I read Building a Second Brain (BASB) a while back and got some great ideas from it (and read The Extended Mind as well, which is a great argument for why you need to spend some time on that second brain, both technologically and socially/environmentally), I believe, but I wanted to point out that there is a playlist on YouTube that takes the idea of progressive summarization and shows how it works, bit by bit. Tiago (author of BASB) shows how he takes notes on his Kindle app, moves them into Evernote, bolds them in one pass, then highlights the bolded stuff in a second pass, then takes the highlighted ideas and creates an outline from those ideas (he’s doing a book summary with a single source, but this can be extended to combining multiple sources of info pretty easily), then writes up his book summary, all while talking through his thought process while he’s doing it.
It’s a 3+ hour timesink, but I found it useful (especially the part where he takes his notes and creates an outline from them) to take the idea of processing your notes from something that you consume to something that you create. (I was about to make an analogy to how the body processes stuff, but then I considered what we create and I decided to spare you all ?)
Anyway, I skipped the shortest video (the one on moving your highlights from Kindle to Evernote) because I already have a process that takes my highlights from Readwise Reader, Kindle, and Medium and puts them into my favorite note-taking app (Tana, by way of the Readwise Obsidian Plugin – crazy manual process, but valuable!) and I really stopped paying attention in the outline to output video, because I have some experience doing that, too. The outline video, though, really gave me some great ideas on how to use the notes I have from my reading to help fuel my output here, at work, in my presentations and articles and in the classes I teach.
I have spent a little time asking ChatGPT questions, both work-related and personal (What elements are in a good security policy for libraries? Can you give me an outline for a class on knowledge management? What are the best places to visit in Louisville, KY?) and considering the answers I got (a reasonable list of things to include in library security policies and a good start to a “rubric” to evaluate policies as I am asked to comment on them at work but zero sources to tell me where the info comes from, a nice collection of topics to consider for a KM class but zero sources to tell me where the info comes from, and a pretty nice list of tourist traps in Louisville but zero sources to tell me where the info comes from). Not sure if you all caught the issues I might have with ChatGPT… I couldn’t figure out at all where the info comes from, but I was pretty happy with the results that I got from what seemed to me to be the process I’d have used (search for policies, collect various elements, produce the rubric from all those elements, etc.) but in 30 seconds, not 3 hours.
Yesterday, Google opened Bard up to folks on their waitlist and I got a chance to start futzing with it. The first thing I noticed is that in response to the same sort of questions that I’d asked ChatGPT earlier is that Bard gave me a source. A single source which brought up the question of how this was better than a search I could have done on my own, but a source was provided. My second question was to give me an outline for an essay on using soft skills at work and it gave me 3 “drafts” of the outline that I could use, but no sources this time.
I’ve not played with the Bing AI chatbot yet, but in one of the 15 trillion (not misinformation, just a slight exaggeration for effect) articles I’ve read in the past few weeks and months on the AI landscape, someone mentioned that Bing was “extensively footnoted”, which makes me think it might do a better job of citing it’s sources (I’m a bit hung up on this, maybe, but I’m a librarian and that’s a hazard of my profession).
Overall, I’m interested in the product of these chatbots and the idea that it can do some of the grunt work of finding, synthesizing and producing information that I do now by hand (and at great effort!!) giving me the opportunity to concentrate on providing value around the information it gives me and being able to make value judgements about what information to include. This would be easier to do if it was better at citing sources – but as the offerings mature and get more features and capabilities, it’s worth keeping an eye on at the least.
As a librarian, I’m pretty familiar with the concept of Metadata – the information about information that we use to catalog items in our libraries and arrange information in our websites, among other things. A concept I’m just starting to become more familiar with, however, is the concept of Metawork. This is work we do in order to work – the email processing and the time management required to get to work on time as well as to get work done by deadlines and the understanding how to attend, take notes and process work from meetings as well as general “how to make sure we can do the work we learned how to do in college or in our training” activities. These skills are rarely, if ever, taught in school – most people just sort of pick them up as they learn the ropes in their first few jobs, but those first few jobs would be far more productive and useful for both the employee and employer if the ideas behind the metawork that we all have to learn how to do is more explicitly taught.
