Note-taking vs. Knowledge Management: Which One Do You Do?

Is note-taking holding you back? Discover how knowledge management transforms scattered information into a powerful tool for innovation and understanding.

Note-taking vs. Knowledge Management: Which One Do You Do?

Note-taking is easy, but effective knowledge management is not that trivial.

Make a scribble on a piece of paper and you already have a note.

A note can help you make sense of your thoughts, explain something to someone else, or increase awareness of your thoughts or actions. The simple act of “writing things down” (or drawing) is already full of benefits.

But the same note that once created clarity may bring you chaos.

It is easy to find an idea in a group of 10 notes. It is not that easy to find it on a pile with 100s or 1000s of notes.

It is easy to make sense of all knowledge in 5 short paragraphs. It is not that easy to make sense of 50 pages of personal notes or knowledge spread over 30 notes.

When note-taking becomes a common practice, it is not enough to just take notes.

If you want to find your notes again, make sense of all information in those notes, or even create purposeful outputs from previously taken notes, then it is time to make the transition from note-taking to Knowledge Management.

Knowledge Management is the practice of capturing, organising and reusing information to aid our thinking.

Knowledge does not exist without a knower — i.e. it doesn’t exist outside of our minds (and bodies, if we assume embodied knowledge). So it is hard to justify that knowledge management is to manage “actual knowledge.”

Instead, I consider knowledge management as the act of managing a representation of our knowledge and managing “information” that may help us in aiding our thinking.

So, if you are moving from note-taking into knowledge management, here are the 3 first steps you need to take to start your journey:

  1. Define your purpose (Why you want to manage your knowledge).
  2. Choose your type of knowledge management (What knowledge you want to manage).
  3. Build your toolkit (How you want to manage your knowledge).

Step 1. Define Your Purpose

Knowledge management is a purposeful activity.

You are managing information in order to achieve an intended outcome — may that be improved memory, creating original ideas, enhancing performance, or just having quick access to previously found information.

So, when it comes to taking notes, we need to move from aimless note-taking (where you just write in the spur of the moment) to effective note-taking (with the purpose of best achieving a desired outcome).

But to do that, you need to first decide: What do you want your Knowledge Management system to support? What is your intended outcome? Or.. what is your purpose?

While each person (or organisation) will have their own purpose, here are some common purposes I see in my practice as a knowledge management coach. Feel free to use this list as a starting point for your own reflection:

  • Retain knowledge,
  • Develop original ideas,
  • Improve self-expression,
  • Increase self-awareness,
  • Recall previous knowledge,
  • Find your sources in 1-click,
  • Strengthen your argument with research,
  • Synthesise knowledge from multiple sources,
  • Learn from your interactions with other people,
  • Track the effectiveness of your actions and behaviours.

Having defined your own purpose for doing Knowledge Management, then it is time to decide what needs to be managed.

Step 2. Choose Your Type of Knowledge Management

The area of Knowledge Management can be divided into:

  • Idea Management
  • Data Management
  • Action Management
  • Output Management
  • Reference Management
  • Relationship Management

Depending on your own purpose, you may want to have a practice that involves one or more of these areas. So, let us have a quick review of each one.

Idea Management

Idea Management is the management of knowledge that comes directly from your mind.

You can't just "clip" your thoughts as you would with a website. Instead, you need to express them.

By expressing your thoughts, you can then organise them into ideas* (i.e. conceptual objects with clear boundaries and a name). By doing so, you can purposefully grow those ideas without having to handle all thoughts simultaneously in your mind.

When it comes to Personal Knowledge Management, Idea Management is often confused with Reference Management. In particular, when someone wants to manage their ideas about a source.

The distinction is very simple, though: ideas come from your mind, and references come from your sources.

A quote is a written representation of someone else’s ideas (thus, a reference), whereas an idea is your interpretation, understanding, and associated thoughts about that quote (i.e. all coming from your mind).

Data Management

Data Management is the management of your observations.

It means to describe and organise what you have observed, as close as possible to what has been observed. These may be meeting notes, journalling, interviews, or hard data (i.e. "the numbers").

Action Management

Action Management is the management of your actions.

It often includes a cycle of planning, monitoring and reflection on the behaviour of an individual or a group, such as:

  • Planning projects, tasks, and habits.
  • Monitoring how the actions were performed.
  • Reflecting and reviewing actions taken.

Output Management

Output Management is the management of what you communicate to others.

The same ideas can be communicated in multiple ways to different audiences. From the same outline of ideas, one could write a blog post, a report, create a meeting presentation, or publish a research paper. The ideas could be the same, but the language, the level of description, and the format of delivery would be different.

Another way to see Output Management is in the form of 'deliverables', what you need to finish and send over to someone at work, for example.

Ultimately, Output Management is the management of your Knowledge Portfolio — a collection of works that demonstrate (to an audience) that you have the knowledge you claim you have.

Reference Management

Reference Management is the management of what other people have communicated to you.

It means to manage your sources, may these be:

  • Emails
  • Videos
  • Text articles
  • Private messages
  • Social media bookmarks
  • etc.

Relationship Management

Relationship Management is the management of information about your relationships with other people.

That means keeping track of things like:

  • Who you know
  • How you met them
  • How to contact them again
  • What have you been talking about
  • When you should contact them again

Step 3. Build Your Toolkit

Knowing why you want to move from note-taking to Knowledge Management and what type of information you want to manage, then it is time to choose how you are going to do it.

Knowledge Management is a practice. As a practice, it requires a combination of 3 elements.

First, the mindset that will support you in achieving your purpose.

Many people try to search for “the best tool” while completely ignoring the mindset they use. Using the same unhelpful mindset with a new tool may not help you achieve your goals. So, when it comes to knowledge management, always reflect on your mindset first. And if you find it too hard to figure it out on your own, consider working with a knowledge management coach.

Second, the methods and frameworks to put that mindset into practice.

There are multiple ways to put the same mindset into practice and the best method will depend on your context. For instance, your method for taking notes while having dedicated time at your computer will probably not be the same you use when you are running and an idea sparks to mind. You may need multiple methods in your toolkit, personalised to your specific contexts.

And finally, the tools that suit the methods you want to implement.

In rare cases, a single tool may suit all your needs. In most cases, though, you will need a system composed of multiple tools working together — a database for your data management, a CRM for relationship management, a file manager for your references and outputs, and a linked-based note-taking app for your ideas.

In summary, not everyone needs knowledge management.

For most, a simple note may be more than enough. But if you are trying to make the move from aimless note-taking into effective note-taking, then it is time to start your Knowledge Management practice.

It is time to define your purpose, choose your type of knowledge management, and start building your toolkit.

*Why do I talk about ideas rather than concepts? Because there are too many assumptions about concepts that I find unproductive when it comes to Idea Management. Here are two examples:

Which of these would you consider the name of a concept? “House”, “Personal Knowledge Management”, “The impact of the tide in the migration of turtles”, and “The sky is blue”. Different people would have different answers to this question, but I consider all of these possible ‘names’ for ideas.

Many people believe in 3 ideas: (1) there are objects in the world, (2) we create mental concepts about these objects, and (3) we assign a name to each concept. This is a very common model for thinking about concepts, with a lot of assumptions. Instead, I prefer to make no assumption about the reality out there, and no assumptions about what is inside our minds. 


Bianca Pereira is a researcher and Personal Knowledge Management coach who helps you uncover the mindsets and methods to unlock your thinking. You can learn more about Bianca’s work at

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