I was recently catching up on some reading of Donald Miller’s Blog. He is a Christian writer with great thought-provoking books and blog posts about God and the Christian faith. He writes stuff that causes me to take notes and noodle over them. That got me thinking about how I retain stuff so as not to forget about it. The reality is that I like to read a lot, which includes books, magazines, blogs and news (although the latter is more headlines), across a variety of subjects among my professional and personal interests. I also like to keep all of my notes, files, emails and everything in between. And, I am also digitally-inclined and a very process-oriented person. So, here’s how I keep track of stuff.
1. I am as paperless as possible. I hate papers and files and prefer a PC because it keeps things neat and orderly. I can also use my mobile phone to access nearly everything on my laptop through backups to the cloud. My hardware is a laptop, smartphone, the cloud and a scanner. Backups to the cloud also make my data more secure instead of being housed in one location, like my home.
2. The information management software I use includes:
- Evernote for notes;
- The standard old windows file system for keeping files;
- Gmail for more than 13 gigs of emails over the last 10 years;
- Google Calendar;
- Google Voice, which I have had back before Google bought the company;
- Google Desktop to search it all (except for Evernote);
- Paperport document management;
- and, Roboform for lots of logins and passwords.
These are the critical components of my IT system. Except for Google Desktop and Paperport, all of these components sync to the cloud and are accessible via smartphone or another cloud-connected PC.
3. Other important components of my IT system include Twitter, because I often review my Tweets for links that I post, Delicious for bookmarks and Google Reader for shared items
So much in life to learn; at times, like drinking from a fire hose
I like to keep everything of interest. I also don’t like to have to remember things and don’t do a very good job of remembering things either, so I have gotten use to taking good notes and keeping logs. Items go into Evernote or get saved as a file somewhere. Most of it I will never access again, but its available and can be searched through Evernote or Google Desktop. Links obviously go into Delicious, Twitter, Google Reader shared items, or a combination of all three, depending upon the audience I want to communicate the link. I also keep a journal, more like a log, that I use to record thoughts and activities for a monthly review (more below).
When mobile, I often use Evernote to take notes or compose audio messages to myself and something with them when back at my laptop.
When reading a physical book, magazine or other publication, I always have pen and paper handy with the intent to learn. For a book, I often write down the page number and paragraph and maybe a very brief, one sentence note about the paragraph to remind myself why its impactful for me. Then, after I finish the book, I go back through and transcribe into my laptop the sentences or paragraphs in the books that I noted, with any associated thoughts. For magazines, I often rip pages out and throw them into the scanner.
I schedule about 1/2 day per month to review the past month and help prepare for the next month. This is where the log helps me out a great deal. I review the things I recorded and determine if anything needs to be revisited. I also take stock of items most important to me (like my faith, family, health, etc.) and how I did in managing and tending them. I recommend Wayne Cordeiro’s Leading on Empty and Michael Hyatt’s Creating A Life Plan if you want to learn more about this monthly review and its importance. I also review points in past books that I transcribed. Not all books, of course, but some of those that are among the top tier in my collection that were influential for me, whether professional or personal.
My system and process will undoubtedly evolve with technology. One digital aspect of my life that is not really a factor yet in all of this is video, whether TV or Internet. I watch some TV and see a little video over the Internet, but not much. Even when I do, I find that I rarely take notes or desire to retain the video.
The reason that video is not a content medium I retain is because its largely entertainment for me. I watch it not to think or do, but to be entertained. If I want to retain something, like maybe an educational or how-to video, I write down what I have learned and retain it that way.
Video can fill up drive space fast. I know, because I have around a terabyte of it burned on DVD’s from classes I filmed of my wife teaching dog training; some of it we have used for online training. Video is also not easily searchable, at least in desktop technology I have come across. Going through all those DVD’s of my wife’s classes involved thumbing through big binders full of them and reading the date, title and content summary. It can be a laborious process to find just the clip you are searching for. I would imagine that with advancing technology, video will become a more prevalent component in my content retention system for the future.