How often are you working on a project and overwhelmed with the amount of information you have to manage?

Or, maybe you’re just going down another rabbit hole on the internet, full of great, life changing ideas. If I only I could put them altogether. How do you manage all that information?

Now, how much do you remember a day later? A month? Did you do anything with the information or are you stuck in this loop of read and release?

Research by 19th century psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus shows that in the absence of counter-measures, the average person loses up to 90 percent of new information after 30 days. Realizing the problem, I got frustrated and a little despondent. I knew I needed to find a better way.

I needed a personal knowledge management (PKM) system. 

I’ve been there.

Reading regularly is required for sustained personal improvement and there’s plenty of research to support reading’s positive effects on the brain (even fiction!).

That’s STEP ONE.

What’s next? How do I retain the key points and how do I translate that information into something that’s useable?

The first ideas I came across talked about capturing key ideas from physical books, which was my initial problem point.

Maria Popova, creator of the site Brain Pickings (and publisher of three posts a day!), creates an index in the back of each book denoting passages, quotes, and ideas for later reference. 

The author Ryan Holiday takes notes in the physical margins and highlights quotes or passages for capture later. He revisits the book a few weeks after finishing its reading and transfers those notes onto index cards. Each card has a single quote or idea and are sorted by category that he can easily reference them later.

Interestingly, even Ronald Reagan had a box of double-sided index cards with quotes ranging from Cicero to Lenin that he utilized throughout his political career and speeches. 

Digitalizing that idea, Michael Hyatt uses Evernote as his tool of choice for idea capture. Within Evernote, he creates individual notes and categorizes them using tags for later reference. (If you’re unfamiliar with Evernote, it is a digital note-taking application that syncs across devices, allows for saving text, photos, audio, etc, allows sharing, and perhaps most importantly, has a quick search feature.) 

I was making progress, but I was still struggling with the idea of usability and finding a system that was just right.

Then I stumbled across a few blog posts by Tiago Forte, an expert in productivity and thought-leader for dealing with our modern knowledge economy. His idea was to Build a Second Brain (and he recommends using Evernote to do it). 

According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules, “our brain appears to be designed to (1) solve problems (2) related to surviving (3) in an unstable outdoor environment, and (4) to do so in a nearly constant motion.” That definitely doesn’t sound like rote memorization, recall, or even a traditional classroom. 

Can you keep up?

Tiago states that we’ve traditionally filed information into containers with rigid boundaries, but argues this structure is impossible in today’s world (not to mention, terribly inefficient). Modern information flows in streams without beginning or end and a high risk of drowning.

Rather than allowing our brain to be a bottleneck, our brain should be used as a curator and creative problem solver.

Our second brain is like a database for capturing information. Using the stream analogy, the second brain is like a net that sits in streams for your core ideas and helps to identify threats and opportunities.

Tiago’s creation is an expansion of Reagan’s index cards and Michael Hyatt’s Evernote tagging system for increased creative opportunities and rapidly expedited output. Forgoing tags, it is prioritized based upon actionability. 

One of the greatest means of increasing learning is to attribute meaning to information and make it relevant. That’s more than just highlighting, which brings me to my final point focused upon usability.

Tiago Forte makes the argument that we have entered the “Perspective Era” where information overload dominates and threatens traditional career paths.

In an era of information abundance, value will be found in the scarcity of quality perspectives. Navigating that reality of dangerous abundance and providing a valuable perspective requires an effective PKM system. I have adapted Tiago’s system utilizing Evernote, which I will expand on in a future post, and for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m holding my head above water.

Take a second and think about how you manage information.

Do you have a system (defined or not) or is are you surviving through catch and release?

If you do, what is your system? Is it manageable or cumbersome?

Is it actionable — quickly? What criteria would your perfect system have? 

Update: Click Here to read about how my system works.I’d love to hear about your systems, thoughts, or ideas.


As always, thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts! Connect with me via Twitter or email!

About Scott

Writer. Teacher. Learner. Keen on process and individual improvement. And running really, really far.

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