The freshest and most provocative ideas about personal information management and productivity are now coming from Tiago Forte. He runs Forte Labs, which offers consulting, coaching, and workshops.
I belong to Praxis, Tiago’s membership-based blog, which features long, meaty posts. Following are some of the ideas I’ve gleaned from them, and I encourage you to join Praxis for more.
1: TAKE NOTES FOR CREATIVE THINKING, NOT JUST FOR REFERENCE
It’s possible, Tiago says, to use a note-taking app such as Evernote to store routine information—receipts, recipes, tax records, contact information, to-do lists, and the like. But where these apps really shine is setting up conditions for creative thinking: Notes are physical artifacts of ideas that you can collect from many different sources, incubate over time, and combine into new structures.
For more details on this point, see Tiago Forte on Taking Notes for Creative Thinking and Evernote and the Brain: Designing Creativity Workflows.
2: DELIVER THE RESULTS OF YOUR THINKING AS A SERIES OF EVOLVING PRODUCTS
In modern workplaces, employees experience constant interruptions that make it hard to settle into focused and concentrated states of flow. But instead of decrying this, Tiago asks, why not use it to our advantage? Ideas are the true currency of knowledge work, and these can be delivered in “intermediate packets”— notes, outlines, drafts, prototypes—that emerge from short bursts of work.
Tiago develops this idea in Bending the Curves of Productivity.
3: USE A SIMPLE SET OF CATEGORIES TO ORGANIZE ANY COLLECTION OF INFORMATION
Your notes can become a “second brain”—a personal knowledge base that appreciates in value over time. But how do you organize all that information? Tiago proposes four major categories that you can use on any note-taking platform:
- Projects—a series of tasks linked to a goal, with a deadline
- Areas of responsibility—a sphere of activity, such as health, finances, and professional development
- Resources—notes related to specific topics that interest you
- Archives—inactive notes from the other three categories
4: MOVE FROM TIPS AND TRICKS TO BEHAVIORAL EXPERIMENTS
With some exceptions, the productivity suggestions that you find online have sunk to the level of click-bait driven, generic “tips and tricks.” Tiago proposes an alternative—“framing problems in the context of systems that can be measured and optimized using small experiments.”
The key is to apply design thinking as you test new habits, much along the lines suggested by BJ Fogg. Over time you’ll emerge with an integrated set of behaviors that work specifically for you.
5: SAVE INFORMATION FREELY; FILTER IT BASED ON TIME
Every day I find dozens of potentially useful articles on the Internet. If I took the time to immediately read every one of them, I’d never get anything else done.
Tiago’s solution is simple and powerful: Save anything and everything that interests you. Then let it sit in your read-later app for a while. Time will give you perspective on what’s worth a second look and what’s not. As Tiago notes:
I am always amazed by what happens: no matter how stringent I was in the original collecting, no matter how certain I was that this thing was worthwhile, I regularly eliminate 1/3 of my list before reading. The post that looked SO INTERESTING when compared to that one task I’d been procrastinating on, in retrospect isn’t even something I care about.
This is near-effortless filtering—and a welcome antidote to information overload.