Many of the elements of metawork I listed above (time management, meeting management, etc.) I cover in a piecemeal fashion in the classes I teach on Project Management, Personal Knowledge Management and Time/Task Management. I’m really not familiar with any course or webinar or collection of good articles that covers the entirety of what you should know before you start working, besides the details of your profession, of course. I don’t cover email management, though that is touched on in the GTD time management classes I’ve done and meeting management I’ve glanced over in various classes like my Project Management course at Library Juice Academy.
One way to tackle the problem of metawork was mentioned in R. J. Nestor’s Weekend Upgrade Newsletter #18 on the idea of recurrant work needs to be templated. In my job, I make a fair number of training and tutorial videos and having a process that I can use as a checklist to ensure that I’ve:
Created a storyboard document outlining the scenes and information I want to include
Applied the template that I’ve created in Camtasia to the video and set up the production settings for each video properly.
Created handouts and other documentation for each video
Uploaded and posted and advertised the video to my libraries for their use
Those kinds of tasks (and this is a simplification of the actual process I go through, of course, but it hits the high points) are things I have to be able to do in order to produce the work that I’m being paid to produce by my employer. It’s a form of metawork as well – and knowing that coming up with a template that outlines the process and how to store/navigate/use that template as you do your work are all metawork kinds of skills.
So I’m toying with a metawork class, but I’m not sure where to put it (Library Juice? ALA Ecourses? Somewhere else?) and what *exactly* the course would cover, but the idea of getting a class together that young professionals could access in order to give them a bit of a leg up on how to do the work around the work they do sounds interesting to me…
So, now that you have all this stuff that you might want to think about later and that you can use, remix and reconsider in order to create new things, what are you going to create? There are a number of articles on the web talking about how to take your Roam/Obsidian/Evernote/etc. notes and create content from them. Roam, as an outliner, has a particular number of those kinds of articles and videos available. I’ve tried using some of the techniques (I’m still really fascinated by the Archipelago of Ideas from the Building A Second Brain book where you take your outlined bullets about a topic and put them together in a separate note to create a document/video/script/whatever from them as those notes suggest a structure and a path for your argument) and they work to varying degrees of success for me. I still do best (for now) with creating content in the WordPress editing window (with my Roam graph and Evernote app and maybe a mind map or two open on my second monitor to support my work) as I’ve done for this entire series. If I’m writing something more formal, an article to be published or something like that, I use GDocs to create the content (again, with lots of apps open to support my work, including Zotero in this case).
I also use these tools to create tutorial videos for work and documentation for our catalog and various other library-related functions as well. This particular part of KM is likely my weakest. I’m pretty good at consuming and processing information, but the output of original work from those ideas is still in a nascent stage – it’s a work in progress.
That being said, there is a conversation going on (in the networked thought mode) through Twitter and other websites about the concept of a digital garden that is a support for us as we learn in public. The idea that blogging with its chronological, polished (ha!), and “finished” articles that are never revisited as you learn more is old and busted is making the rounds. Obviously, I have a soft spot for blogs as they are how I communicated in my early Internet days, but I’m becoming more and more interested in maybe starting up a digital garden of my own (though my thumb is as black as can be – I have been known to ask people what their plants did to get the death penalty if they are given to me as a gift…), but I’m still kicking that idea around a bit. I do like the idea of learning in public – I’ve often posted to the NEKLS Facebook page about classes I’m taking at work and what my homework assignments are so that the NEKLS librarians can learn along with me. It’s generally been well received, so I have some good experiences with it, I’ve just never really done it in any kind of systematic way. Maybe I’ll give it a try sometime. Stay tuned…
Finding information, especially when spread around a bunch of applications as I’ve done here, can be a challenge. I didn’t put everything into this section (it should include Roam, Obsidian, Dropbox, Zotero, my mind map apps and probably more) because everything I use has some sort of search functionality in it, though I probably should have included Roam with Evernote, because it’s getting to have enough stuff in it these days to provide useful content for my searches. Anyway, all of the services I use have some kind of search function and I could use them all to find information, but the ones I find myself using most often are GDrive and Evernote (+Roam).
Google Drive is my second brain. I use Dropbox as a storage mechanism for stuff like my paystubs, contracts, great photos that I want to be able to post on FB at will, archived manuscripts and other things that are useful, maybe, but not *used* right now. Google Drive, on the other hand, has the stuff I’m doing now sort of organized in the PARA style, as made famous by Building A Second Brain. What I did to start off was I created 4 folders in my GDrive, Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives and then just moved everything into Archives. As I need stuff, I’m finding it there and moving it into the appropriate other folder, based on whether it’s an area of my life that I have responsibility for, a resource that I need to support my work/personal life or a project that I’m actively working on. It’s sort of like a just-in-time organizational system and despite my 2 years of grad school education on how to organize unknown materials in advance, I’m digging it.
