Something I’ve been reflecting on lately is unhelpful thoughts and beliefs related to personal knowledge management (PKM).
These thoughts might look like:
- I need to collect everything that might one day be useful.
- I need to collect ideas I already know because I might need them for a citation in a future book that I may one day write.
- I don’t know if this will be helpful, so I should collect it just in case.
These thoughts are problematic because they lead you to collect too much. Soon, your PKM is overflowing.
One purpose of PKM is to provide a space with an increased signal-to-noise ratio for your future self to find information. When your PKM is overflowing, that signal-to-noise ratio decreases. Your PKM stops being helpful to your future self, and you may stop maintaining it because you don’t think it’s worth the investment.
You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius?”
You can avoid excessive bloating of your PKM system by using your 12 favorite problems to filter what you collect.
These thoughts might look like:
- I like this idea. I agree with it. It makes sense. I’m going to collect it.
- I disagree with this. I don’t understand it. It’s wrong. It’s stupid. Why would I collect it?
These thoughts are problematic because your PKM system becomes an echo chamber for a past version of yourself.
Another purpose of PKM is to accelerate growth. However, it’s difficult to grow in an echo chamber. Everything in there pulls you back to your initial beliefs.
This reminds me of these passages from Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game:
I have a friend who is so focused on her Cause, it is as if she has forgotten that there are other points of view in the world besides her own. My friend, sadly, has labeled anyone who has a different opinion as wrong, stupid or morally corrupt. My friend suffers from Cause Blindness.
Cause Blindness is when we become so wrapped up in our Cause or so wrapped up in the “wrongness” of the other player’s Cause, that we fail to recognize their strengths or our weaknesses. We falsely believe that they are unworthy of comparison simply because we disagree with them, don’t like them or find them morally repugnant. We are unable to see where they are in fact effective or better than we are at what we do and that we can actually learn from them.
One way to address this is to integrate opposing viewpoints and opinions into your PKM. These can be valuable even if they take the form of your arguing against them. Another approach would be to write a steel man argument for those viewpoints.
These thoughts may look like:
- There’s an objectively optimal PKM system set-up out there.
- When my PKM system is perfect, I will get the results I’m looking for.
- I’m not getting the results I want because there’s something wrong with my PKM system right now.
These thoughts end up leading you to, essentially, procrastinate. Instead of doing work that creates actual value, you do work on the system that you hope will create value.
To be clear: metawork isn’t a problem in itself. It can help with efficiency and effectiveness.
However, metawork becomes a problem when it eats up an inappropriate amount of our time or effort. It becomes a problem when it gets in the way of us moving closer to our goals.
One way to address this is to reflect and action on:
- Am I happy with the value I’m getting out of my PKM?
- Does the idea of a better PKM distract me from doing real work?
- How much time do I spend trying new apps, tag/link/folder structures, or plugins?