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There and Back Again - On Knowledge Management

Posted at — Mar 31, 2021

I wrote about my approach to knowledge management in 2019. I had switched into a new role with more project-based responsibilities, and had needed to make sure to have consistent knowledge transfers day over day.

At the time, I had landed on a few tools that I had committed to working with for a period of time, and those were effective. I had landed on Emacs Org Mode for managing todo lists, and used Typora for anything related to markdown.

The challenges I still had at the time were related to the idea of actually learning the content, or more specifically, serializing that knowledge in a way that’s easy to consume when I need it. This is the idea of a “knowledge base”, or a single place where all my knowledge lands that’s easily searchable. I used Org Mode for this to a certain extent as well, as I didn’t want to split my attention to multiple tools.

Unfortunately, all of those efforts fell by the way side after I went on a short vacation and returned with little to no recollection of how to navigate my Org Mode notes. Sure, this is a personal issue, but I was unable to get to return and be productive quickly. I had even spent time generating a cheatsheet of common workflows that I used in Org Mode, and that didn’t help with ramping back up to a productive workflow.

Ultimately, I pitched Org Mode for knowledge and todo-list management. In the time after, I tried several tools (Zettlr, Obsidian) with (at most) partial success in having them stick or be effective in my workflow. The effort of curating your notes just made keeping notes tedious, and I do believe that - at least to a certain extent - anything that’s more significant than a scratchpad needs some degree of “curation” to be valuable. Spending time curating the content manually is time not spent working on projects or actively learning things.

These days, I have a simple but less reliable approach. I generally start up a scratchpad document when working on a given project. That’s it. I don’t really expect that scratchpad to survive over time or be curated. It’s merely a place for me to dump snippets of code, console output, logs, and jot down random thoughts as they come up. I’ll also leave my self little tidbits there for when I inevitably walk out of the office at the end of the day, and come back the next morning.

For more involved projects, I tend to be more diligent with my end-of-day notes so that I can have a running start when I resume work on that project.

Finally - I keep a log book for work projects. That’s just a simple text document that has a date stamp for each work day. I find that I keep more verbose log entries on some days, but that’s not a requirement. Some days are very sparse. What I put into the log book just depends on how busy I was that day.

analog

I also have the Analog system that a friend purchased for me to try, and have been playing with managing daily todos (both work and personal) on these tiny lists of activities to accomplish. Some days I forget, but either way it sits on my desk and gives me the space to organize the day if I feel like I need it. A nice side effect of these tiny cards is that I’m not motivated to add more things to my todo list once I’ve filled the card.

There’s certainly room for tooling, but until I find something that truly gets out of the way and also provides value, spending the extra cycles focusing on the task at hand (instead of curating my personal knowledge) has been more valuable.

Keep learning!