The other option here is Evernote (+Roam) where the majority of my notes live. I’ve been an Evernote user since April 24th, 2008, apparently and I have a TON of resources, notes, ideas, project files, archives, and more in there right now that I’m not going to move. I check there first if I’m looking for specific information or information about wine labels, recipes or any of the other things I’ve used Evernote to store in the past. I’m getting a good enough collection of info in Roam these days that I head there next when I need to find info for a project or document or whatever I’m working on. That brings up the big complaint I have about my tech stack…
It’s fragmented and duplicated and more difficult to manage than it should be. There is no one app to rule them all and there is no good way to seamlessly connect all of them into a cohesive whole that can be searched and used without having to check a number of different apps. I try to mitigate this by using my note-taking app as my “home base”. I put my mind maps and other documents that I create outside of my note-taking app into that app as soon as I can, so that the info is there when I go searching, but it’s not always easy to do that. Videos, huge PDF files and other formats of information aren’t a good fit for a note, so that’s where the GDrive backup brain comes in. Linux, at least when it was new, had a philosophy of no big do-it-all apps. You should collect a number of small, one-task applications that you can pipe together to make any number of useful commands and this is sort of how I’m feeling about my tech stack today. It’s not as easy to pipe things together as it should be (though see my comments about IFTTT and Zapier in a previous post) and that’s a problem, but it’s one that may get fixed, either by an app that *does* rule them all or by better Internet functions that allow you to move data from one app to another in easy-to-create ways.
Ha! This one was going to be a short one, I thought, until I began writing… The last one, though, is up next. Next we take all this *stuff* we have in our note-taking apps and various hidey-holes on the Internet and make stuff with it! Stay tuned…
In the Enhance category, I have some repeats. Feel free to run back to the Capture verb where I talk about the basics of Roam and Obsidian. This section will be taking those apps a bit farther to help not only store our notes, but make them useful and “enhance” our ability to see connections between our ideas.
One of the biggest draws, for me, to Roam/Obsidian’s linked data tech was the ability to not only store notes in a single space, but to store them in a way that they will be useful over time. Part of the draw of linking notes together and navigating through them using the web/graph interface is that older notes that you may have forgotten you’ve even taken are brought back to mind as you explore. When I do a search for a concept now, I check the “linked pages” section of my Roam results, because those are the pages that I’ve seen some kind of connection between the ideas. Even more powerful, though, is that I check the “unlinked pages” section, where the word(s) I am using in my search are found in notes that have not been explicitly linked to my concept. Those are the gold that I’m mining when I do a search in my linked-data-capable note taking applications.
Those ideas that are maybe tangentially linked are the ones that are going to spark some creativity and maybe even some questions that I’ll need to answer. Either way, those are the engines of content creation in my system!
This section of my PKM tech stack includes a concept that I use, rather than an app – that’s the concept of networked thought. I’d touched on it in the Connect section – when I discussed the collaborative abilities of some of the mind map tools – but it’s also a big part of how Roam/Obsidian work to enhance your ideas in those note taking apps. Networked thinking describes thinking done across networks – whether those networks are your personal notes in your tech stack, a collection of blogs and other sources you read and respond to online or a group of people you work with (mediated by the Internet or in person) collaboratively, the idea is that you are making use of external resources in a way that extends your own brain and resources exponentially. Either you are using the linked data info in the note-taking apps to connect disparate ideas or you are working with others in a mind-mapping app to brainstorm and collaborate on a bit of content or you are joining in on a wide-ranging conversation between people on the Internet – however it works, the networked aspect of thinking can really, exponentially, extend our own resources in new ways.
Next we move on to Find – how do we keep track and organize all this information? Stay tuned to find out!
We’ve covered the Capture and Manage verbs in the KM environment, now it’s on to Connect!
Connecting, for me, is partially the use of linked data in Roam, Obsidian and Notion (see the Capture post for more on that) and partially the ability to connect ideas graphically. Roam and Obsidian, at least, have the ability to create mind maps in their apps, but they are clunky and hard to create and manage and there are lots of other options out there that work much better, so I use those.
