The How’s of Capturing Knowledge

This is the second of a series about creating a Knowledge Management System or a KMS.

My previous post about starting a KMS delved into creating a system that manages all of the knowledge that we consume every day in an orderly way. This is important as we are fast becoming a species that creates and consumes info at a staggering exponential rate year after year.

The main purpose of a KMS is to manage a personal repository of knowledge that caters to your specific tastes and needs and is totally under your control. This is more than notetaking — it is a system that allows you to offload your brain to promote curiosity and creativity while keeping info easily searchable in case you need it.

I mentioned before that a KMS has three parts — Data Capture, Data Workspace, and Archiving/Reference. This post focuses on the Data Capture part.

Take note that you can practice each of these three parts separately — without even needing to create a KMS — as these make you more productive by themselves. But combine them, and you will harness the full potential of having a “second brain”.

The Capture Process

Data Capture is probably the most important part of your KMS because this is where all of the data we consume is harvested. When we want to take note of a piece of info, we usually need to write it somewhere.

My idea of Data Capture takes inspiration from a productivity system called “Getting Things Done” (GTD) by David Allen. You will need to implement an Inbox where all incoming data can be accumulated temporarily before you can process it. This is because we don’t have time to process something as we encounter it — especially with all of the things we come across as we go about our day.

Physical vs Virtual

In the GTD system, your Inbox can be both physical and virtual. Your virtual inbox can be a notetaking app on your phone, and you write your ideas on it when you encounter something noteworthy.

Your Inbox can also be physical by the concept of a “landing area”. A landing area is a place where you put anything you need to process for later. It can be a receipt that needs filing, a clock whose batteries need replacing, or even a cabinet drawer that needs tidying.

You can also leave behind notes in your landing area by using a small notepad or a pad of sticky notes to write on. Once you have the opportunity you can just write on it and put it in the area. These notes also help if the thing you need to do is too big not to fit in the area.

Another neat thing about landing areas is it can be someone else’s. For example, if you know your SO’s landing area, you can leave notes (or anything) there for her to process later.

Capturing Different Media

You can capture different types of media and have different landing areas for each.

Consider books and documents or presentations. You need to take note of the content of the material while reading them, so most likely you will either need to do highlights or write something on loose sheets of paper or in a notebook to capture your thoughts.

For emails, you can probably “star” it or put it in a folder for later review. For websites and videos, you can probably take note of the URL in your notes app. For photos, I usually keep them in the gallery, in a temporary album, for processing later. You can take photos of documents like receipts, QR codes, menus, IDs, business cards, schedules, and others.

How Long Can We Leave Stuff in Our Landing Area?

It is best to fill your landing area in the mornings and afternoons and empty them during the evenings and before going to bed.

It’s good to have a temporary storage of what we captured, but we should also empty our landing areas as soon as we have time to process them. There is a sense of heaviness or “unfinished business” that will hamper your subconscious if you don’t. “Unsorted Stuff” will always be the enemy of productivity.

Some Examples of Capture Tools

I believe that a notetaking app that has offline capability is a good tool to have. I use Dynalist, but you are free to use any notetaking tool as there are tons out there. Google Keep, Workflowy, Bear, and Notes are some examples. If your capture tool is an actual notebook + pen, then you should always bring it with you.

If you regularly take photos of physical documents, you will need a tool that has a good OCR capability. You should consider using Evernote as it is great for cleaning up and documenting photos from documents.

As for your other landing areas, they should be somewhere you are frequenting regularly and are conspicuous to you. Trust your tools so that you keep on using them.

Many automation tools out there can make tedious workflows easier. Examples are IFTTT, Zapier, and Make. You can create simple workflows that make capturing easier — like emailing to a certain address or sending info to a chatbot to trigger the creation of a new note in your notetaking app.

Readwise is a useful tool for those who love reading ebooks and other sites. It saves your highlights to a single place and can also sync these to some notetaking apps like Evernote, Notion, or Roam.

If you find a different tool and it’s better than your old one, go for it. You shouldn’t feel indebted to a tool as the system you are maintaining should be tech-agnostic (and future-proof). The old style of doing Zettlekasten using small drawers and index cards nowadays would not work as efficiently as a digital tool that manages the system better.

Being Open to Inspiration

To give value to data capture, there must be data to capture in the first place. We should also open ourselves to experiencing something new and exploring something that we don’t know about.

A big factor here is we should also be deliberate with what content we consume. It’s easy to get lost in all our social media feeds, but we should also steer ourselves into content that can spark ideas. We can start by going on a diet of 50:50 — half social media dopamine hits, half content that talks about ideas and inspiration.

I love the feeling of getting new ideas when I read articles on Medium or fellow Substack newsletters. As I regularly aim to output more blog posts, I use these to brainstorm and fill up my content calendar or to plan some new projects.

Wrapping Up

This post focuses on capturing data for later use. This is an important part of creating a KMS, however, even without a KMS you can use this to become more productive in general.

The general rule is to record interesting and important things as we encounter them. Memory is fleeting, and you will more often than not lose and forget it. There are lots of ways to capture ideas — you can use apps on your phone, or even a notebook and pen. The point is to do it consistently.

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