What is my PKM system

Since I asked the students to do this, I needed to clarify my approach to some of this.  I've written some of this before: some requirements, spam, email, email 2, bits, email 3.

As with many people, I have attempted to be fairly organized about filing electronic (and paper) stuff in logical ways.  I find that as I move into new areas, I need new structure to my systems.  I have always had the challenge of remembering old categorization schemes, or where an item might be in a long-unused set of folders.  With paper, it is somewhat easier, because I attempt to keep my financial statements and other important stuff filed into one drawer of a filing cabinet. 

My personal process around this stuff is the 4 D's model: Do, Delete, Delegate, Date Activate.  The idea behind this and some of the others mentioned in class is to read the item one time and decide what to do about it and when.  When I get away from this discipline, I find myself reviewing messages that sit in my inbox and try to remind myself why I kept them there.  This may only take a moment, but those moments pile up and eat into time that could be spent doing other things.  They also break any rhythm I have set up around getting other work done.

As much as possible, I attempt to convert written notes to electronic notes.  I do this for several reasons: to help remember when I did something; to keep all my notes in one place; and to help digest what I've discussed and written into my notebooks.  My paper notes tend to be a mishmash of everything in anticipation of being re-written into Outlook.  The biggest limitation in this model is that it is difficult to add graphics and drawings to my electronic notes.  (It's possible to create them in another tool and then paste into Outlook, but that is usually not worth the effort.)

I also keep this weblog where I talk about knowledge management and personal effectiveness and other topics of interest to me.  While I don't use my blog explicitly as a personal memory system, I certainly refer back to items I have written.  A big aspect of why I blog is to extend my personal world out into the wider world.  In combination with the blogs I read, I have made connections with people that I never would have met otherwise.

Tool-wise, I use Outlook to manage email, contacts, tasks, calendar and notes.  And I attempt to keep them all as inter-related as possible.  Everything in Outlook can have a category associated with it, so I tend to tag all my tasks, notes and contacts with meaningful tags.  My calendar view shows upcoming appointments as well as those categorized tasks. 

The email flow is managed with rules that file mailing lists into their own folders, which I generally read only when I explicitly make the time to do so.  This keeps my inbox to a manageable size.  I also have a trainable spam filter that catches the stuff I really never want to see.  (Unfortunately, it will catch real mail from time to time as well, so I have to review sender/subjects before deleting them outright.) 

Outlook is also the home of my web feed aggregator, Newsgator.  It slurps news from over 200 sources, and I have those sources categorized by topics.  I have prioritized those topics, so that when I don't have time, I only read my higher priority feeds in full.  The lower priorities tend to get a quick review of the subjects for interesting-looking items. 

For 90% of the rest of my filing, I use PersonalBrain, rather than the traditional tree-based folder system.  Rather than being connected by folders, everything is a "thought" with "parents," "children," and "related" thoughts.  And this particular tool lets me connect files, notes, websites and any other item in the same way.  For example, with the KM2 class, I've got a thought that is the "Student Journalism" word document.  Connected to that, I have a thought for each week, and I will drop the student reports into each week.  That sounds like traditional tree structure.  But now, I will also create thoughts for each student and link their journalism reports and any e-mailed documents to their name.  This means I can be viewing all the reports for a week and then quickly shift to all the items sent by any of the reporters.  Interestingly, I have found that I use PersonalBrain only in circumstances where I am dealing with a lot of files.  When I am operating mostly within email, I tend to file items within Outlook.  (PersonalBrain can take Outlook items, but the integration is not as clean as I would require.)

I have two tools that help me "find stuff" on my machine.  One is Lookout for search.  It is embedded into Outlook and gives me search of all my Outlook items plus all files within My Documents.  This is a much faster search than the built-in search tool within the operating system.  And as it is embedded in Outlook, I can get to it quite easily.  (Lookout is a precursor of the current spate of desktop search tools.  It was bought by Microsoft, who have created the MSN Toolbar that does desktop search.  Here's a Desktop Search Matrix comparison of the ~20 tools available today.)

The other important tool is ActiveWords.  ActiveWords lets me create "sensitive" words or phrases, such that when I type them and hit a special key, a special action is fired.  This may be anything from opening a frequently-used file, to logging into Bulletin Board, open an Outlook contact, to a common text substitution.  And if I enter a new phrase, ActiveWords starts a Google search for me.  This means, I don't have to switch to my browser or take my fingers off the keyboard to do a search. 

I use ActiveWords and PersonalBrain so much now that I hardly use the bookmark feature of my web browser.  If it is a site I plan on visiting again, I will create an ActiveWord for it, or I will drop it into PersonalBrain for easy recovery, or both. 

10 Comment(s)

Ken Jones said:


I am interested in the tools you specify to search your machine. Do you know or have your conducted any research to see if these tools also allow other, unwanted visitors to your PC to hack in and see information. I have seen some articles about this weakness in a Google tool and would like to be sure I consider a tool which allows easy searching but no security risks or concerns. If you could cover this topic in a future posting I would be grateful.

jackvinson Author Profile Page said:

Since I am still using Lookout, this particular issue hasn't come up as a concern. When I mentioned thinking about shifting to one of the desktop search tools, a friend of mine said he still uses both. Lookout does a great job of presenting results in a sortable matrix, so I can do a date or title sort instead of the relevance sort that you get from Google Desktop. (I think some of the other desktop search tools give you the capability to sort.)

A quick search points to the main concern that Google Desktop and MSN Toolbar (and maybe others) do website caching as you browse. This means that any confidential or sensitive information displayed on those web pages could be cached into the search tool's memory, and a malicious person could come in an attempt to steal that information. This eWeek article discusses the issue and mentions that Google Desktop can be set to not cache some pages. There is also a link to an opinion from one of eWeek's editors that Google Desktop isn't a threat.

It sounds like what you are really concerned about is privacy and whether these tools open you to threats from the outside. It sounds as if this threat is relatively minor or non-existent. SearchEngineWatch has a thoughtful article, A Closer Look At Privacy & Desktop Search, which says that desktop search doesn't add any true new privacy or security issues beyond what one should already be doing. The Google blog also reported that some researchers found a small hole in Google Desktop, which would allow malicious attacks from the outside. Google claims that this has now been fixed.

Steve Nipper said:

I use the same tools (Lookout, ActiveWords, etc.). Have you tried Anagram (www.getanagram.com). It's pretty slick...allows you to quickly copy contacts, notes, appointments, etc. from any application right into Outlook.

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kenyob said:

I am working on my own PKM system involving google desktop search, Outlook, Personal brain, del.icio.us for bookmarks, a moleskine notebook for on the fly notes that I process into outlook or my Palm TX during my weekly review with any scrap papers and whatnot. I need to learn to integrate Personal Brain much better and Ill take another look at Active Words. I am worried that everything running bog down my system. Dell Inspiron 1150 512MB 20GB - Need a much bigger disk.

Anonymous said:

Nice article, I like your method and need one of my own to commit notes to electronic storage. I have multiple notepads that I use for different applications and never seem to be able to keep them properly organized...maybe these ideas can help me finally get things in order!

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