I have a license for SimpleMind because that’s required to be able to use it on my phone (and it was reasonably cheap at $10) and I use this book reviewing system to capture information from the print books that I read (very difficult to highlight and import those highlights from print…). Once I have the book’s notes all arranged in a nicely graphical mindmap, I export that map (and the underlying outline of it) to PDF into Evernote and then, from there, I (have in the past) add it to my Asana to-do list (which is *another* tool that could be part of my tech stack) templates that I’ve set up to surface those notes 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, 1 year, 2 years and 4 years from the day I create the tasks. The reason this is in the past is that I’m looking at Roam to do this for me – Roam can do the calendar math for me by virtue of it’s date management system, so I can take notes in Roam (or export them from SimpleMind to Roam using my phone) and then add dates using the [[in 3 days]] [[in 3 weeks]] etc. syntax and Roam figures the dates for me and then the notes show up on those dates in the future. Either way, it’s an incredibly valuable way to ensure that you are reviewing your reading regularly and not losing the information you read quite so quickly! I use my Dropbox account (yet another tech that should be in my stack?) to store the maps so that I have access to them on the phone and on my various desktop/laptop computers as needed.
Coggle (as well as Miro and a NUMBER of other mind-mapping tools on the web) is also pretty handy. I use it for web-based, cloud-stored maps that I want to work on at the computer and don’t need on my phone. I used Coggle to create the image atop each of these posts and found it pretty easy to pick up.
The reason I like to think of these as part of the Connect KM environment is that using tools like Miro can be incredibly useful for groups or collaborative work in general – as can a fairly new option from Google called Jamboard. It’s more of a post-it on a whiteboard kind of tool, but it has the same visual impact that mind maps do and is fun to play with, so it’s on my tech stack, too, these days.
Next time, we’re going to cover the Enhance part of our KM environments, so stay tuned!
Part 1 – Capture | Part 2 – Manage | Part 3 – Connect | Part 4 – Enhance | Part 5 – Find | Part 6 – Create
I do a fair bit of non-fiction reading and I tend to do most of it in print, via books I’ve borrowed from one or another of the public libraries in my area. One of the biggest complaints I’ve had doing this is the lack of being able to remember most of the stuff I read in any detail and certainly not in a way that I can reuse that stuff I do remember (unless I happen to go grab that book from the library again to check page numbers and proper citations from that material).
One day, a few months ago, I came across a pretty cool blog post that explained how the author read books, took notes and then made the notes he took pop back up in his to-do system 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, 1 year, 2 years and 4 years after he finished the book. He took notes via a mind-map app and I have found that this is useful for me too. I like the visual overview of the topics of the books and the ability to extract an nicely done outline of the book from that mind map.
I’m currently in flux about how I’m doing tasks – I’ve been using Asana with a set of templates that I can create quickly that set up tasks for 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, 1 year, 2 years and 4 years in the future (from when I create the task from the template – pretty slick). I then add a link to the Evernote note that holds the mind map image (as shown above) and the PDF of the outlined data so that I can review either one as my mood dictates.
As intimated above, I use a cheap app called SimpleMind on my phone that I then share the image and outline versions of the mind map to Evernote using my phone’s features. This may change as I’ve discovered that I can use the [[in 3 days]] syntax in Roam on the page that I use to store the image and outline of the book and it will pop up on those days for me. I’m in flux, right now I have both set up and they both work fine. The only thing that doesn’t work so well is the sharing of the mind map image with Roam – it’s seamless in Evernote, not so much in Roam…
Anyway, that’s my process for extracting *usable* information from books that I read in print (my process to get the information from books I read on my Kindle is outlined in the PKM tech stack series on this blog).
Previously, I discussed the Capture part of KM (Knowledge Management) as shown in the image above. Go read that if you are confused by this second part in the series!
The way I manage information that I consume requires some fiddling and connections between apps to make it all work, but if you throw some money at it, it’s pretty easy (there are likely other options that are cheaper but not so easy to put together – I’ll leave finding those as an exercise for the reader – but my hint is to check out IFTTT and Zapier for connection help).
