I find myself being the person friends and family often come to for information. Especially if they’re learning to code or trying to understand something technical.
Most times when these questions come up I just search the first thing I think of and reply with that, but I also keep a bunch of curated content in my Personal Knowledge Gardens as well. Little things I’ve found online, which are otherwise impossible to find or remember without having them somewhere easy to look.
Every day a lot of content gets posted online. Between Hacker News and Twitter I skim/read an absolutely incredible amount of content. Most of it just flows right by me, but if I don’t save some of it then I’ll know there was something relevant, but I just can’t put my finger on what it was… or where I found it.
Personal knowledge gardens are meant to be a solution to that problem. To be a place of self-curated content taken from the never-ending stream of content published online. A place where they can be steadily improved upon by combining and linking them together with information from different places. Instead of forcing yourself to organize everything into its perfect place you can do it over time. It’s the information equivalent of compounding interest.
That’s why I recommend saving what you find and curating it in a personal knowledge garden. You do this by collecting everything you find which is relevant and then later moving it into an appropriate place or simply deleting it. A key to this system is adding permissively, but curating ruthlessly.
Collecting What You Find
Collection needs to be extremely-low-friction. That means not needing to set a ton of tags or other structure when saving things. It also means not creating incredibly complex structure for those notes to go in to later on.
Whatever app you use, The lowest fiction way to collecting things is creating a single “Inbox” note/page and dumping thoughts/links + a few words into the bottom of it.
I highly recommend not making separate pages for things you find. The goal of this is to provide zero structure and as few limitations as possible. It needs to be an obvious and easy dumping ground.
It will feel disorganized, which is fine. You’ll want some reason to go back and move everything into it’s proper place (or delete it). What you don’t want to be forced to do it right now. Dumping things into this note needs to be easy so it doesn’t feel like a lot of work to add things to it.
You can use Roam or Notion, but you don’t need some specific app to make it work1. Any note app will do. For example, with Notes (iOS/macOS) you can just make a page with the title “Inbox” and pin it. Then when you come across new stuff just copy the link paste it in to the bottom of this note. Any new ideas you can just scroll to the bottom dump your thoughts and worry about it later.
Share Sheet in iOS and macOS The Share buttons in iOS/macOS let you save what you’re looking at to the bottom of an existing note which works really well for this. It also lets you write a few words to go with it.
As an aside, there is a lot of temptation to use apps like Roam and Notion which have a lot of amazing features, but it’s fine to just use simpler apps like Notes until you find the need.
If you just use Notes you’ll have a super easy place to send anything you find, get to use an app which is expertly designed and maintained, plus it’ll seamlessly sync between all your Apple devices. If you’re on Windows or Linux there is also the web version of Notes on iCloud.com. Making it easy to capture whatever you find, where ever you find it.
Structure and Curation
When you have some time look through what you’ve collected in your Inbox page starting from the top without skipping and move or delete as much as you can.
What you move your notes into should probably look similar to PARA as described by Tiago Forte. The process you use to go through your notes should look similar to how it’s described in Getting Things Done, however there seems to be no clear and simple version describing it so I may need to write a post doing that at some point.
Over time you should go back to each of these pages and refine/curate them a bit more. Treat them like never-finished articles for yourself to refer to later. This is the bit which makes it like a garden you maintain. A garden which you do nothing with will become overgrown and ugly.
When curating your garden, don’t be afraid to delete anything which turns out to not be useful anymore. Change your mind and keep your garden with, as Marie Kondo says, only the things which spark joy. You want only useful and relevant information in your knowledge garden otherwise it will feel full of junk trivia or useless information.
And if you’re using Notion or Roam this is when you can go a little nuts making complicated Databases and linking structures. Just remember that you want to make the process of collecting information and then structuring it LOW FRICTION. Do not go overboard and make it exhausting to just copy and paste things into the right places.2
As you curate your Garden of resources and information you’ll start building a really valuable resource to help you do your work and also help others. If you curate ruthlessly you’ll be left with a collection of only the best resources you’ve found. Having all that information organized avoids needing to spend all that time researching again. It also makes easier to teach others what you’ve learned. It’s pretty incredible.
So add permissively and curate ruthlessly. Save what you find and then pass it on.
Which is another big reason why you want to just stick to this system because it only uses the most basic features of whatever app you are using now or in the future. It doesn’t require any special support to get going. ↩︎
I need to keep repeating this because… no one ever listens to this at first and I want to make sure you know I said not to do it. At least when you realize that making it too complicated was a bad idea you can declare garden bankruptcy and restart. Don’t be afraid to do that if it gets overwhelming. ↩︎