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Knowledge management tools and techniques

11th Aug 2010
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In the second part of his series on personal knowledge management, Stephen Bynghall looks at the tools and technologies available to help you achieve your goals.

Where to start?
There’s a whole industry based around personal effectiveness, and there are a plethora of products which may help you. In fact, you probably need a PKM-related approach just to keep on top of what is available!
Therefore, this overview is going to be sketchy. It’s only really a starting point of some of the things you might look into. I’ve divided it into two sections:

Approaches and advice

PKM touches a number of different areas, so there are many books which touch upon the subject. Some of these focus on increasing productivity, and one of the best known of these is Getting Things Done, by David Allen. With a strap line promising “stress-free productivity”, Allen outlines an entire methodology for organisational effectiveness and task management. Whilst I’m not sure his approach can guarantee removing stress, there are lots of ideas and tips to get you thinking, many of which can be adapted for your own use.  For example, I like the “two-minute rule”, which states that if you’re confronted with a task, do it there and then if it takes less than two minutes.

Blogs tend to be written from a personal perspective, so they’re a great way to find out what works well. You can easily Google blog content, although one blog which has regularly touched upon PKM recently is by Harold Jarche.

There’s a stack of training available which touches upon some of the elements of PKM, particularly the associated ‘softer’ skills.  Within larger organisations there are often courses which are run in-house or operate as e-learning modules. These are surprisingly under-utilised.

You can also approach a personal coach or mentor who can help with certain elements. There are also plenty of people who are queuing up to give you advice on how to use social media tools, such as LinkedIn. 


There are an overwhelming number of IT-related options in the field. For example there’s a whole category of iPhone applications just dedicated to productivity.

In this section I’m going to attempt a very broad overview of the different types of applications and website which can help you. Some of these are available via your internet browser on your laptop, and some are available as apps for iPhones or Android-powered devices. More often than not a tool will be available as both a website and a mobile application, and will be synchronised between the two.

Most PKM-related technologies fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Managing data from the web
  • Managing tasks, “to do” lists and calendars
  • Places to capture data on the fly
  • Social networking and contact management
  • Document and file management
  • Specialist functionality

Managing data from the web
Information overload is a common theme. How do you keep on top of all the information that both your professional role demands, as well as other interests?  RSS (standing for Really Simple Syndication) allows you to subscribe to different websites of your choice who will then send you a link (feeds) to any new updates on their site. These can all be viewed together in an RSS reader, where the stories can then be further sorted by you into different categories. There are many RSS readers available but the Google Reader is a good place to start.

You can also go and define your own home page on iGoogle, with RSS feeds and different displays of content (including updates from social networking sites) in a layout of your choice.

An alternative to RSS feeds is to use Twitter to keep up to date with what is going on. On Twitter you can follow people who will send out links to content they have found useful. They are effectively filtering information for you.

To do lists
There are a number of task management applications that are easy to use. Some of them even draw on the methodologies outlined in the book mentioned earlier, Getting Things Done. One of the best known is Toodledo which has an accompanying iPhone application.

Capturing data
Many PKM approaches advocate capturing useful things immediately. These tools provide places to note useful content you might find surfing on the web, or where you need to write down the brainwave you’ve just had on the bus.  An example of a service which has both a website and accompanying mobile app is Evernote. Microsoft also include their “One Note” software as part of their Office suite.

Social networking and contact management

Social networking sites partly act as directories of contacts and I often find I go to either Facebook or Linked In to get up to date contact details. There are also services like Gist ( which can help you synchronise different contact lists, often held all over the place.

Document management
Accessing your files and making sure you’re looking at the right version is important. Google Docs is a great way to store and edit your files online, particularly for personal use. It’s increasingly being used by organisations.
Mobile applications such as Documents to Go allows you to read and edit your MS Office files, whilst others like Dropbox allows you to synchronise folders of files between different devices.

Specialist functionality
There are some niche types of application such which allow you to do anything from remembering birthdays to planning your weekly shopping list. If you travel very frequently, a website like TripIt where you can store your journey and booking details might be a useful addition to your PKM landscape.

Steve Bynghall managed the extranet programme at BDO for a number of years. He now specialises in knowledge management and online collaboration solutions for professional services firms. Email: [email protected]


Replies (1)

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By Cantankerous
25th Aug 2010 11:43

A few tools I've tried

As an expert in procrastination, I've managed to waste a great deal of time with various software packages and PDAs over the years. Here are a few that turned out to be useful:

Google Sync 

- Keep a backup of your contacts and calendar online. 

- Sync calendar, mail and contacts to your iDevice



- ToDo lists, Calender, Contacts and Email

- Alarm clock so you don't miss the really important stuff

- Timer to time box activity

ToDo Lists

Remember the Milk 

- Great web based ToDo list with a pretty good iPhone app. It also accepts tasks via email and will similarly send reminders for upcoming tasks. 


- Great Mac, iPhone, iPad based GTD implementation but rather pricey and no PC support.


- iPad and iPhone Toodledo client that is clean and simple to use.  

Information storage


- PC, Mac, iPhone, Web, iPad ... so you always have it with you. 

- Searchable notes app that syncs your content to the cloud. 

- Use it to capture everything from a quick snapshot of the label of a good bottle of wine to a copy of your travel itinerary. 

- It will even take voice notes. 

- Take a photo or email a copy of any receipt and it will remember the date, time and location.  


- Personal Wiki for the mac

Google Mail

- Just send everything to Google and you will have an always available searchable archive. You will also be able to access it from anywhere / any device that has an internet connection. 

- Use the GoogleApps version if you want to use your own domain name.


Franklin Covey 

- Work from goals down to tasks

- PlanPlus for outlook is a pretty good tool to help you implement the methodology. 

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