Maintaining your personal information collection is a lot like maintaining your car or home. You want to enjoy things for the long-term with the least possible friction.
In personal information management (PIM), this means figuring out ways to:
- Purge information that’s no longer useful.
- Organize information for repeated use.
- Ensure that information is accurate and up to date.
- Back up information so that you don’t lose it.
In his book Keeping Found Things Found: The Study and Practice of Personal Information Management, William Jones suggests ways to do all these things.
Personal information management (PIM) is basically about matching information with need and doing what matters to you. With this in mind, review your commonplace book along with the other apps and tools that you use to collect information. How much of what you see there relates to projects that you’ll probably never do? Consider moving that information out of your active files.
Don’t delete that information, however. Simply archive it as reference material. That way you can find it again for possible use in the future.
In addition to reducing the amount of information that you actively use, also reduce the ways that you store it. Use as few formats and organizational schemes as possible. One cross-platform app such as OneNote or Evernote can handle the bulk of your personal information.
Note the current version of key documents
Skilled writers take their notes and manuscripts through multiple drafts. Consider saving all your drafts—from the roughest beginnings to the final, polished versions.
To stay current and avoid confusion, however, be sure to label the latest version of each document. This can be as simple as adding the word current to the file name.
Use conventional file formats
If you’ve been using computers for as long as I have, then you’ve seen plenty of apps come and go. (Anyone remember Wordstar or Word Perfect?) This is a potent reminder to use apps with file formats that will stick around for more than a few years.
Back it up
You can count on it: Computers break down. Files get lost. Key papers get accidentally trashed. Protect yourself by backing up your key data. Store crucial information digitally and back it up to the cloud, an external hard, drive, or both.
Perhaps you can delegate the management of work-related information to a colleague. At home, you can ask another member of your household to manage specific collections of information, such as personal finances and home maintenance. Maintaining information does not mean that you have to go it alone.
Do a weekly review
This suggestion goes beyond William Jones’s book, but it’s a great way to keep your system current. One of the main uses of PIM is to manage projects, both at work and at home. So, take time once each week to:
- Empty your in-boxes. Delete items, archive them, take immediate action on them, or write a reminder on your calendar or to-do list to do them later.
- Review and update your project information—current projects, next actions to take on those projects, and “someday” maybe projects.
- Review and update your calendar.
- Write notes about other “stuff” that’s still on your mind—unsolved problems and anything else that’s nagging at you as incomplete or bothersome. Consider turning these items into projects.
For more ideas, see this list from Kelly Forrister.