Get started with easy, evergreen notes for personal knowledge management (PKM)

Austin Govella
7 min readJan 5, 2021

Updated Sunday, May 8 and Saturday, April 20, 2022

Like many of us, I spent some time at the start of the year looking for ways to improve my personal productivity. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I’ve been on a long journey to find an approach that’s easy to keep up. I want to grow an evergreen collection of notes that’s easy to maintain and useful as a personal reference day-to-day and year-to-year.

In college, my friend Sherry took the most amazing notes. She was practically a stenographer and an early riser in the same morning classes I occasionally missed. Her notes were better than the lecture. She captured everything the professor said, underlined key points, and wrote important terms in all caps with definitions added in the margins. Whenever I missed a class, Sherry lent me her notes, and every time, they were as good as, if not better than, being there in person.

Those are the kind of notes I want to take. But I always fall short. My mind wanders. I miss details. For meetings where I present, I take terrible notes. And when I do take good, detailed notes, they retire to a OneNote notebook or folder on my hard drive, never really referenced. And say I want to make changes to my approach, I have to wonder, will I need to use a new app? Migrate a bunch of notes? Learn some new system? All this, so I can more easily take better notes.

Yet, this year, as I looked back, I had a stunning realization. It’s not my notes. It’s my approach. I’m taking notes to remember when I should take notes to forget.

The sunshine of the spotless mind

I read a lot about personal productivity. I read about someone who took notes for every important book or article they read, and in each note they captured their thoughts, responses, and key paragraphs and quotes. It was like a personal record and library of everything they’d learned. Taking notes in Instapaper or Kindle makes it easy to export digital marginalia into your notebook. But once there, it’s not easy to reference. For a talk at last year’s IA Conference, I took separate notes on books like Everyday IA and Living in Information as well as a host of other books and articles. But I don’t have…

Austin Govella

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