Personal Wiki

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines wiki as:

a website or database developed collaboratively by a community of users, allowing any user to add and edit content.

A wiki is nothing but a network of pages or articles linked through keywords used (shared) by a community. A personal wiki takes that idea and makes it, well, personal. It allows us to organize information on our computing devices without needing to collaborate with others.

I’m talking about having a highly customizable, ever-evolving, personalized wiki — a type of website that allows you to quickly create, interlink, and cross-reference information.

Think of a personal wiki as an ideation/note-taking tool and an ultimate scratchpad. It’s a garden for your thoughts — a place where you plant ideas, cultivate and develop them, link, tie, and combine them, and grow them into something real.

A personal wiki is able to link your ideas and other information together. It’s a great place to jot down ideas, lists, and notes that makes it dead-simple to link one page to another.

It can also be used for note-taking, project management, maintaining documentation, or what have you. The use cases are endless (more below).

I use VoodooPad (VP) as my wiki of choice, but there are other wiki applications as well. The basic features should remain the same in any wiki application; other features might differ. For instance, when you create a new page in a VP document, you give it a name. When you type that name on a different page, VP automatically creates a hyperlink to that document. In other words, a personal wiki lets you link your ideas and other information together.

When it create links to other pages in a document, it makes it easy to cross-reference information collected in the past. This in turn helps you discover things that you didn’t think were related previously.

It helps you store whatever information you throw at it, allows you to capture thoughts when they happen, and also allows you to access them later at your leisure. It can be as structured as you want because there are no rules.

It gives you various ways to access your information. What makes it so great is that everything can be linked to everything else. It’s like having your own personal Wikipedia based on things you like (and care about) that you can use for later reference on an ongoing basis. This can be for personal or work use.

So why keep a personal wiki?

  • It works great as a personal knowledge management system for things you want to manage but have no place where you can put them. Besides, it also works great as an incubation tool for things you want to think about.

  • It works great for anything that you want to keep track of (and organize), and it will grow with you.

  • It lets you collect, store, and link information in a way that helps you find/discover things that you didn’t think were related previously.

  • It allows you to learn (specialized research) more about things that you care about.

I use a personal wiki document in two ways:

I use it as a depository for storing small bits of information such as writing down notes, ideas/thoughts, lists, quotes, things that bug me (opportunities), books to read, things, a logbook for things I accomplished on any given day, etc.

I use it as a scratchpad for capturing anything that has my attention throughout the course of a day, which might be potentially meaningful at a later date. These could be actionable or not. I leave it open all day, and use it as the place for typing odd bits of information that I might put someplace else (or not). It’s my “thinking” tool.

Twyla Tharp on scratching:

Scratching is an act best done on a routine designed to gather and collect small ideas to be used at a later date.

I also use it for specialized learning/research. That means I use one document for only one topic. For instance, I keep separate VP documents for travel, finance, consulting, etc. Each of those documents will have everything I want to learn more about or research those things and those things only.

The important thing is that however you use it, you make it your own and it grows with you.

Here are some ideas and practical use cases for using a personal wiki:

  • You can use it to write drafts or work memos, manage project support material for different projects, etc.

  • Keep track of all office meetings using a date and time stamp.

  • If your work involves any kind of research, you can use a single document to store all that information linked by different topics.

  • Use it for ideating, incubation, jotting down ideas, taking notes, etc.

  • You could even use it to write a book, or you could use it for writing technical manuals and link it all up using a simple index.

  • You can use it to keep a list of questions you might have about something. Capture it in the moment, then get back to it later when you want to think about it.

There are endless use cases for using a personal wiki. It really depends on what you want out of it. The more you use it (and put into it), the more you’ll get out of it and the more it will grow with you.

When you’re just starting out with a personal wiki, don’t feel the need to organize everything at the outset. Instead, allow it to evolve with you. See where it goes. Capture things in it without over thinking. Start using it as a scratch pad before you use it for specialized research. That will also allow you to use it more effectively when using it for research.

Once you start using a personal wiki for storing (and retrieving) all kinds of information, you’ll be hard-pressed to remember how you lived without it before.

Using a personal wiki makes it easy to organize your thoughts in one place without having (or feeling) the need to do something with it. We don’t always think about things by incubating or sleeping on them (because it’s not always about doing things). A personal wiki lets you do just that. In the end, the more you use it, the more you’ll get out of it. I know I have for many years.

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