4 Five tips for slackers for keeping track of digital stuff

I’m going to be completely honest about this at the outset… i’m not good at this. I have many friends who are excellent at keeping track of the things that they post, the people they connect to, and the work that is ongoing – but i’m not one of these people. I firmly believe, however, that one needn’t actually be good at a thing to explain it to someone else. I am teaching my child to clean up after himself. Do as I say, and not as i do 😛

File naming
This may seem like a silly place to start, but there is NOTHING that will lose something quicker than not taking five seconds to give it an appropriate name. I have scads of documents from years ago called ‘stuff’ and ‘notes’ and ‘ideas’ that are of limited to no use to me now. When you make the conversion to googledocs, things only get worse. The ease of use and the speed of creation makes for new problems. You need to MAKE the time to title things properly…

Your paper notebook automatically creates a certain linear order to the notes that are in it (unless you just write on random pages…). While your files will also come with dates, the context imposed by a notebook will be lacking. Paper imposes many points of order to the things you write on them. The digital has a different set of things that it allows. For the digital, file naming is king.

These ‘things that each technology allows’ are often called ‘affordances‘. If this is the sort of thing you find interesting, google that word.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2004_MujiWanoSyokki-TeasetMug_Masahiro-Mori.jpg

The handles on this tea set provide an obvious affordance for holding.

Use fewer docs, structure them
Speaking of documents, i have this terrible habit of creating new ones for every different idea… instead of grouping ideas together, where they can feed on each other. A well created googledoc, with a table of contents, and some reasonable formatting is not just something you can show off to your boss to make you look energetic, but it can be a reusable resource that you can send out to other people. It can be a single point of reference for recipes, or for all the things that you learned in a course. Organize your documents.

Find some way to keep track of links
I have a terrible way of keeping track of the links that i want to remember. I had a little widget that took all the links that i post on twitter, and put them automagically into delicious.com and then never looked at them. I have just recently started using mendeley.com as a repository for the research documents that I’m interested in and have experimented with Evernote for keeping track of the things in between.

You need something. There are lots of tools out there. It’s called digital bookmarking.
Google it.

Good networks make for good memories
I admit it, i use twitter to remember things. I will, at any given time, open up my twitter account and say “does anyone remember that tool that does the screen casting, you know, website based” and someone will fire back with screen-cast-o-matic. That’s one I forget all the time. But being part of a network of people in your profession can help you remember the things you’ve forgotten, or, sometimes, give you an answer better than the one you had before. Connect to the people you know and want to keep track of. (say… on twitter)

Connecting with people is good for new ideas… but it’s also good to help you remember old ones 🙂 There’s a catch, though… sometimes you need to remember for them.

Have a home
Maybe the most important thing that I do online is blog. It’s important to me for alot [sic] of reasons, but one of the most important is that I know where i ‘probably’ left something. It’s the place where i should have my updated bio (it’s actually in a googledoc http://davecormier.com/bio) where i can put links to all the things i don’t want to forget about, and where i throw up ideas so that I don’t forget them. It’s my go-to place, in some ways my junk drawer but always the place that both defines me to other people and serves as the representative of who i am.

Personal knowledge management
Want a better sense of what you should be doing and why? Check out Harold Jarche’s PKM stuff.