How do I know if my PKM is effective?

Between courses such as Building a Second Brain and Linking Your Thinking, books like How to Take Smart Notes, and the many other resources on personal knowledge management (PKM), the amount of information on building a PKM system can feel overwhelming.

But how do I know if my PKM is effective?

To answer this question, it’s essential to know the goal of having a PKM system in the first place.

One idea that resonates with me comes from How to Take Smart Notes about why Niklas Luhmann maintained his zettelkasten:

His slip-box became his dialogue partner, main idea generator and productivity engine.

Why is it valuable to think about your PKM as a dialogue partner?

As Luhmann said:

I never force myself to do anything I don’t feel like. Whenever I am stuck, I do something else.

This reminds me of an idea from David Allen’s Getting Things Done:

Mind Like Water: A mental and emotional state in which your head is clear, able to create and respond freely, unencumbered with distractions and split focus.

This is just one of the benefits of thinking of your notes as a dialogue partner: relevance. I only make notes on the things that interest me in the moment of writing. If I’m not interested in it, I’m not going to write it down.

This also brings in the aspect of play. When something starts to feel like work, I feel resistance to doing it. But I enjoy having conversations about things that I’m interested in. In this way, when my notes are a conversation partner, they bring in that fun aspect.

Beyond this, having a dialogue partner enables progress. My notes can reveal what I’ve thought about in the past. This allows me to build on past thoughts and conversations, even when significant time has passed. It can also help prevent me from going in circles by revealing where I’ve hit a train of thought that I’ve already encountered in the past.

Having my notes as a dialogue partner can also reveal and stimulate transformation. I can see in my notes where my opinions have shifted over time. It can also facilitate that shift by revealing where my thinking has contradictions or other logical flaws.

My dialogue partner can also feed into my other goals, such as creation. When I’m looking to write a newsletter, share something on Twitter, or write an email to a friend, I can easily refer to my past conversations with myself as a jumping-off point. This means I never need to start from scratch.

So as I’m reflecting on whether my PKM is effective, one of the questions I’ve started to ask myself is:

Am I having good conversations with myself?

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