My PKM Workflow

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June 11, 2023 (last updated August 25, 2023)

This is my PKM workflow. If you are unfamiliar with "personal knowledge management", I wrote An Introduction to Personal Knowledge Management, which is intended as an introduction to the space.


First, I have ways of capturing "quick notes", which I call "inboxes". Then, eventually, I will transfer those notes into my PKM tool of choice (Obsidian). In Obsidian I will often expand upon the "quick note".

Also, I have ways of capturing notes and highlights I've made across various mediums, like physical or digital books, online articles, podcasts, etc. I can then import that content into my PKM (via Readwise), wherein I can reference that material within the PKM backlinking system.

Quick notes, or, inboxes: Apple Notes and Apple Voice Memos

I incidentally use mostly Apple devices, and as such, I use Apple Notes and Voice Memos to capture quick thoughts or tasks. At some arbitrary point I will go through and clear out these "inboxes" and move the notes into my PKM (Obsidian), after which I delete the note from the inbox.

Ideally, I have the time to expand on the quick-note as I see fit, turning it into a more mature note. I don't always have that luxury, in which case I can merely add the item to a list of todos within Obsidian. Or, as I often do, I will create a nearly empty note and trust that I will expand on it later. If I feel like it doesn't warrant being it's own "garden note" (more on that later) then I might just add the content to a journal page for that day (more on journal notes later, too).

These inbox tools, in my opinion, are less committal that PKM tools. That is, I could be on Android and Windows and I wouldn't have a problem using the notes and voice memos apps on those devices. I think the most important feature of these tools is that they are quick access. It is easy to quickly capture an otherwise fleeting thought. That is what you are optimizing for with inboxes. To that end, physical sticky notes, or a small notepad and pen are also both great ways to capture quick thoughts and ideas.

PKM Notes: Obsidian

In Obsidian itself, I have a "flat folder" structure. This means that (almost) every note is in the root folder. (In Obsidian, the root folder is called the vault). There are two exceptions to this: my journal folder, and my readwise folder. I call my top-level notes my "garden notes" or "permanent notes".

|- journal
|- Readwise
  |- ...
|- ...

My garden notes

My garden (or "permanent") notes are all the notes in the root folder. I call them garden notes because my favorite way to think about their management is by analogy to a garden. Managing my notes is cultivating my knowledge garden. (I did not come up with this analogy.) By cultivated, I mean changed over time (for the better, ideally). Sections are created, removed, edited. Pages are split into multiples, or merged into one, etc. In some sense, the shape of your notes is a reflection of the shape of your understanding. If you feel strongly that you should change your representation of the topic, then do so, such that your notes reflect that understanding. Your changing knowledge over time will also change your "garden landscape".

My garden notes are about anything and everything. A lot of them have to do with subject areas that I work in or interest me. Many of them are public on my personal website (like this one). Most are private though. I have notes of historical figures, logs of conversations I had with friends over time, lists of books to read, and even info on my vehicle. I have no limitations on what can and cannot be a garden note. If I write it down, it can be a garden note!

My journal folder

My journal folder is for every day notes and thoughts. Journal notes are not intended to be revisited or cultivated over time (I admit I have lightly cultivated them, at times). Instead, extracts of daily notes can migrate into, or become the origin of, a new garden note. I treat my journal notes like a daily scratchpad for thinking out loud.

Most of the time nothing comes from it. In fact, if I'm spending weeks in a familiar domain (which is a regular occurrence), then I will have permanent notes for various parts of that domain that I will edit instead of creating a journal note for that day. I can go weeks without having a journal note entry.

I reach for my journal notes mostly when I want a scratchpad. That is, when I have some thoughts or tasks and I don't know where they are going to lead.

My Readwise folder

My Readwise folder is where highlights and notes from Readwise get exported. It means I have access to highlights and notes from books, articles, and even podcasts, readily available in my note-taking tool. This makes Obsidian my one-stop-shop for note taking, note capture, and ideation.

Potential emotional barriers

Your notes, even if fully private, are a creative work. The relationship a creator has with their "created" is complex. In case it's helpful, here are some emotional barriers I came up against when creating my PKM notes, and how I overcame then.

One emotional barrier for me was that my notes were bad. I thought they were mostly poorly written and full of misunderstandings. I overcame this by the cultivation analogy. I'm not trying to write perfect notes. I'm trying to plant the seed (the bad/simple initial note) and care for the sprout as it grows (edit the note over time). Maybe it's a "good note" maybe it's a "bad note", but tomorrow I can cultivate it further as my understanding grows. It feels more joyful this way.

