Personal wiki with Bear app

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9 min read

The term that’s trending nowadays is actually personal knowledge management (PKM). It is a process of putting down knowledge, classified and stored in a way that is easy to retrieve and refer to. A personal wiki is just one of the ways to create a PKM system (PKMS).

I’ve tried doing this back in 2005. I started with Microsoft OneNote, but found it lacking the key feature of interlinks. The ability to link notes together is a very important part of creating a PKM. I explain further in a bit. The need for interlinks led to me trying out wiki software such as MoinMoin, DokuWiki, and TiddlyWiki.

TiddlyWIki became my preferred personal wiki that I used alongside my notes app. It was very portable during an age when we still used thumb drives. It was a single file that I saved in the thumb drive I carried between work and home, and later on, one that live in my cloud drive for access wherever I was.

Personal wiki app

Meanwhile, my note taking moved from OneNotes to Evernote, before I started to use Apple’s built-in Notes.app.

While my notes still live in Notes.app, my current home for my personal wiki is Bear, my preferred writing app.

There are many reasons I love Bear, but its ability to link between notes using double brackets: [[Note name]] makes it my choice for creating a personal wiki. The use of double square brackets is the common syntax to create wiki links. Being able to use a familiar markup for this makes the process frictionless.

Better still, Bear would suggest existing notes after you type [[ and start to type the note title. This is key to creating inter-linked notes quickly. I am able to know if there are existing notes with the name you type. By connecting your notes together, it becomes a powerful knowledge network that you can organise to help you learn and create content.

Bear comes with many useful shortcuts on Mac, but my favourite is the timestamp shortcut. There are several of them, but I use these two the most – ⇧⌘7 to gives the date and time, and ⇧⌘8 to give just the date. I use the former note down the time I wrote each note. It is very useful for meeting notes and change logs.

Notes tagging

Bear also lets you group notes via tags and subtags. This makes sorting very easy an intuitive. You just need to add a hashtag in your note and it gets tagged and sorted.

I prefer using tags over folders. This is a topic for another day, but I’ll briefly explain this. Using folders is an old habit and concept from back in the days where files resided in folders to help us keep things organised.

However, with the power of modern software, we don’t need to know where the files, or in this case notes, are. We just need to be able to easily retrieve them either via search or from a tag they are grouped under.

I even use tags for a rating system. I tag movies and books with 4⭐️ and 5⭐️ tags to rate them. I don’t rate anything below four stars as I don’t write about them and don’t think I will. Who knows, they might gain a star or two in the future when I come back to them at the right time in my life.

Notes taking

I take notes when I read, watch videos, and during meetings. I don’t trust myself to recall things. It is better to take notes to track my thoughts.

You might think that you will remember thoughts and ideas that pop up in your head. You might, but what if you don’t? Better to write that thought down before it slips away.

For those of you who have a good memory, note taking is a good backup to your brain, and the note are not just a way to record what you think. They actually help you to organise your thoughts.

I found this note taking livestream by Andy Matuschak pretty insightful. He uses Bear app in the video but the process could probably be replicated in other note taking apps.

My previous workflow was to put down thoughts in bullet points within a single note, but Andy’s process inspired me to split longer bullet points into a separate note and link from the original note to the new note.

This helps to compartmentalise ideas and concepts, and I see splitting ideas into new notes as a form of seeding ideas. It is also how topics I write about branch off from an article and take life as a standalone article, or multiple articles.

Besides taking notes while I read, my notes can be grouped into three main types – meeting notes, change logs, and database notes.

Meeting notes

When I have a meeting, I take notes during and after the meeting. By meetings, I refer to any kind of meetings, not just a meeting for a group discussion.

Yes, I take notes when I meet up with friends. I picked up this habit after reading about how Jack Dorsey makes notes of his conversations with people he meet.

While I try to avoid picking up the phone when I’m out with friends, I would jot down notes in the Bear iOS app to remind me of what we talked about and things I want to look up after the meeting.

When possible, I would take the time to review the meeting and note down some details I want to remember.

These notes help me to remember more details of what we discuss and research on some of the things we talk about. I also put down action points where necessary.

When I meet up with this person again, I would review the notes before we meet. This helps to make the meetings more meaningful and enriching experiences. We follow up on the previous meetings and engage on a deeper level in each meeting.

Change logs

I have several pet website projects that I tweak occasionally. There have been times I found myself looking at the same problems and not remembering why I made a certain decision about the design or feature. I end up researching on the same problem, and eventually come up with another decision that could be the same or different, depending on the circumstances.

Once I noticed this, I started to create a change log for each project and article. In the change log notes, I would timestamp each entry and put down in bullet points my thoughts, the decisions made and my reasonings for each. This helps me to look back at my previous thought process.

So, when I look at a problem, I can check if I’ve already thought of that before and how I came to the decision. I can then review the decision and work on an alternative instead of going down the same path over and over again.

Database

I have a database section where I put down my thoughts on content I consume, in particular, art, books, films, and music. I record the thoughts and emotions they evoke in me.

I also tag them with ratings, as mentioned earlier. Instead of a vague recollection of what I thought about each type of content, I have a record that I can refer to.

This is also very useful when I consume these content again. We are constantly growing, and our emotional and psychological state is always different each time we watch a book or listen to a film.

By recording these thoughts, I am able to understand how I have grown.

Avoiding mistakes

Taking notes help you to track the decisions that you make. Decision-making is a topic that deserve separate articles, and is not something I’ll discuss today. The point here is, making notes of your decision-making process helps you to remember why you made the decision. Case in point, why I keep change logs, as I mentioned earlier.

You are then able to look back at the decision in the future when the decision succeeds or fail. With the notes you made, you are then able to understand what worked and what didn’t. This in turn helps you to avoid making the same mistakes.

Second brain

To me, a PKM is a way to turn your thoughts into a searchable database that is very much a second brain.

In the past, I would have to search for a certain thing. It could be a person, an idea, a movie, a song, or an article, and so on. I noticed that this happens because my brain attaches an idea or or a thought to it instead of what it is exactly. My brain only recognises it once I see it.

This means I would have to search online and try to pinpoint the thing I want to share or refer to. Having a PKM has improved that. When I notice something that makes do this dance, I would note it down in Bear with the concept attached to it, and I can search in my PKM to quickly locate it.

It is this access to your personalised information database that makes PKM so powerful. Your thoughts exist in a permanent medium that allows you to store and retrieve information at a higher level through a deliberate process rather than a physiological one.

PKM is a habit

The first step to having a good PKMS is to get in the habit of taking notes. Build your note taking process by looking at established systems such as the Zettelkasten method. The best form of PKM is one that works for you. Refer to the process others use, but create one that suits you.

The app you choose for your PKMS should easily fit your process, not the other way round. It should empower you to fully utilise your PKMS.

Write about your PKMS if you already have one or share your journey to building one.