I don’t know about you. But before Fibromyalgia and the dreaded Fibro Fog arrived in my life, my memory was pretty darn good, at times even excellent. I know now I am in the second half of my forties age needs to be taken into account as well. However, the Fibro has a lot more to answer for when I run into trouble. Sometimes, I experience facts that were always easy to recollect seem to have slipped away. The other common problem is that I can simply lose words. Even the simplest words can just be lost in a vacuum in my mind, this is especially true if I am tired. So now more than ever I have decided that I need to create a personal knowledge management system.
What is a Personal Knowledge Management System?
You may be wondering what I an actually talking about when I refer to a knowledge management system. It is an app, in my case I have chosen to use one called Obsidian. Their tag line is “A second brain, for you, forever.” That is appealing, isn’t it? The great news is that the software is free, my favourite price tag and yours too, I’m sure.
Who is Obsidian for?
When you first look at the app it would seem it is for students and academics. Yes, it is very much of use for them, I wish it had been around when I was studying. However, remember the tagline, a second brain. The reality is that it is your brain so you can enter into it whatever you choose to. It can be as complex or as simple as you want. What do you tend to forget the most? These are the things you can enter into your system.
Why choose Obsidian?
There are many applications that you can use to make notes, I use Evernote for basic notes like receipts and recipes etc. You can even use good old fashioned pen and paper including post-it notes. But Obsidian is more than just a note-taking app. It has the ability to link information together in a visual way. Through this, you have the power to see connections. So as well as helping you to remember things it can also help create links in your knowledge. As people who live with complicated chronic illnesses like Fibromyalgia, how often do we get a new symptom and wonder, is this connected?
You create your personal knowledge management system in Obsidian using a simple language called Markdown. This page gives you all the details you need to know to get started. As the link to it says, learn markdown in ten minutes. Of course, this is the information to show how to do things like headings and lists etc. You can just type your words and leave it at that if the aesthetics don’t bother you.
The most powerful thing you need to know is how to link two notes to each other if you add a word in double square brackets [[like this]] it creates a placeholder for a new page. In preview mode, you can click on that link and a new page is created. Forming the link between the two pieces of information.
Creating your Second Brain
As a simple starting point, Obsidian has folders and it has files. You want to keep your folders to a minimum and focus more on creating links between notes. To give you an example here are some of the note folders I am using (I am relatively new to Obsidian and these categories may grow or change).
- Inbox (Things I have just thrown in and will add more detail or links asap) Completely emptied daily, preferably, if not weekly at the least.
- Daily Notes (If I want to create a note specifically for a certain day)
- Source Notes (Blog Posts, books, podcast etc. I want to reference)
- Permanent Notes (My written from scratch notes or from a blogger perspective my own note-taking compiled from different source notes)
- People (This could be people who have written multiple of my sources to create a body of work to reference. Or literally some notes about a person I know and want to remember, as a spoonie I find it very easy to forget peoples names and details about them.
- Templates (You can easily set up templates to generate another note from, to save re-writing information multiple times.
Finding my knowledge
I don’t know if you are anything like me, but over the years I have saved loads into Evernote and Pocket and bookmarked pages I want to remember and classically forget about it. This is completely normal though because our brain is not designed to be a filing cabinet. It is designed to be a processor of information. Yes, it will hold information that we have spent time training it to. I still remember some of my lines that I said in pantomime over twenty years ago, because I re-read them countless times. To be scientific I built up a good Myelin Sheath around the information, web.md explains this.
But without this period of study information comes into our brain then leaves it again. This is absolutely fine if the information is easily accessible. Your spelling can be terrible if you know how to use a dictionary and the occasions it is important to do so as one of my University lecturers once said to the class.
When you save things to a note or a bookmark you have no way of knowing how important this information is and when you may need it again. Then classically with Fibro Fog, you may even forget you have the information to start with!
Streamlining my Information
If you read my other blog Living Creatively with Fibro, you may know that my overarching goal for 2021 is to streamline my life. So as part of this, I will be going through all my bits and pieces of digital notes and deciding do I need this information and if so bringing it into my digital brain. If you are familiar with Wikipedia, I will effectively be building a personalised version of this with just the information I want to retain.
So, my Home Page which I will create as my notes increase will have a link to the main subject pages in the permanent notes section: Fibromyalgia, Blogging, Papercrafting, Tech for example. Then these pages will have a mixture of snippets of information and links to topics that need a page of their own.
Building up a picture
Some of the biggest benefits to Obsidian is the graph view and the plugins, just like a web browser has extensions to improve its functionality. For my source notes, I use the Zettelkasten prefixer. This basically adds exactly when I added the information in a 12 digit timestamp. There is a plugin that can find unlinked files which would otherwise be forgotten information and even one that can open a random note if you are just looking for a little inspiration.
The graph view literally lets you look at your information as an image. In this tweet, you can see an example from Pencoded who shows a well-developed graph of information. Remember his notes are academic-based and may look complicated but the basis is simple, here is an image of it I have edited for you:
In the left-hand pane, you have the folders. In the right-hand pane, you can have a few possible views depending on your plugins. Backlinks (the view above), Hashtags, a calendar (as part of the daily note plugin which shows dots under the dates with a daily note) and an outline view (which shows the subheadings like the one at the top of this blog post) are the ones I have. Then in the middle, you have either the note you are looking at or working on or if you chose a graph view.
Linking your Thinking
If you are interested to see a bit more or even give this process a go. I recommend you start with this YouTube video from Nick Milo and his YouTube channel Linking Your Thinking. Although he is using a Mac as I do, the program is available on Windows and you would install it in the same way you install any other program on the Windows system. Although various people have made videos about Obsidian Nick really does mean it when he says this series is for beginners. Although, as far as I am aware he is not a spoonie, he goes at spoonie pace and I both grasped the basics and learnt a lot from watching this (and the rest of the series).
Are you a fellow Blogger?
If you are a fellow blogger like me, can you see the benefit of using Obsidian for doing your research? Although I often share other people’s posts (and will continue to do so because it is important) it actually excites me the thought of compiling all of my information together and seeing new ideas emerging that I can talk about. In my last post, I talked about Planning for Bloggers. I think once I have gathered all my blogging knowledge together into a meaningful way in Obsidian (alongside my Fibro knowledge) this will help my blogging no end.
Is there any topic you would like me to cover?
This blog is written for you, so although I have plenty of content in my blog suggestions I would be more than happy to slot in specific requests. Either drop a comment below, reach out on social media or email me. Whatever works best for you.
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