Practical PKM

🧭 You Need a Compass, Not a Blueprint

Published about 1 month ago • 5 min read

In this edition of Practical PKM:

  • 💡 The Big Idea: You need a direction, but not a completed plan
  • 😎 Something Cool: Note Toolbar plugin
  • 📖 Book Notes: Your Best Year Ever by Michael Hyatt

I’m a planner. I like to have everything figured out.

No surprises please 😂

But when it comes to sensemaking (an important PKM skill), the path isn’t straightforward.

Life often takes twists and turns you don’t expect or see coming. When that happens, you need to be able to reorient quickly.

Which is why it’s important to have a compass, not a blueprint.

I’ve learned over the years to not get too attached to the plan. As much as I’d like to know everything ahead of time, it’s not necessary to make progress. In fact, needing to know all the details can actually keep you from getting started.

All you really need is to know the direction to go. As long as you stay curious and keep moving in the right direction, you’ll get to your destination.

The Value of a Compass

When I was a kid, I was a Boy Scout. One of the skills I learned was how to use a compass. They took us into the woods, gave us a compass, and we had to find our way back to camp.

The compass made it easy to do. Once you knew the coordinates (the direction you were supposed to go), you just plotted your course and followed the arrow.

Occasionally, there’d be obstacles we could go through (like a pond or a lake). When that happened, we’d pick a point on the horizon and move toward it. But once you made it past the obstacle, you immediately went back to trusting your compass.

Your compass was the source of ultimate truth.

The Compass: Your Vision & Your Values

Think of your vision and values as a filter that does two very important things:

  1. Create motivation to take consistent action on the things that are important
  2. Provide clarity to avoid the things that aren’t

As David Allen said in Getting Things Done, you can do anything but you can’t do everything. So if you want what you do to make an impact, you need to get specific and put some wood behind the arrow.

This goes beyond just the conceptual questions like “what is my purpose in life?” There’s real, practical value that comes from getting clear on what matters because it helps you decide what you can safely ignore.

FOMO is real.

At the root of that FOMO is a desire for our lives to be better than they are currently. And we believe the answer lies “out there” somewhere.

No, the answer to life, the universe, and everything isn’t 42. But it does feel like a knowledge problem, so we consume any and all information that might give us what we’re looking for.

As I outline in my PKM Stack model, this leads to what I call The Default Life:

In The Default Life:

  • We consume Information indiscriminately
  • That determines the quality & quantity of the Ideas we have
  • Which ultimately directs our Actions as we try to “get ahead”

The Internet algorithms are tuned to keep people in this Default mode.

They don’t care if you achieve your full potential. They just want you to stay engaged.

Which is why we need to decide for ourselves what’s useful.

The way we do that is by adding another layer at the top of the PKM Stack:

I call this layer Philosophy, but essentially it’s your vision and your values.

When you have this in place, it changes the flow. Instead of simply reacting to the information you encounter every day, you can curate the stuff that is helpful and safely ignore the rest.

This is The Intentional Life.

Like a laser, it’s focused and powerful. By starting with your vision and values, you can live your life in alignment (and make a much bigger impact).

For example, I have a one-sentence personal mission statement (I call it a LifeTheme) that I measure every opportunity against:

I help people multiply their time and talent and leave a bigger dent in the universe.

Everything I do gets filtered through my LifeTheme. I don’t see how it connects, it’s an automatic “No.”

But if it does connect, I give it a shot. My LifeTheme is the needle on my compass, and has led me to do some things I never thought I’d do:

  • Write and self-publish a book
  • Create video courses
  • Host webinars and podcasts
  • Even embrace public speaking (which I was terrified of at the beginning)

As I followed my compass, I came across opportunities that were adjacent to the thing I was already doing. Because I was curious, I would give it a go and discovered that some of the things I was initially afraid of were actually the most life-giving.

That doesn’t mean I never make a mistake. Sometimes I engage with an opportunity because I think it will connect to my LifeTheme, but once I get into the weeds I see that it doesn’t.

That’s where my Personal Retreat comes in. (I’m actually leaving for one as soon as I send this newsletter.) It’s a reflection process I use to zoom out and answer a few simple questions every 3 months as I think about my future:

  • What should I START doing?
  • What should I STOP doing?
  • What should I KEEP doing?

Every single time, I pick at least one thing to stop doing. This creates the margin I need to experiment with new opportunities that arise and gives me a mechanism I can use to prune the things that no longer connect to my vision and my values.

Just because something was right in the past doesn’t mean it still is.

Without a compass (an understanding of your vision and values), it’s easy to get stuck doing things that don’t hit the mark anymore. We don’t want to let people down or negatively impact our social status, so we continue to honor commitments we made a long time ago.

Even though you resent it every time.

It’s not hard to avoid this though when you use your own compass to navigate.

If you’ve never established your own vision and values, I encourage you to do so. The motivation and clarity that come are essential for wayfinding in this crazy world.

If you want some help, my wife & I are actually leading a LifeTheme cohort that kicks off this week! The cost is $297 for this 6-week cohort, but newsletter subscribers can save $100 by using the coupon code CLARITY at checkout. This cohort also includes a year of access to The Library (my new community) as well as my Personal Retreat Handbook and Journaling for Personal Growth video courses. The first session is Wednesday (April 24th) at 10am CT, but they’ll all be recorded in case you can’t make them all.

You can find out more and sign up here.

😎 Something Cool: Note Toolbar

Note Toolbar is a plugin that allows you to create custom toolbars for specific types of notes. Hears a real basic example with a couple of commands for navigating Daily Notes:

You can add items based on available Obsidian commands, open files or notes that are in your Obsidian vault, or even external websites. Once you create a toolbar in the plugin settings, you simply choose the folder that contains the notes where you want the toolbar to appear.

One thing I like about this plugin is that the toolbar is sticky, meaning that as you scroll down the contents of your note the toolbar is still visible. This makes it a lot more useful in my opinion because you don’t have to scroll back up to the top in order to use it.

📖 Book Notes: Your Best Year Ever by Michael Hyatt

If you’re looking for an alternative way to set your compass, Your Best Year Yet by Michael Hyatt is a good resource. I like the way Michael talks about disarming limiting beliefs and designing your future based on intentional habit formation.

Click here if you want to download my notes. And if you want access to my entire library of mind map book notes (all 190 of them) in 4 different formats (PDF, editable MindNode, OPML, and Markdown), check out The Library.

— Mike

Practical PKM

by Mike Schmitz

A weekly newsletter where I help people apply values-based productivity principles and systems for personal growth, primarily using Obsidian. Subscribe if you want to make more of your notes and ideas.

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