I used to be a saver, meaning, I saved everything. It finally hit me the last time we moved, over 9 years ago thankfully, that I was having a hard time letting go of stuff. As I was loading the truck I realized we were moving boxes that had remained unopened since our last move over 3 years earlier.
That kind of “save everything” thinking has also shown up in how I do my work. Piles of paper, boxes, and shelves full of books, notes stuck all over, all this could easily overtake my workspace if it weren't for the help I get from a bit of technology.
The following are seven of my most powerful information gathering and retrieval tools that are helping me capture information as quickly as possible so I can forget it now, get back to work, and know I'll remember it later.
Here are my 7 powerful information management tools.
If you aren't using Gmail you're missing out on one of the simplest and most powerful ways to keep a lot of information organized for when you'll need it later.
I use Gmail to gather emails from several email addresses into one location.
I email reminders to myself from my iPhone since I know I'll be checking my mail later.
I organize email receipts from online purchases in an “Orders” folder for future reference.
I also have filters set up in Gmail to easily organize certain email messages and subscriptions which I have set to bypass my inbox — I can read these later when it's convenient.
I can also access Gmail from anywhere.
2. Google Calendar
Birthdays, anniversaries, appointments, special events, activities my children are involved in, bill reminders, and many more things I store in Google Calendar. Some of those things I have set to send me an email or text reminder at the date and time I've scheduled. One thing I really appreciate is having the ability to schedule repeating events that I never have to touch again and yet, I get a notice each month or week at the appropriate time.
3. Simplenote & Notational Velocity (Mac)
This is actually two tools but I don't use one without the other. Simplenote is web service and an App I use on my iPhone which allows me to capture and access stored text notes wherever I am. I can also acces all those text notes in Notational Velocity on my computer. What makes these two pieces of software so indispensable for me is how they each give me access to the same data and everything is automatically synchronized. By the way, I'm using Dropbox, another killer web service I'll write about another time, to do all the syncing for these two applications.
This is another information capturing application. There's a load of information on the web about using Evernote on your computer and iPhone, but I find it a bit more than I need for simply capturing text which is what I do most.
Some people will prefer to use Evernote and not Simplenote & Notational Velocity. That may be simpler for you too. But what I mainly use Evernote for is for organizing paper documents I've captured and digitized with a scanner.
Once I've scanned a document and it's saved as a PDF I simply drop the PDF on the Evernote icon. Once archived in Evernote I have access to all those scanned pieces of paper I might have saved in a pile somewhere, and they are stored in the cloud for safekeeping. I access everything from Evernote on my computer, in a browser from any computer on the Evernote website or on my iPhone from the Evernote app.
The synchronizing is all done by the Evernote service — I use the free version — and I don't do much else other than occasionally organize certain types of information into a folder or two in Evernote.
This a web service I access from my web browser as well as from an app on my iPhone and there are two things I really love about Instapaper.
The first is the ease with which I can save things I've found on the web that I might like to read later. I have a shortcut in my browser that when clicked stores a link to the current webpage to the Instapaper service. Now I can move on to more important things without being concerned I'll forget what I wanted to read. I can pull up the Instapaper service later in my bowser or I can open the app and read the webpage on my iPhone when I'm away from my desk.
The second thing I love is the Instapaper app itself with simply presents the text of the webpages I've saved without all the clutter often seen on a webpage. Now I can read things away from my computer in a simple and un-distracting format.
This is a handy bookmarking service. This is not a free service but it is worth the few dollars it costs to keep your bookmarks organized. This I use to easily bookmark web pages of information for later retrieval should I need them later. I bookmark loads of things for later and each item can be tagged so that they are easily categorized and retrieved later. I used to use the Delicious service but I've found that Pinboard.in is much simpler, allows me to bookmark webpages quickly and easily for later, and is easy to use when I need to search for something I've saved.
As a side note — Pinboard.in lets me connect my Instapaper account so that anything I send to Instapaper also gets bookmarked in pinboard.in
7. Kindle & Kindle App
I include the Kindle and the Kindle App here in my top 7 information-gathering tools because I really enjoy and use the kindle reading environment quite a bit. Not only am I no longer purchasing paper and ink books whenever there's a digital version available, but I also have Instapaper send web pages to my Kindle. I often prefer to read long articles from the web on my Kindle. Through the Instapaper service, I have an archive of documents automatically sent to my kindle periodically.
I'll also email long PDFs to my Kindle having them converted to ebook format by the Amazon document conversion service. And now with personal document syncing I can read those documents on the Kindle or on my phone and my reading location stays in sync.
These 7 powerful information-gathering tools have saved me loads of time and saved me from piles of paper. I've only touched the surface of what these tools can do. These may not all serve you as well as they've served me but the best tool for organizing information is the one you'll use.
What are your favorite information gathering and retrieval tools and services? Let me know in the comments below.