Zotero, a citation management application that is blessedly free, unlike so many of the tools covered in these articles, is a way to collect and organize and (most importantly for a librarian) cite your sources as you come across information you may want to use. There are other options out there, Mendeley is one, but Zotero has ways to interact with Roam and other tech that I use, so I prefer that one. As I come across sources, whether they are PDFs from online journal indexes and databases or books that I save to my Goodreads account (and I don’t even count that as part of my tech stack, though I probably should) or blog posts that I’m going to want to cite someday, I save them to my Zotero library for safekeeping. I can then use Zotero to read and highlight PDFs in a way that makes it easy-ish to get those annotations into Roam or Obsidian or Evernote and Zotero/Roam have a connection that allows me to search my Zotero library from within Roam to connect a source to some information or content that is relevant.
Skipping down to Hypothes.is (misspelled on the image above, I know, but I won’t tell if you don’t) – this is a browser-based service that lets you read PDFs in the browser, take annotations and highlights from those PDFs and shoots them over to Readwise.
Readwise.io is a service that has a LOT of uses. I use it for a couple of things, myself. I do a daily review of all of the highlights I’ve made in the past through Instapaper, my Kindle eReader (also not explicitly part of my tech stack, though it should be too), and Hypothes.is. I have it set to surface 5 highlights I’ve made in the past for me to read through and this helps me remember what I’ve read and thought interesting in the past. It also does a sweep each night of all of my highlights from each of the capturing services mentioned above and dumps them into my daily note in Roam for me to find later. I am still working on tweaking those highlights so that they are useful for me in Roam and that is pretty easy to do with the Readwise templating system.
Next up will be the Connect verb in the KM environment – stay tuned!
Part 1 – Capture | Part 2 – Manage | Part 3 – Connect | Part 4 – Enhance | Part 5 – Find | Part 6 – Create
With the caveat that pen and paper is a technology that I *occasionally* use, but not enough to make it into this article, I present the tools and techniques I use to manage my personal knowledge environment.
In the image above is a visual representation of the technology I use to manage knowledge for myself. I do a fair bit of cobbling things together and managing a number of “nodes” in this stack – perhaps more than many of you would prefer to deal with – but this is what I do and how I do it.
The capture part of my KM (Knowledge Management) process is my note-taking environment. I have a few there, but I will admit to using one more than the others these days. I began as a heavy Evernote user – I have a TON of knowledge secreted away in my Evernote stacks and notebooks, but that was the problem. Getting that information out to make use of it required that I remembered it was there, which is not a great use of the human brain… My current go-to note-taking app is RoamResearch and it’s pricier than Evernote, but it surfaces information that might be older, but relevant to my current note, in an incredibly useful way. I use this tool for interstitial journaling as well as for collecting a ton of information from the information sources I read, listen to and otherwise consume. I include Obsidian in there because I use it for some note-taking tasks, though as I get more comfortable with Roam, that’s trailing off. The benefits of Roam and Obsidian to Evernote include the use of linked data techniques to surface information easily. If I create a note and add a link to another page for information about that note, the software adds backlinks for me that link from the page I just linked to back to the original note page.
This kind of connection – the ability to backlink from one page to another in order to see connections explicitly – is a huge benefit for me as I record notes and information from what I consume. The fact that both applications also produce graphs (webs) of knowledge in which you can navigate through your notes in a graphical and connected way is another huge benefit for these tools. Other tools, such as Notion, have the ability to use backlinks and linked data technologies to make your notes more discoverable, but even I have my limits as to how many apps I’m willing to be using at once.
The final element of my capturing process is the use of Instapaper (Pocket or any number of other read-it-later services would work here, too, likely, though Instapaper has some automatic connections that are useful for me). What happens is that I find sources to consume on the Internet – articles or blog posts or other pages that have info I want to review – and I’ll save them to Instapaper. When I get a few moments during my day, I can read through those sources, highlighting what I want to keep and ditching the rest (though of course, each highlight is linked back to the original source if I ever need to return to the source for context or confirmation of facts). This capturing of information is then Managed and assisted by the tools in the Manage branch of my KM verb tree up at the top of this post.
Because this is starting to get really long, and I’ve only covered one of the 5 KM verbs, I’m going to end up making this into a series. Stay tuned for the next installment where I’ll talk about how I Manage my knowledge environment!
Part 1 – Capture | Part 2 – Manage | Part 3 – Connect | Part 4 – Enhance | Part 5 – Find | Part 6 – Create