Being exposed to so much information, in school, work, and life, can feel overwhelming and chaotic, so managing and organizing the information we gather is critical for our own sake; but, it will also be expected from clients and supervisors. Whether it’s collecting information on a favorite hobby in your free time, gathering sources for an upcoming seminar paper, or capturing your experience and documents after successfully representing a client, knowledge management (“KM”) systems, tools, and practices help us stay organized and produce great outcomes.
What is knowledge management? According to IBM, KM is “a process of creating, storing, using and sharing knowledge within an organization.” This process is important in professional settings because, if we can’t find the information we need, it can cost our organization and clients valuable time, money, and jeopardize our final work product. Organizations might use anything like Microsoft Office, annotation tools, templates, dedicated KM systems, wikis, or intranets to help facilitate KM (no, they don’t use Google Drive).
Why do you need to worry about any of this? Practically speaking, KM allows us to better communicate and collaborate with colleagues, streamline workflows, prevent duplicative work, learn new things, and spend more time thinking creatively. Professionally, lawyers, law firms, and other organizations – in this increasingly competitive environment – are investing more resources and personnel into knowledge management, but are struggling to find the talent.
Whether or not you plan to become a knowledge management attorney, this means that your future employer may have a KM system you’ll need to navigate. For a fuller look at legal knowledge management, check out Prolawgue: New Age Skills and Careers for Lawyers’: “Legal Knowledge Management: A Beginner’s Guide.
How can you get started today? Now, you may not be using the KM systems that organizations are, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start learning and applying the same skills. Information overload is well-recognized and the global pandemic has only exacerbated our relationship with information exposure via social media, news channels or apps, online articles and informational videos, etc., making it even more critical that we identify and capture the information that actually pertains to us. So often, we save this information as kept-open browser tabs, unorganized bookmarks and folders, shorthand sticky notes, or Google Docs bound for the cloud, but this can leave them vulnerable to being lost.
To see if using a personal knowledge management (PKM) system will help you, check out Taskade’s short article on Personal Knowledge Management. (They also have a strong, free, pre-built platform to start with). Afterwards, here are a few starter steps, resources, and guides to help turn knowledge management into a powerful life hack.
Step 1: Find Your Purpose.
Decide what you’re trying to organize and what you’re trying to achieve. Do you need help organizing information for a particular project? Are your special interest tabs everywhere on your Internet browser besides where you actually look at the end of the day? Find one area of your day that could benefit from organization and what that kind of organization could look like and think:
- What information are you collecting?
- How are you managing it?
- What is the end goal?
Step 2: Find Your Method.
Now that you know what information you need or want to collect, you have to find a method for you to capture it, organize it, and turn it into knowledge – you’re not just curating a library of sources. In today’s tech world, there are numerous apps and softwares dedicated to this process, but they are not one-size-fits-all. Some are great for students (and even offer student discounts!) while others are more attuned to professional and business settings. Test them out to see what works best for your needs. Just remember – don’t store critical personal information on unsecured apps!
- Capture online information with a web clippers, bookmarklets, and annotators:
- If you’re guilty of leaving an article open and telling yourself you would come back to it, you’ll want to start using web clippers or bookmarklets, such as Raindrop.io, Evernote, PowerNotes, or Memex. Web clippers and annotators allow you to save and access sites in an organized manner, markup the parts you need, and use tags as reminders for why you were on the site in the first place.
- Organize your sources and notes with a reference manager:
- Reference managers allow authors to collect, organize, and use bibliographic references or citations. These are great tools for research for projects and multimedia sources.
- Zotero is a web-based reference manager that extracts citation information from entries, creates shareable folders, and lets you annotate and highlight PDFs. Its sister program, Juris-M is built more specifically for legal researchers. Or, if you’re simply doing research in Lexis and Westlaw, you can use their folder system to manage your sources, citations, and research reports.
- Now that you have your sources captured, take notes on them and revisit and revise the notes as you need:
- What was it about that website that made you want to save it? What passage in that law blog post resonated with you? What questions are left unanswered after reading that law review article? Or, what if you simply have a fleeting thought while on the Muni or in the middle of a conversation, and you don’t want to forget it? Note applications like the ones listed here are great options to help keep a digital notepad at your fingertips so that you can capture and access your thoughts as fast as you need. And, after taking notes, they can help you edit them, organize them, and transform them into something useful for your project.
- Notion is great for basic task management and for small teams with projects requiring a lot of text or wikis. It’s like making your own wikipedia. Pro-tip: Notion provides a free personal pro account if you use a .edu email address!
- Notability is an Apple-only digital notebook and note taking app that offers a variety of templates. It’s a combination of a notebook, Microsoft Word, and Finder.
- Evernote is a note-taking and task management application that allows for easy use on laptops or computers. Evernote is a beginner-friendly introduction to archiving and embedding photos, audio, and saved web content in notes.
- While it is more helpful for those familiar with coding, Obsidian offers the ability to connect your notes together into a powerful web of knowledge.
- Google Keep
- Google Keep is a note taking service that syncs with your Google Drive, which is convenient when syncing calendar reminders, collaborating with other Google users, and Gmail.
- Phone Notes
- Whether you are an Apple, Samsung, or Google Pixel user, a note taking app is already installed on your phone. Use your phone’s notes app to begin archiving links, photos, and reminders to begin learning your knowledge management style.
- Pro Tip: Writing down something so you don’t forget, but forgetting to look where you wrote it is a common problem with an easy fix. Change the location of your notes app to a handy location on your phone, tablet, or laptop and make checking your notes a habit.
- Calendar apps and planners are great tools to organize your time for knowledge management and make it a digestible, everyday achievement. Schedule time at the beginning or end of your work week to clean up old notes you no longer need.
Want to learn more? The Internet has plenty of articles and YouTube videos about PKM, check the links out below or stop by Zief to chat with a law librarian about organizational tools!
- Knowledge Management for Beginners
- Knowledge Management for Lawyers By Patrick DiDomenico, American Bar Association
- Knowledge Management Tools and Processes by The Centre for Legal Leadership
- West km, Thomson Reuters
- Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) LibGuide, Tufts University