On Information Gathering and Archiving

This year I promised myself not to make any public personal New Year resolutions. Life is unpredictable enough as it is, and year-long commitments are way too often bound to be broken. So, why purposely aim to disappoint myself later on? Why should I want to feel like shit sometime later for not having been able to do stuff that was not in my power to do so, in the first place?

Instead, for the past days I’ve started to try out some new professional, productivity and lifestyle changes. The difference from New Year resolutions is that they are just that – try outs; I won’t feel like shit if they don’t work out, but I will like it if they eventually turn into habits.

 

One of the things I decided to try out (for the past 4 days, but the outcome looks promising so far) is to use of a more organized note taking method(and tool). There are countless methods to do it, some of them already built into your computer. However, the difficulty is to stick to just one system, and to use it at its full potential.
Long before I owned my Mac, I used to take quick notes either using Windows built-in Notepad, YM-ing myself over Yahoo Messenger (along with enabling Yahoo Messenger message archiving), or even emailing myself. I also left out post-it notes all over the place, scribbled on the margins of notebooks or used online tools like Yahoo Mail Notepad. This combined approach resulted in a huge mess of information.
Since I got my Mac, I got into the habit of using the built in Stickies app, which I had immediately placed on my Deck. It is the simplest note taking tool you could get, at the same time pretty powerful(colored notes, multimedia capabilities, decent looks and, above all, small enough to launch in a matter of seconds). I’ve been using it pretty often; however, after a while, the Stickies space got really crowded and you’d need to remove older notes; also, it wasn’t fit to accommodate larger notes, such as blog posts or short stories drafts. Last but not least, it wasn’t compatible with the iPhone and the notes I take on the go. So I ended up needing to delete older Stickies notes(which later turned out to have been pretty important), and to have my blog post drafts scattered all over the place.

Another built in alternative that kind of takes care of the last two problems would be the use of Mail.app and its built in notes; they do sync with the iPhone’s notes app and can be used also for larger texts. However, the Mail.app Notes weren’t suited to my taste, not only because of the cartoonish design, but also because they were hard(read almost impossible) to organize, and sync-ing them requires my iPhone connected to the Mac(one thing that I almost never do).

The alternative I found out so far is the well known Evernote:

For the past 4 days I’ve using the free Evernote tool on a daily basis. I had actually given it a try long time before, by the time it had started to make the news. So far I feel that Evernote is a pretty complex app, with the Mac client a bit too constrained, of a cluttered design missing some pretty important(for me) features (fullscreen writing, quick appending). But I also feel that after the initial pains and the first day of using it, it has made me considerably more organized. It also seems like the perfect gather point for all the web snippets, quick ideas and long texts I try to write. I even(painstakingly) managed to manually import the list of interesting bookmarks from Chrome into it, and start using it as an imperfect(but still useful) research aid, by using its Chrome plugin to capture interesting web snippets and pages. The iPad and iPhone free app clients make for a great addition, ideal for quick note taking and photo snapshots, which easily syncs over Internet with their web service.

My setup is pretty simple so far:

  • Evernote Mac client running all the time on my desktop
  • 4 Notebooks
    • Personal
    • Projects
    • Cool links and web things
    • Other
  • I’m not really using the tag system, although I might get to use it some time
  • I’ve installed the Evernote iOS clients on both my iPhone and my iPad.

This tool is not perfect, and there are others(probably way better) out there. But my non-resolution for this year is to pick just one system and stick with it for as long as possible. Consistency is the base for all habits; the perfect tool might not exist, but it’s way better to pick one and use it all the time than to pick many and never use them(or use them all simultaneously).

Happy New Year and to many successful New Year’s non-resolutions!


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