How do you store your notes and reference information in a way that’s low overhead and easy to find? The key is to created a limited set of places to look that you trust. I use a small set of what I call Collection Pools. I think of them as pools because they’re effectively pools of reference information I draw from.
I currently use the following pools:
- Quick Stuff
I create a folder in Outlook for each pool and I create posts in the folders. It’s flat by design. I could just as easily use a folder on my hard drive with text files, but I like the preview pane in Outlook and sometimes the rich text helps.
Using the Pools
Here’s how I use the pools:
- Notes is where I store the majority of my reference information which is anything from a meeting recap to notes from a Web page. It’s one long flat list of posts, ordered by time. I can quickly sort by title or search for a keyword. I used to use a local Wiki, but I find a flat lists of posts to be really lightweight and effective. Scrolling through my notes is great with the preview pane in Outlook.
- Quick Stuff is where I keep a lot of common lookup information and indexes, such as favorite links, lab machine names, distribution lists … etc.
- Thoughts is where dump my ideas and distinctions I make throughout the day. It’s my pool of insights. It’s a very light-weight way to journal my ideas and distinguish my insights from the rest of my reference notes.
I actually started with my Notes and Quick Stuff folder a few years back. I thought it would be a temporary solution while I explored options. It turned out to be the most efficient approach of all the various ways I tried. I always knew where to put things and I always knew where to look and it was always open. I added the Thoughts folder in February this year. It too turned out to be the most efficient approach I have for a scannable set of ideas and insights and I like the ability to scroll through time.
While there’s a lot of fancier things I could do, simple text notes chunked up in a few folders is a pretty efficient system. I think the lesson here is that for a practice to stick over time, it has to be simple enough and effective enough. Otherwise, it fails the test of time.
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