How to start PKM from zero?

I want to start building a PKM system

I’ve been using Evernote for years and had 2k notes. But it didn’t grow into a PKM. I will share what I’ve learned from this journey and provide a really simple template to start.

Here’s it.

Life

  • Things that I don’t know.
  • Things that I know.

Diary

  • Collect anything in your mind here with any format you like.

Take a little step back to what I’ve tried before. I spent a lot of time studying the awesome LYT resources provided by @nickmilo. He did a great job showing how powerful a PKM system can be with the LYT kit (Highly recommended). However, I was trapped by the overwhelming information and didn’t know how to start. For beginner’s like me, there’s a gap between the starting point and the LYT MOC workflow.

Struggling for quite a long time, I found a workflow that might lead me to approach the LYT PKM system.

Start from what you don’t know

The workflow is quite simple:

Turn the notes in “Things that I don’t know” to “Things that I know”.

For example, I would write down,

  • Questions I have.
  • Problems I met.
  • Things I am not sure about.

And go back when it become much clear. Writing down things unknown did save my brain to take a rest.

Now, I have my PKM a little closer to the MOCs concept like this,

Life

  • Things that I don’t know.
    • Write a blog or just make a post in Obsidian forum?
    • How can I generate value from my notes?
    • etc
  • Things that I know.
    • About me
      • What I like.
      • What I hate…
    • My ideas.
    • My learning.
    • My shopping cart.
    • etc

Diary

  • YYYY-MM-DD
    • What I did, felt, thought, like, wish, etc during the day.

This is just the starting point for building a PKM. People are showing the results not the process, so it’s easy to get stuck from the beginning.

What’s next?

There are many other guides teaching how to organize or link your notes. You can choose whatever system, workflow that is suitable for you from here.

That’s all I want to share. Welcome to share any thoughs about this flow.


Some references that influenced me to go with this workflow as follow.

Reference

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This was a useful guide! I would love to see more examples from vaults that are not fully developed yet. It can be so overwhelming to see other people’s fully developed solutions and then look at my own vault scattered with some poor notes of a project, some daily notes, what I had for breakfast and how I felt when watching Bohemian Rhapsody.

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So when I started my PKM in Obsidian about a month ago, I wasn’t transferring 2K notes from Evernote. I was literally starting from zero. So far I have roughly 50 evergreen notes and 50 notes in progress. And I have no experience trying to merge existing notes into an Obsidian PKM, so maybe take my experience with a grain of salt.

First, always remember the principle of Gall’s Law that @nickmilo mentions in LYT: Big, complex systems always emerge from smaller, simpler systems that have proven themselves over time.

Therefore, start simple and eventually, with time and patience, it’s gonna get awesomer and awesomer. Habits + Practice = Mastery (“Atomic Habits” - James Clear).

It was easiest and simplest for me to pick a single subject that I was currently studying at the time and create evergreen notes from everything that caught my interest and/or was a foundational concept. I was studying Habits, and therefore simultaneously reading “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, “The Power of Habits” by Charles Duhigg, and “Mastery” by Robert Greene.

I created an evergreen note on how to create evergreen notes (again, Nick and the LYT is an awesome resource for this) and kept that note open in another panel while writing all my evergreen notes to ensure that I was taking helpful, solid notes.

Be ok with coming back and rewriting notes that you took when you were a beginner. I learn a ton about streamlining Obsidian and how I prefer to wield my notes on a weekly basis. Rewriting and reformatting is totally ok. The law of diminishing returns will eventually kick in, but when first starting out I had a ton to improve on.

When I was first creating notes, there wasn’t much to link to. Be ok with that. Lot’s of links will come with time and lot’s of notes. Sometimes I still don’t have much to link to on certain notes.

Once you’ve moved on from your first subject, choose another subject. Studying habits led me to psychology, cognitive science, and neurobiology. Now you can start implementing Refraction Thinking, idea cross-pollination, mental models like Systems Theory, and linking notes to one another.

On the practical side, as I’m out and about I tend to keep a “note list” of all the ideas, cross-pollinations, and serendipitous thoughts I have. These are in one-idea-per-paragraph form and are just a rough sketch of what I’m thinking in the moment. Since I don’t have time to create a fully-formed evergreen note in the moment for whatever reason (I’m driving, walking, working, etc.), this is a brain dump note to which I return when I have more time. I then turn the idea paragraph into a note, and delete the given paragraph from the “note list” note.

Also, I keep track of workouts, compile professional network profiles, etc. These are of interest to me, but aren’t included in my Idea Cosmos that I’m describing above. These are more mundane and boring, and don’t have a ton on links.

Anyway, that’s how I went from about 0-35 mph in about a month. Hope this helps! And if you’ve discovered anything in the six days since you posted that I could implement into my own system, let me know!

PS - Perhaps when transferring notes, it might be helpful to transfer an idea cluster, tag, or entire subject into Obsidian? This would hopefully allow for easy evergreen note creation and linking.

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