPhone Home Screen so you can quickly go directly to it.

Here is what my Quick Notes page looks like:

On this page, I have included my Notes + Ideas database and my Library database. The goal here is that I can add any notes, ideas, or resources I want to check out later on the go. Since it’s saved to my sidebar, I can easily access it from any device.

I have filters set up so that it only shows Notes + Ideas and Library entries from that day. This way I am not overloaded with information when I just want to quickly jot something down. I want to make it easy and reduce any possible friction.

Here is what it looks like once I’ve added some Notes and Resources:

I can also add some additional notes about the book/podcast/resource/article in the actual card. You can see here I added some notes about the foundations of a good PKM from Mike’s article.

What I love about this page is how easy it is to quickly import important information and ideas. If you want to see how to add a Notion Widget to your iPhone Home Screen, head over to my article on how I track my habits in Notion and you can see how to add it (scroll down towards the bottom).

A pillar of personal knowledge management is not just collecting important information but using and reviewing the information you’ve collected. Once you collect all these ideas, you need to instill a habit of reviewing them. Incorporating this as a part of your weekly review is a great place to start. Once a week, take 10 minutes to go through your new notes and ideas and decide whether they are worth pursuing or not, put them in relevant projects, or toss them out.

PKM helps to not only collect relevant information, but also spur new ideas and help with the creative process. It also connects your ideas (this is why the tags + topics database is such a game-changer). The more information you add to your PKM system, the better it gets. It becomes your second brain so that you’re not constantly worried about forgetting your new ideas. When your brain is not so overwhelmed with information, you don’t want to forget to give your brain more space to do creative work. This is where the true gold of personal knowledge management lies.

I use Notion. Mike uses Obsidian. The tool is not the important factor here. It’s the systems you create so you go further with your ideas.