what is reference material ?
Why keeping a reference material system to begin with ?
Things that you should keep in a reference material system
- Interests and hobbies
- project related research material
- snippets of information you find useful
- meeting notes
- lecture notes
- ideas you think about
Things you should NOT keep in a reference system
- Passwords (NEVER EVER), those should be kept in special encrypted containers such as 1password.
- Actionable items , those should have their own system (you can read about it in my organization related blogs starting here)
Where should reference material be kept ?
- Save the world ! less paper, less trees to cut !
- You can back it up if it is in electronic form, paper is usually a single copy
- Once you have it in electronic form, you can have it available for you anywhere you are
- Electronic form takes much less space
- Electronic form is much easier and faster to search on
Where you shouldn’t keep your reference material
The characteristics of a good reference system
- Versatile – should be able to hold a plethora of information types, pictures, different file types, links, text, etc
- Easily accessible from anywhere – online OR offline, and preferably on any device (PC / MAC / IOS / Android etc)
- Robust search – should be very easy to find things using multiple filters
- Can be easily backed up
- Trusted – you need to know that once you put something in there, it stays there
- Easy to process – Adding new data in a meaningful way should be simple
What do I suggest ?
- I do not want the reader (you) to ignore another product just because I suggested it is “not good enough” for me
- Products change all the time, could be that i have tried an early version of a product, and now it is 10x better than before
- Every person have their own workflows and ideas, you should make your own decisions
- Every product is different, each have their strengths and weaknesses – nothing is perfect
- Devonthink – http://www.devontechnologies.com/products/devonthink/overview.html
- Notesuite – http://www.notesuite.io/mac/
- Together – http://reinventedsoftware.com/together/
- Yojimbo – http://www.barebones.com/products/yojimbo/
The good news:
Figuring out your reference system
- Collect all of your information into a single “bucket” (software), and investigate the different information types you have. Try to think high level. Analyze the information from “100k view perspective”, this should eventually show you high level groups of data (WHAT is the information you are looking at). I will share my own list to give you a better understanding of what I refer to.
Each and every one of the items below become a general tag that gets applied to every piece of information I have (at least one):
- ^Tutorial – a step-by-step walk-through for someone with no experience
- ^Guide – gives basic information, not detailed instruction. Think “pointers”.
- ^How to – a list of detailed steps for particular operations (usually less detailed than a tutorial, assumes knowledge in the subject matter).
- ^Resource – General useful information for a given topic
- ^Asset – Project related artifacts (meeting minutes, notes, diagrams , research etc)
- ^Presentation – Presentation notes
Note: The “^” at the beginning is not a mistake, I actually name those tags like that. That allows me to quickly see the those tags when I type “^” in Evernote. The reason for the symbol itself, is that it reminds me a roof, and since those tags are the most general tags I have, it makes sense to me.
- Collect all of the special sources the information came from (only special ones). In my case, that’s the list:
- @Mind Map – I use mind maps to take notes and brainstorm
- @Omnioutliner – I use omioutliner to take notes and keep how to’s
- @Omnigraffle – I use omnigraffle to create workflow diagrams, and mockups
- @OCR – I use an OCR program to scan images and PDF’s to make them searchable
Note: The “@” (at) sign is part of the name I use to make the tagging simpler. @ reminds me of “location”, WHERE is this information coming from ?
- Collect all of the specific subjects you have. That’s where it gets really tricky, you need to have enough tags to make searching robust enough, but you do not want to have too many tags floating around, otherwise it is too complex to process your inbox (we will get to that soon).Think high level subjects at this point. This is probably where my list will help you the least, since these are specific subjects of interest, but i will provide it anyways:
- !Organizational skills
- !Business Skills
Note: All of the items start with a “!” (bang) – these are specific subjects.
- Try to identify groups of data (folders or containers) that the information belongs to.
In my case, this is my list:
- !inbox – Initial holding space for information for further processing (the “!” makes sure it shows at the top of the list of folders in Evernote)
- Technology – All technology related information
- Projects (container of containers) – Contains container for each project with assets and research materials.
- Hobbies (container of containers) – Contains a container for each hobby with all assets and research materials
- Expenses (broken down into personal and work related)
- Manuals (different manuals for electronics stuff)
An example for using the above information
The things that Evernote lacks
- No native support for mind maps
- No native support for outlines
- No native support for omnigraffle (mockups and diagrams)
In this blog post I will introduce the “simple” approach to overcoming the above limitations …. manually create PDF files and save them in Evernote. In the next blog post – Creating and maintaining a reference material library – Part 2 Automation (Advanced), I will introduce the workflow I have implemented to automate the creation of the PDF files, and the automatic tagging of the information gathered.
Final Words of wisdom
Collect first and process later, there is no such thing as collecting too much information as long as you take the time to process the information at a later time, file it correctly, or delete it if it is not required.
If this is interesting to you, I would recommend reading other blogs I wrote about self organizational skills: