How to Design Your Own Personal Knowledge Management System

Martine Ellis
6 min readAug 18, 2021
Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash

Updated: 19 March 2022

There are books, articles, podcasts, courses and videos out there with the potential to change your life.

The problem is, there’s just too much.

We are spoilt for choice when it comes to incredible content to consume and, as a result, (to coin a phrase I heard a lot at school), it often goes “in one ear and straight out the other”. This potentially life-changing information hangs around in our short-term memories for a few minutes (hours if we are lucky), and then it’s gone.

If you want the content you consume to stand a chance of finding its way into your long-term memory, you need to do something with it — you need to interact with it and create new ideas. Furthermore, you need a system — your input, ideas, and output need a home and an operational toolkit. This is where personal knowledge management (PKM) comes in.

What is PKM?

According to Tiago Forte, PKM is “the practice of capturing the ideas and insights we encounter in our daily life, whether from personal experience, from books and articles, or from our work, and cultivating them over time to produce more creative, higher quality work” (Forte Labs, 2019).

For me, PKM is about ensuring the content I consume (usually, text, audio and video) is not wasted.

Reasons for Consuming Content

It’s helpful to consider why you consume certain types of content before you start designing a PKM system.

The three main reasons you might consume content are:

  • Entertainment
  • Information
  • Understanding

For me, entertainment content is primarily fiction books and dog videos on TikTok (my guilty pleasure). This type of content does not enter my PKM system — I do not need to learn from it or use it again — it is pleasurably passive.

In “How to Read a Book”, the authors distinguish between “reading for information” (for example, a newspaper) and “reading for understanding”. The latter is described as when “a person tries to read something that at first he does not completely understand”…



Martine Ellis

Wellbeing-driven productivity systems and strategies for people who are neurodivergent (or think they might be). Weekly email digest →