I’m undergoing a fundamental change in thinking about a lot of things right now, and one of those is how I manage my personal knowledge. I am a very good researcher and acquirer of information, but over the past two years I’ve stressed over finding a good way to curate all the content I amass. This is a weak point in my skills. As I’ve tried to find a way of capturing, creating/co-creating, saving, internalizing, reflecting all this information, it has occurred to me that I need to stop and think about where all of this is taking me, and where I really want to go. I suspect that ultimately these two destinations are not the same. It’s one thing to allow circumstances to sweep me up into a new way of thinking and/or behaving, but quite another to carefully craft a path for my mind, career, and even feet, to follow.
"SOMEBODY has to manage all this mess I’m creating"
My biggest sticking point is the sheer volume of information I find interesting. I do a lot of rabbit-holing and squirrel-chasing down paths that take me away from the original intent of my research and reading because I’m interested in SO MANY THINGS. I have always envied people who are more single-minded than myself, while simultaneously speculating on how flat their existence might be. I’m sure they look at me and wonder how I ever get anything done and cringe at the thought of how chaotic my brain must be (my favorite quote from the first Avengers movie always comes to mind: “That guy’s brain is a bag of cats. You can SMELL crazy on him.”). This broad range of interest has been known to turn me into a feckless wanderer, the thought of which initially brings me great joy when I think about all the freedom that gives me, and then crashes me back to the reality that SOMEBODY has to manage all this mess I’m creating.
During a Twitter chat a few weeks back I started thinking about how to start dealing with my tendency toward a cluttered mind. This is the aftermath of a major house move that involves a downsize of gargantuan proportions (from 2300 square feet to 700—don’t panic! we have an attic, a basement and plenty of garage space). As I’m examining basically everything I own to decide if I should keep things to use, keep things for the future, keep things to cherish, or get rid of things entirely, I find myself thinking in terms of a lot more than just my physical surroundings. What about my virtual house? It’s pretty much a hoarder’s den. This brings me to the idea of quality vs. quantity.
Just start from today
When it comes to personal knowlege management, I tend to want ‘all the things’ instead of carefully selecting what best applies to me and my current situation; probably because I very naively think I will eventually get around to reading/using/needing whatever all that extra stuff is. In reality, it’s saved somewhere, mostly unindexed and of no use to me whatsoever in its current form. The thought of actually taking the time to sort, clean up, and categorize all those articles and notes is daunting. If they were physical copies I could better keep them in check, but mostly they’re virtual—articles I’ve saved, examples of forms, snippets of blogs (or whole blogs), .jpgs and .gifs, lists of even more websites that contain even more stuff of interest to my ‘bag of cats’—which makes them far too easy to hoard. I’d need to take all my vacation time to curate it all. I’ve told myself many times to start from today--just start from today—and not to worry about all the virtual piles in the corners of my house. Maybe if I just started from today I would develop some discipline and become a guru of PKM.
Now that you’ve had a good laugh, get off the floor and sit back down in your chair (I’m sure your cat will come out from under the couch again soon) and stick with me for just a few more moments.
What I've begun to realize is that what I really need to do isn’t to organize what I have (yet), but to first choose my path. Where do I want to go? Who do I want to be? And what will get me from here—which isn’t all that terrible except for those piles of virtual junk in the corners—to where I want to be tomorrow? Next week? Next month? This time next year? Five years hence? Ultimately, the answers to all of these questions will take me toward a more focused approach to my PKM, and ultimately my career. Once I’ve figured out the goal (the real goal, not the pie-in-the-sky goal, or the dead boring practical goal, but the REAL GOAL) then I will more naturally select quality over quantity. If I downsize my expectations, my hopes and my dreams, I can distill them into an attainable and satisfying draught that will sustain me on the path toward my future. Just like I don’t need seven living room chairs in my 125 square foot living room, I don’t need to try to follow all of my interests to their conclusions. We all need a bit of a distraction now and then…
…but if I want to continue to grow in my profession I need to find real focus on a pathway that will lead me to my destination.