Working with Captured Knowledge

We’ve now started capturing info, how do we tap it into its full potential?

This is the third of my series about creating a Knowledge Management System or a KMS. My first post was about creating a KMS, or a system that manages the info that we consume and work with every day, while my second post talked about the first part of a KMS which is capturing data. This post focuses on the workspace or the heart of the KMS.

To recap, a KMS allows you to systematically capture, organize, and archive info that we consume every day. This allows you to offload your brain, and allow freedom in terms of creativity and curiosity in putting our ideas into fruition. The first part of a KMS is capturing the data that we consume, through an Inbox or a “landing page” that we implement for every type of media, physical and virtual.

As I mentioned before, you can practice the parts separately without creating a KMS as these make you more productive by themselves, but putting these together will make your productivity more effective exponentially.

How to Manage the Workspace

I mentioned Data Capture is the most important, but the Workspace is the heart of the KMS. This is where we get all of the captured data and process it.

My KMS is influenced heavily by the “Getting Things Done” (GTD) productivity system by David Allen. I’ve been using this system for years now, and I’ve not found another system that thoroughly covers all possible use cases and scenarios.

Another similar system I’m taking from is Tiago Forte’s Second Brain which has a lot of overlaps with GTD. I have adapted the best parts from both systems into my iteration of a KMS which I’m sharing with you today.

Clarifying Stuff You’ve Captured

Usually what we capture is a bunch of formless stuff. It can be a thing, a phrase, or a link that needs a bit of thought on what to do with it. Sometimes we even forget what the item was supposed to be.

We will need to clarify what we capture and organize it in a meaningful way so that it’s easy to refer to and maintain. The key point of this system is to save more time than what we spend in maintaining it.

We need to first clarify what we want to do with a captured item, based on different criteria:

  • Is this actionable?
    • If No, then we can either
      • Discard it
      • Put it into Reference (via a note or a general list) or in a Project
    • If Yes, then we should decide on the Next Action
      • We can do it right now (especially for short tasks)
      • We can delegate it to someone else, taking note of it in a “Waiting For” list
      • We can defer it by
        • Putting it in a Project
        • Scheduling it in your Calendar
        • Adding it to a to-do list or a Kanban board

The first step to check is if the item is actionable, meaning an action needs to be done on or about it to be able to proceed.

When an Item is Not Actionable

If it is not actionable, then check first if the item needs to be discarded. Otherwise, you may put the item as a note or in a list in your Reference or into a Project.

About Projects

Project is a group of ideas or actions related to one another that pertain to a personal goal. This goal is something concrete, takes multiple steps, and will entail more than the usual effort to finish. It will make you feel accomplished once you’ve done it.

You can have multiple Projects going on at the same time, however, it is better to focus on one or two at a time. Too many projects going on at the same time will spread your attention too much and you will not be productive.

About References

Reference is a location where you put ideas that may be useful in the future. This can take the form of discrete ideaslists for easier lookup, or Trackers. You may organize these using #tags in your system for better visibility and lookup.

discrete idea stands on its own, but you want to take note of it as it appeals to you. An example of a discrete idea is a specific quote about “Mastery” that I read somewhere — “Mastery is finding gaps in your ability or knowledge and filling it with purposeful analysis and focused experimentation.

Lists are your ideas grouped by a topic. We’ve likely done some generic lists before. Some examples are “Meal Plan Choices” or “My Laptop Specs”.

Trackers are data that you need to take note of regularly for a purpose. I keep a tracker of my expenses every day so that in a month I will be able to get actionable data on my spending. I also keep a weight tracker weekly so that I know whether the diet and exercise I’m doing are effective. Usually, this is tracked by a unit of time (like daily or weekly), as we want to know our progress.

The Archive holds inactive Projects that may still be needed in the future. This can also contain info that is too important to delete outright but does not need to be readily accessible.

I’ll delve into the Reference section more in a future post of my KMS series.

When an Item is Actionable

You can decide on the next actions — dodelegate, and defer. “Do” means you do it right now, “delegate” means you assign that task to another person, and “defer” means to put it aside for doing later.

When a task only takes a couple of minutes to finish, then it is better to accomplish it right now as it gives a jolt of dopamine and relief after doing so.

