Today we're going to talk about the importance of having a personal wiki/knowledge base, or as I like to call it, a "Second Brain". Most people don't think about doing this or don't do it, because it takes intentionality, time, and focus. But it can also be key to unlocking your success and momentum in life. Everyone knows or has heard that journaling is a good habit and that it has a lot of benefits. I am going to say that creating your personal knowledge base is on par with that. It's that important.
What is a personal KB and its benefits?
Firstly, what is a personal wiki/knowledge base? Well, think about the jobs you have had (ideally tech-related) that either had a KB (knowledge base) or did NOT have one. Think about how helpful (or unhelpful depending on the situation) it was to have documentation on what the methods, strategies, steps, processes, etc. were.
Think about ChatGPT. It wouldn't be as much help if it didn't have a huge database of knowledge to pull from. It's able to search that database and provide powerful responses (sometimes not). In a few years (probably less) I'm sure there will be modular tools that will allow people to use AI with their personal KB's for valuable insights, which makes it even more important to get started building yours.
A KB differs from a journal in that it's knowledge and not reflection (though sometimes they can be both, but I digress). Having a personal KB can result in the following benefits:
Clarity of Thought & Processes - Having a KB forces you to organize the information in your head, which helps facilitate improving your decision-making as well as your approach to problem-solving.
Knowledge Retention (saving) - Think about all the things you have learned throughout your life up to this point. Can you honestly say you can remember everything? Or just all the important things? “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” - David Allen. You will forget, especially as you gain more years and therefore more knowledge and experience. You need a place to store that knowledge.
Quick Reference & Centralized Repository - Going alongside the previous point, being able to quickly search for and find a piece of personal, relevant, information you need (at that moment) is extremely valuable. Having it centralized saves you time and prevents information from being scattered across platforms.
Project Management/Documentation - There are so many details that go into a project (from kitchen remodeling to work projects), let alone managing a project. Being able to have a place to store those details as well as work on the documentation side of the project is very useful.
Continuous Learning - As you build your KB, it starts to become a place of self-improvement and continuous learning. You can use it to store ideas, insights, new skill sets, resources, contacts, etc. both in your personal and professional life. This will self-feed, in that the more consistent you are in this, the more connections and ideas are connected and sparked to life because you are documenting it.
Historical Record - This point alone has multiple sub-benefits, but one main point is having a historical record of your thoughts, ideas, processes, knowledge, contacts, things learned, projects, etc. can allow you to see your growth and development over time, as well as provide something for others to reference in case you kick the bucket.
Efficiency & Productivity - Ultimately, having a personal KB can just plain boost your efficiency and productivity. It saves you time, and you can streamline your workflows over time.
These are just a few of the benefits, I have not listed all of them.
How does one create a personal KB?
In our current age of modern technology, there are now multiple ways (applications, software, extensions) of creating a personal KB. This is completely dependent on one's preferences, but I'm going to list a few things one will want to keep in mind when looking to create one:
Make sure it is exportable - Nothing is worse than building a personal KB for a few years, deciding you want to move to a different application or platform, and realizing your KB is not exportable. I'm looking at you, OneNote. So make sure that you choose a platform or application that allows one to export as well as be able to export in a standard format that can be digested by other systems.
Make sure it's multi-platform - This will allow you to use it anywhere, whether on your phone or laptop. This is helpful when wanting to capture a thought or idea or whatever in the moment. Especially photos. Think about how many photos of information or screenshots we take just to capture data. Being able to instantly have that in your KB is even better (you're consolidating so you do not have to search separate areas). It also helps your KB be resilient in case a device is destroyed/compromised.
Make sure it has search capability - Most platforms have this, but there are still some out there that don't have this functionality (or it's done poorly). Being able to search for and find instantly what you're looking for in your KB is crucial to it being useful.
Pick a system that's been around for a while and is current - There is nothing worse than investing time and effort into a technology/software/system that ends up being abandoned or bought out and then abandoned. So try and pick one that has been around for a while, is actively updated and maintained, and has a good community base.
Make sure it's private and secure - Lastly, you don't want to be wondering if your KB is private, which can cause you to have a filter as you build it. Also, if it's not secure AND private (i.e. encrypted), eventually it can be leaked (my stance is it's not a matter of if, but when it will be leaked. Then there are some companies out there who are just going to monetize your data; see the comic below referring to free services like Instagram).
What options are out there? Well, there is a lot, but I've listed a few good ones below (it is a mixture of free and paid; most have some type of free tier):
Standard Notes - The "standard" (see what I did there?) when it comes to secure and private notes. End-to-End encrypted.
Joplin - Open-source and multi-platform, has end-to-end encryption option. Large community base.
Obsidian - Allows you to interlink notes, notes are saved locally. Supports Markdown and has strong privacy features.
Bear - Popular in macOS and iOS communities (Apple ecosystem only), Bear offers encryption and is feature-rich.
Cryptee - A privacy-focused option as well, includes document storage as well, including photos. Based out of Estonia, Europe. Works on all devices, full encryption, and instant sync.
Hopefully, by now you see the need for a personal KB. It really can change your life for the better. All you have to do is choose an application, install it on your platforms, and get started! The key is to stay consistent. The longer you keep doing it, the richer your data will be, and the better it will become. If you have already implemented a personal KB, what application do you use and what are your tips? How has it improved your life? How has it evolved over time? Let me know in the comments below!