In my latest blog post, I share my experience with implementing a personal knowledge management system and leveraging AI to boost productivity. As a product leader in hi-tech, I've always been an early adopter of new technology and ways of increasing my efficiency at work and at home. By organizing my life around four categories - a project, an area, a resource, or an archive, I've found a reliable system to manage my personal and professional life. With the help of AI, I've been able to optimize my workflow, note-taking, and meetings, allowing me to be more productive than ever before.
Generative AI is becoming increasingly popular these days. As I mentioned in my blog posts, it is the latest high-tech gold rush for many, utterly scary for some, and a battlefield of confusion for others.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making waves in the business world, with impressive figures to back it up. The AI software market is projected to reach $126 billion by 2025, according to Statista. Meanwhile, Gartner reports that 37% of organizations have already implemented AI in some form, with a 270% growth in the percentage of enterprises employing AI over the past four years.
However, ask the average person on the street, and many leave you with blank stares as to how AI has been used in the past, its upsides and downsides, and where it may take us. I have advocated 'applied AI' as a more practical way for everyone to understand its power. In today's blog post, I will highlight how I use applied AI daily to be more productive. With the increasing amount of work we need to do daily, more and more of us are looking to leverage the power of artificial intelligence to automate everyday tasks.
Picking the Personal Knowledge Management system that works for you
"Personal Knowledge Management" is a concept that refers to the practice of organizing and managing an individual's knowledge and information. It involves using various strategies and tools to collect, store, organize, and retrieve information effectively.
I have spent a large chunk of my career as a product leader in hi-tech, working on so-called productivity applications. I also have been searching for the perfect productivity system for that entire time. I am an early adopter of new technology and ways of increasing my efficiency at work and at home. Although we have seen incredible advances in enterprise search and productivity platforms like Office 365 and Google Suite, my own personal system for organizing my work and business life has never been perfect. The typical workflow system for researching, note-taking, cataloging, filing, and starting or closing a project has stayed the same for over one hundred years. But what has changed is the sheer volume of sources available to refer to and open storage to file away all that content. Enter Tiago Forte, someone who pioneered a new way of working by creating a system that helps us keep track of everything in our lives. In his book, "Building a Second Brain," or BASB for short, he talks about how technology and the unlimited storage available to us lack a way to store and work on the most essential things in our lives for our personal knowledge management system. He proposes that everything in our life falls into one of four categories: a project, an area, a resource, or an archive. With this in mind, I have organized my life around these four areas. My browser favorites, document storage, and email folders are all organized around these four folders. The four folders are the same across all aspects of my personal and professional life, regardless of where or what I'm doing.
"AI can significantly boost productivity, both in meetings and personal tasks."
After embracing the BASB framework, I started looking for a technological solution to help me manage my personal and business life more efficiently. I needed something that could be integrated with my new personal knowledge management system by quickly allowing me to build a global tag list/database that mapped to my second brain method and could also help me focus on note-taking and meetings. After much research, I found that AI could significantly impact my daily work, particularly regarding meetings and note-taking. I attend many meetings with companies and contacts using different platforms like Microsoft Teams, Webex, and Zoom. I take note-taking seriously, but sometimes, my focus can make me miss critical points or appear disengaged. To avoid this, I always start a meeting by letting everyone know that I am taking notes and not browsing the internet. Sound familiar?
"The top-performing SaaS applications are better than software suites."
My first thought was to look at the ubiquitous "Productivity Suites" out there. Microsoft Office 365, Google Workspaces, and all the usual suspects were on my review list. I have many subscriptions because they serve different purposes in my life. However, I prefer using the best-of-breed tools for specific workflows and tasks. For example, I use Notion for note-taking, researching, and cataloging my thoughts. I use Slack for chat and Zoom for meetings (although Webex is better, no one seems to use it anymore!). I also use Superhuman and Bithoop for email. The Productivity Suites' advantage is their native integrations across all the suite components. Still, the disadvantage is that they want you to exist only in their walled garden, and most of them are merely good enough but could be better at something. The exception might be Office 365, where Excel and Exchange for email are still the best.
"The secret sauce lies in integrations."
Enter the importance of integrations. Really great integrations allow us to build the productivity suite we want from the best-of-breed applications we love. I believe that over time, great AI-driven integrations will make working across platforms magical and will be catalysts for ensuring "good enough" isn't the only option we should expect.
Thanks to AI, I have discovered my favorite tool for bringing meetings, notes, and to-dos together today: Notion. I use Notion to organize my second brain. And I use Notion's AI capabilities to make it all real. First of all, Notion has a great integration with my favorite personal assistant for meetings. Sembly.ai. My Sembly agent attends all my meetings and automatically populates my Notion second brain folder labeled 'meetings" with the notes, key points, and action items.
Sembly's unique "reverse agenda" feature has dramatically improved my ability to recall essential action items regardless of how many meetings I attend and the meeting platform on which the meeting is run. This helps me ensure that meetings aren't just a bunch of folks in a room with "good intentions." I learned many things at Amazon, but my favorite was that good intentions remain merely good intentions and go nowhere without mechanisms to make them happen. But the problem for most of us is finding enough hours in the day to review all the intentions or action items. Thanks to the Sembly + Notion integration, I always have a single place to check all my meeting notes in real-time and can drive meaningful execution plans/mechanisms from them. Sembly gets a special mention here because they are pioneers in this space. I have been using them for over a year now, and they are way ahead of even the more significant "good enough" players on the market.
Oh, and it gets better. Notion also recently introduced its own set of AI features. Notion AI now produces text responses based on a user's questions and the current page context. Within my meeting notes pages, or any page for that matter, I can now pull up Notion AI in one of three ways. To improve existing content, highlight text and select Ask AI. Then, pick an option from the dropdown or write a custom prompt. To generate a summary or extract insights from a page, I simply type /AI to view AI blocks or ask Notion AI to write anything I need. I use the space key on a new page or line to draft new text and enter any prompt. So when I add something to my task list or start preparing a document based on a meeting or anything else, Notion provides an added depth on a topic, person, or company I may be engaging with.
Also, sometimes, I find it easy to get ideas on a page, but it can take me hours to format those thoughts into a presentable document to share with my team or the world. With Notion AI, I can quickly move from scrappy notes to polished docs. My favorite application of this is when I am working with bullet points from meetings. "Boosting Productivity with Now, I can write bullet points and have AI do the rest — job descriptions, performance reviews, and much more. Write a list of product requirements or accomplishments, then ask AI to "create a paragraph covering this content" or "make this sound more professional." I get to focus on my original thinking but have Notion AI frame my narrative.
It's understandable if you still need clarification about the upsides and downsides of this new world. I've found that using applied AI has helped me to be more productive, especially when it comes to personal knowledge management, and AI has been a massive help with note-taking and meetings. I prefer using best-of-breed tools over productivity suites, and integrations like the ones I talk about in this post will make working across platforms genuinely magical. So don't settle for "good enough" - let AI help take your productivity to the next level!