Knowledge Management: They Come In Shoals

Good news: I have found a good system of managing and archiving my knowledge. My remembrance structure has improved insanely these last couple of months. Unexpectedly, the more my flow improved, the less I took notes – these days, I directly write everything into the working file, and only open my notebook when I take meeting notes (I forget everything immediately if I don’t do that) or when I add to my Glossary. I’ve also recently taken the long-time-coming leap to declutter and reboot my Zotero for the literature and citations part of it all – I am in love with the browser extension and I can’t believe I haven’t been using it all this time.

I think everything is going great because I’ve stopped reading what’s not in my focus, and have developed a clearer aim (for now). Since the best way for me to remember is to integrate things into a work in progess, I find myself having fallen into a wave-like rhythm that works, as far as I can tell at this point:

I write, and as I write, I find myself getting stuck, I find gaps and missing knowledge, or stumble across new words in a meeting. I then go on excessive multiple-tab literature/article/discussion searching frenzies, until I get the feeling that I’ve gotten an overview and I’m just coming back to the same stuff. I then open the Download Folder Of Doom, and scan all the abstracts, and then put some in a folder called unread unused and proceed to print the others.

Then I do only reading for a while, and highlight bits and scribble notes on the side (sometimes a couple go to the unread unused after a first scan). I half-forget this enormous wave of information and let the subconscious do its work. After a day or two, I sit down and Zotero it all with my bae browser extension, and write a very rough summary of the main points/notes/commentary directly into my overleaf file, which I also copy into the respective Zotero notes. Finally, I insert all the bibtex snippets into my overleaf project.

Then, it’s back to writing – figuring out where the snippets go, polishing, splitting up, deleting. And then, back to writing freely until I get stuck once more… I find this chunking into different waves of doing only 1 thing works very well for me. I previously tried to do it all at the same time but found that interrupting one thing with another really messed up my concentration, and I’m very happy I’ve finally found something that works. I am still unable to write if I have other tasks or imminent holes in the day, but I’ll figure that one out in time, I hope.

The learnings so far:

  • Putting in prep work and creating a good strucure to work in is so insanely important and the later I do it, the more time I waste
  • I have to try my share of tips from other people to find out what works for me and what doesn’t, not every established workflow is my style
  • I need a goal/aim/outcome plan for everything I do, otherwise it’s wasted time (even if this outcome is just to summarize for future use)

As I write these lines, I enjoy a coffee with a piece of banana bread with chocolate chunks that I made yesterday but which already has gone stale due to being fridged.

Knowledge Management: Twitter notes

Right now, I’m obsessed with finding a way to better archive and manage all the stuff I learn on account of having a sieve for brains. I use Evernote at the moment, where my thoughts are gathered in a wild flurry of digital notes (interspersed with links, sketches, and so on) not too different from their physical pendant (I’m thinking of switching to Bear for beauty reasons (because you absolutely should make things beautiful) and maybe also because I secretly want a fresh start). Then there’s this blog for chronicles and meta-thoughts, my horribly disorganized Zotero for references, and finally, the polished write-up temple Overleaf. So much about the structural set-up.

The notes themselves are a caliber of their own. I’m still figuring out how best to take them. It’s getting better, but I still find myself making the same old useless notes mistakes that effected the creation of this blog in the first place. There are two types of notes: purposeful notes and general notes. For me, the latter are the great challenge.

The only notes I’m really happy with are my glossary, and those that are loosely snippeted into Overleaf projects I’m working on write now = being written up purposefully. Project-based teaching, I scream!

Summarising + synthesising is not enough for me, it takes purposeful output to remember it, and for it to be in a form that is useful later on. I’m happy with the way I read and the notes on the side of the paper, but if I don’t immediately incorporate them in something I’m writing at the moment, the transferred version in a notebook is, to a certain extent, doomed.

Enter Sabine Harrer‘s introductory Twitter notes on whiteness in games. I found them after listening to a talk on the topic, and I thought the idea of “telling a friend” in an easy accessible manner is a brilliant way of non-contextual notekeeping, especially for one-off content. I have since processed some Phd-unrelated content I’ve absorbed on the side in the format of slide-based mini-presentations as if intended for social media sharing, and become a believer: the little bit of extra effort that goes into sorting it out, making it as short as possible, and creating a message for an imaginary public makes me not just better at understanding what’s relevant and interesting, but (in contrast to my usual processing practice of verbally telling long-suffering friends and family all the details) also leaves me with a handy little presentation for the future, complete with links and references. Feynman would be proud of me.

Speaking of which, this is also food for thought on another level: My eternal annoyance with online misinformation, especially harmful health advice from self-proclaimed gurus, ties into this loosely: I have to be careful to make sure I provide evidence, I state my own limitations and context, and invite criticism.

As I write these lines, I find myself eating shitty soft bread with rancid peanut butter and some half-priced sour cherry jam from the institute fridge.