Have you had problems managing information and found ways to effectively manage information? When I say "manage" I'm talking about storing, grouping, tagging, prioritizing, searching, sharing, etc. When I say information I'm talking about website links, feeds, videos, emails, documents, your thoughts, tasks, appointments, etc.

It's difficult to really give this question better context without writing a lengthy (and possibly boring) monologue but let me clarify a little. I'm not asking about information overload necessarily (that's been recently asked), or how to write software or databases for managing information (software already exists). And when I say "personal" I'm not talking about your love life; I'm talking about the ways that you personally manage information as it relates to your work. This question might be better suited to independent consultants or employees who have to juggle and manage a lot of tasks and information at their job.

I'd like to hear about any tools or "methods" that you feel are effective or revolutionary when it comes managing information.

  • 1
    Good Question, are you looking for one stop system integrates it all?
    – Aditya P
    Mar 31 '11 at 13:18
  • Not necessarily, Aditya. Just some ideas on a working "system" even if it's spread out across different software.
    – HK1
    Mar 31 '11 at 14:30

Here's what works for me and the philosophy behind it.

If you've done any kind of data-oriented programming you've probably had the conversation about whether you more frequently add items to the store or look things up in the store. That knowledge lets you choose between fast-add-but-slow-search-and-display and slow-add-but-fast-search-and-display algorithms. I put it to you that (contrary to what we tend to believe) you look that stuff up WAY less often than you store it. You come across blogs, videos, articles and things every day, constantly, and you feel "I know I am going to need this some day" and you feel a need to mark or save it somehow for when that day comes. My wisdom is that the day rarely comes. And what's more, when it does - the thing is still on the internet! You can find it again. Learning about people and sites you can trust will suffice.

For things that aren't found on the internet - my todo list, the install procedure for some client thing I don't do often (like getting their VPN working, something I'm dealing with this month as I move to a new laptop), notes from a requirements meeting -- my number one driver is minimal "tool time" and speed of adding. That means .txt files (notepad launches fastest of anything) or .docx files if I might want to paste in some screen shots, use bold and italic, or have clickable links. I keep stuff in folders - one per project (and if I have a client with many projects then c:\working\Microsoft\TechEd\2010\Europe\C++ can totally happen, or just c:\working\ClientName if we've only ever done one thing for them), plus one called "planning". In with my plain files or notes are the actual things I'm making - the documents, the code, the videos, and so on, probably gathered up into more folders.

Sure, these plain documents with no links between them or among items inside them, no tagging etc aren't quite as searchable as using Lotus Notes would be, but the Windows 7 searches aren't bad at all, and most importantly I have no "tool time" getting things set up. (Plus Windows 7 taskbar jumplists make it easy to get to commonly used folders or files without having to drill to them or remember the path.) It's easy to share with other people without them needing my tools, too - everyone can read a text file and there are free Word readers generally available. Snipping out a piece of it (here are my todo's for the next week) is easy and I can paste into IM, email and so on with no issues.

Specific examples: a todo.txt with one line per task, all indented one space except for the dates, all done by hand so I am not locked into what the tool thinks is a weekend. Because it's totally free form, I can do this sort of thing:

thursday mar 31st:
 run through project board with b and j
 did we pay for CSA or just a deposit? is there more we need to do?
 reply re tech ed plane tickets
weekend apr 2nd/3rd:  
  go through seed catalog and make an order

thurs apr 6th-wed apr 21st (in europe):

thurs apr 22nd:

I put an x in the margin when things are done, which means the top part of the file is a recent history about when I ordered or cancelled something or whatever. From time to time I delete the top. When it occurs to me that something needs to be done, I put it on the day I will do it. Sure there are tools to do these things automatically but you have to teach them when the holidays are or just put everything on Saturday even though you're going to do some of it on the holiday Monday. No tool means no constraints.

Another specific example - stufftoblog.txt. I do paste links in there for all those videos and announcements and tutorials and samples that I come across. Then after I've blogged them I can delete the line from the file and should I ever need that link again I can search my own blog which is even faster than searching the internet as a whole.

Third (and final, I know this is a long answer) example - callwithBillMar31.docx - this is how I handle phone calls and live meetings. I am typing during the call, pasting in screenshots of the live meeting, if someone mentions a URL or talks about how something works in the current project I usually bring it up paste in a screenshot of that too. It's all captured and generally doesn't need any rewriting or massaging after the meeting or call. Saves time.

Two exceptions to this and they're both huge. The first is email. I have folders in Outlook, the 2010 searching is good, and often I'm looking for those VPN instructions or whatever in my Outlook. If I got something through email it's a bit like being on the Internet, I don't feel any need to reproduce it on my hard drive. The second is TFS. Work items, change histories, and more formal requirements documents that were actually released and approved and suchlike are all in there. What I'm talking about with my minimal tool time is the tide of personal documents that are only for me, and often only for the next few days, weeks, or months.

  • 1
    The first paragraph sum up well my experience with delicious. I am constantly worrying that I am wasting time on something I'll never use or rarely use.
    – Leo
    Apr 2 '11 at 8:13

Working in a corp environment that uses Exchange I found MS OneNote the perfect place to store all the tidbits for various projects. At home Evernote has become a bit of a second brain for the same reason.

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