Delegating tasks makes use of other people’s expertise as there are times it takes us too much time to finish that particular task, or we don’t have the skill required to accomplish it. We may need to put delegated tasks on a “Waiting For” list so that we have something to refer to when we need to follow up.

Another use of the “Waiting For” list is to put in tasks that have a dependency that you do not control. Examples are waiting for a regular event to buy tickets, or waiting for Black Friday sales to buy Christmas gifts.

The Art of Deferring Tasks

Deferring tasks just means that we cannot finish that particular task right now, or there are prerequisites to finish that task, or the task needs to be broken down into several steps.

Deferred tasks can either start a Project or add to an existing one, or you may need to schedule it using your Calendar.

Scheduled tasks always need a date to accomplish hence the need for a calendar. You can have multiple calendars depending on their purpose, in my case I have two calendars in active use — one for scheduled tasks, and another for the content schedules of my blogs. I also have separate calendars for birthdays and events.

Some deferred tasks may not be scheduled, and we can consider these as “on-demand”. In this case, either you can create a to-do list, or you can also use a Kanban board to track items you can do in your spare time.

About Kanban boards

Kanban board is a visualization tool that helps you know at a glance what the status is for a specific item. Typically, there are multiple columns corresponding to a status. Most of the time the columns are “Pending”, which holds the items you can choose to do; “In Progress”, which holds the items that you are working on; “Done”, which holds the items that you’ve finished. You shift the tasks from one status to another until it becomes “Done”.

Kanban boards are customizable and you can put your statuses as needed, like putting “On hold” to signify something is blocking your progress. You can also put in rules like limiting the number of items you can put into each column to manage your attention on those items.

You can put all your to-do and project-related tasks on a Kanban board. If you choose to use a Kanban board, I would recommend maintaining only one board as two or more boards will fight for your attention.

Organizing your Workspace

Clarifying what you’ve captured is one step of maintaining your Workspace, another is organizing your notes and tasks. You need to be consistent throughout as it reflects on the quality of your system.

Folder and Files vs Links and Tags

Folders and files make maintaining a Workspace harder. This is because you need to think of strict categories to group files together. Also, some categories may overlap, which makes you as a maintainer uncertain, and eventually fragile. Files also need to be named a certain way, and the fluidity of data may require you to change your formatting often.

We are not archivists, we are curators.

This is also why we should be using links and tags instead, combined with a search function. Links allow you to connect related notes and tasks, and you can link them multiple times, which facilitates creating a web of ideas.

Tags allow us to categorize items by topic. We know this as a “hashtag” in social media apps. We can add multiple tags to an item, and searching for a tag will yield all of the items that have that tag.

Tags are also pretty powerful as you can link not only concepts but also other metadata, like statuses (ex. #archived, #live, etc), or date time (ex. #20240201). Another way is to create contexts, like long-term goals or responsibilities (ex. #3postsperweek, #kids, #finances, etc).

Physical vs Virtual

One caveat for links and tags is we are limited to virtual Workspaces only. I recommend using virtual as this is easier to handle and maintain. However, Workspaces can be done physically using physical folders and files if you want to.

We cannot completely escape from physical files though. More often than not we need to file for general reference, ex. government documents, lab results, invoices, contracts, etc. These need to be in a location that is accessible, and you need to have spare folders for convenience.

Reflecting and Reviewing

We can clarify and organize all we want, but we should also reflect on and review our system at regular intervals. I recommend a daily and a weekly review for our workspace.

The Daily Review is for putting things in order every day. This can mean updating our workspace — trackers, calendars, and to-do lists or Kanban boards; we also need to empty our capture Inboxes and clarify them.

The Weekly Review is for doing a retrospective for the week and tying up loose ends if any. This is where we can check if some things can be modified in our workflow.

There may be also a need for an even longer review every month or quarter. This is mainly to check if we are still aligned with our long-term goals.

Wrapping Up

I’ve talked about how to systematically clarify and organize the items we’ve captured This resulting Workspace is the heart of the KMS we are building.

The objective of this is to align our mind space with this Workspace so that we can trust it and use it regularly. The key point of this system is to save more time than what we spend in maintaining it.

In the next post of this series, I will tackle how to manage the Reference/Archive of the KMS.

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