Another emotional barrier for me was feeling overwhelmed. I felt I was missing too much, that every other noun I was writing down should be it's own note, even when I was barely to write out the current note. Sometimes I felt out of my depth. "How could I possibly grasp this topic without grasping all these other topics all at the same time?" Once again, the cultivation analogy helped me here. I have one sentence notes that have sat untouched for years. I have links to non-existence pages because I haven't felt inspired to write something in them. None of this bothers me (anymore) because I will cultivate it when the time is right, or, maybe, I'll just delete it one day. Not everything has to go in your knowledge garden. My expectations are no longer destination-oriented, but instead journey-oriented. I'm not aiming for a "second brain" or an "industrial-sized garden". I'm aiming for a journey of growing my knowledge garden when I am drawn to write, drawn to capture an idea for my future self, or, when I want to work through thoughts in a slower, meditative writing environment.


Readwise is a tool for consolidating your notes and highlights from across various content sources. For example, over time, I have made notes and highlights in Kindle, Apple Books, Pocket, Instapaper, PDFs, physical books, Snipd podcast app, etc. Readwise is designed to import notes and highlights from these various sources. Once imported to Readwise, you can then export those highlights into various PKM tools (like Obsidian, for me).

Readwise also has a "daily digest" of a few random highlights. Revisiting those highlights helps me retain what I've read over time (it's inspired by spaced repetition learning).

Places I highlight and take notes

Readwise Reader

Reader is a "read it later" app, of which there are many, including Pocket and Instapaper. My favorite feature of Reader is that I can use their browser extension to "save to Reader" without having to leave the webpage. The browser extension creates a transparent overlay that allows me to add highlights and notes within the normal article experience. If the normal article experience is noisy with ads, etc., I can instead go to the Reader GUI for a better reading experience. It's nice having the option. (This is not the only "read it later" tool that has this in-article-highlighting feature, I believe.)

I have not had a good experience using Reader for PDFs or long-form content.

In the past I've used Pocket and Instapaper as well. I don't think you can go wrong with any of these options. Readwise supports many different import sources. In fact, seeing all those import sources is a good way to explore the ecosystem of tools.


Snipd (I couldn't find an HTTPS link) is a podcast app that can take "snips" of podcasts and transcribe them. The user experience is pretty smooth. I'm not a frequent podcast listener, but I like what I've seen so far and I'm excited to keep trying it out.

The transcriptions are AI generated, and so can be pretty bad at times. For example, I listen to a lot of history podcasts and they do a poor job with names of historical figures and places, but it's definitely good enough to start a garden note from, which is normally supplemented anyways by Wikipedia pages, etc., and so that spelling gets sorted out in the PKM.

Physical books

Readwise has a mobile app that lets you take pictures of pages and uses OCR tech to transcribe it to digital text. It has its problems, but on the whole works well. I'm sure there are other tools that do the same, but I like the Readwise tool for this, personally. Also, I have used it heavily. I have copious notes from a textbook I read recently all captured in my Obsidian.

Apple Books and Kindle

I think most people know about these, so I won't say much. It's where the substantial majority of my notes and highlights come from.

Things I don't do that I might explore one day

I'm not particularly into social media, but it seems people can save content, via Readwise, from places like Twitter. Also, I believe there are ways to capture notes and highlights from videos, like on YouTube. I have not explored that space yet.

I'm a very text-forward note taker, but most PKMs have much fancier features, like ways to capture and create diagrams, images, videos, etc.

One thing that I have actively tried to solve and failed at multiple times is a way to capture notes and highlights from PDF files. I blame PDF as a medium, mostly, but also many tools that claim to support them well often don't. I'd love to solve this problem as I have a large collection of academic articles in PDF form, with highlights and notes. That I'd like to bring in to Obsidian. (Obsidian itself has been recently working on PDF rendering, so maybe I'll look into that and report back here.)


In conclusion, I have three core "locations" in my workflow. (1) My quick notes / inboxes (Apple Notes and Voice Memos). (2) My PKM tool (Obsidian). (3) My PKM-external notes and highlights (Reader, Snipd, Apple Books, etc.).

I have one core "action" in my workflow: importing content from my other locations into my PKM tool. Readwise is crucial for this when it comes to other mediums, and for inboxes it is a manual importing process.

This is essentially a pipeline of content all leading to my PKM tool, Obsidian. Once there, it aides in the cultivation of my knowledge garden!

I hope this explanation of my PKM workflow/pipeline was helpful in giving you a sense of how I approach my PKM setup. I hope you will take any ideas/tools/methods you like, and remix any you don't. I think many people could benefit from building out a PKM because I think it is a nice way to work through one's own thoughts.

Thanks for reading :D