Knowledge, Activity, and Content

Diagram of the Knowledge, Activity, and Content areas.

An endless array

There is no shortage of special programs, tools, methods, and workflows available on the market to help us manage complexity and achieve our goals across the various aspects of our work and personal lives.

At their core, the aim of such systems are always to make us smarter, better, faster, richer, or wiser in some way, as individuals or as organizations. Here is just a small sampling of a few popular methods:

There tends to be a certain degree of overlap between these methods given how they focus on achieving similar goals: productivity, creativity, knowledge, mindfulness, and so on. Broadly speaking we can separate them into three categories based on what they mainly help us “manage”:

  1. Time and energy: how we can prioritize and focus our limited time and resources in the most effective manner.
  2. Tasks and projects: how we can manage multiple workloads and keep track of all the little pieces.
  3. Knowledge and information: how we can develop our information “capital” by managing resources, connecting ideas, and organizing for more efficient recall/reuse.

So far so good, but here is where things get tricky.

When we delve below the surface and into the details of systems like GTD, PARA, and the many others, we soon discover a bewildering array of tools, methods, principles, and workflows. We can easily get distracted and overwhelmed by all the ideas and recommendations, even losing sight of the problem or goal we set out to address.

Here is the crux of the matter: all of us will likely need to manage more than just one personal database, repository, and toolkit to achieve our goals. When it comes to managing all the “stuff” in my life, I realize that there can be no single system, no single tool, that can handle everything. Yet there needs to be some combination of simplicity, power, and harmony in order for me to stay on top of it all.

A simple mnemonic

At the highest level, there is a straightforward mnemonic that I use to group the strategy and tactics I use to stay productive into three categories. As stated above, they are: Knowledge, Activity, and Content. Let’s explore what these mean:

  1. Knowledge: this is the sphere of ideas, questions, facts, opinions, evidence and other “neural” matter.
  2. Activity: this is the sphere of goals, projects, tasks, todos, schedules, events, and actions.
  3. Content: this is the sphere of mostly-static items, both physical and digital: assets, resources, productions, and other artifacts.

How do I use this model? For starters, it comes in handy when I think about and evaluate tools, especially tools where I store things long term.

Each tool that I use needs to support one of the three categories in order to justify itself and explain where it fits into my overall system. For example:

  • My Roam Research graph is where I currently collect thoughts and ideas and cultivate my knowledge.
  • My journals, diaries, notebooks, note pads, and sticky notes are what I use to plan and record my daily activity. Medium is where I write in public. Vivaldi is what I use for browsing and researching. Twitter and Reddit are what I use for interacting with people online. Slack is what I use for work communication. Etc.
  • Raindrop, Dropbox, Zotero, and Apple Photos are all useful to me in order to manage different kinds of content from digital assets, to media, to files, and other source materials.

Note that the three areas are closely interconnected. For example, I might use Roam Research to flesh out the core ideas for a writing project. Then I might linearize those ideas into an article in Medium for sharing. After the article is published, I might export a snapshot of the article to Zotero or directly into Dropbox for archiving and future reference.

Compare the above approach to trying to manage all three processes and datas within only one tool/system — it would get pretty unwieldy, if not completely impossible.

A different conversation

When it comes to comparative questions like “what’s better, Evernote, Notion, or Roam Research?” I try to ask myself what I need them for, and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Evernote, Notion, and Roam Research aren’t three battling “note-taking” apps.

Despite Evernote, Notion, and Roam Research having the appearance of three similar apps battling for the “note-taking space,” each of these tools looks very different depending on which of the three angles you view them from.

It seems obvious to say this, but it’s harder to apply in practice without some framework for evaluation. For me the rule of thumb is that if I’m storing content then Evernote or Notion (or Raindrop, or my mind) work perfectly for that, thanks to their powerful means of clipping, organizing, and syncing.

On the other hand if I’m managing knowledge, given the way I personally collect ideas, think, and write, Roam Research (or RemNote, or Logseq) is a far better solution with its own powerful daily note page, outliner, and backlink system.

The same thing goes for debates over methods like “BJ vs. PARA vs. PPV” etc. All three systems are primarily about organizing around goals and outcomes, so I may adopt whichever elements are most useful into my own action system, without letting those popular methods dictate my workflow in the other areas.

Personally, since I feel most productive and creative on paper, my system looks the most like the Bullet Journal method at the moment. If I used a digital tool for my action management system however, it would probably be something like Amplenote (or NotePlan, or Noteship, or Agenda).

Only the beginning

There are other ways that the Knowledge, Activity, and Content (KAC) model can be applied to bring clarity to one’s approach to productivity and personal organization. One way to think of it is that it’s a “meta-model for productivity,” a framework for making choices about technology, a tool to help you discern which ideas fit or don’t fit into your own workflow.

How about you? If you have thoughts that you’d like to share about this article, you can reach me at feedbackforcameron {at} fastmail.com, or reply in the comments.

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