New Podcast on eProductivity Reference

messy-filing-cabinet.jpgLooking for resources on how to get more done with eProductivity Reference? Then head on over to the GTD & Lotus Notes podcast and check out Episode 14. We just posted it today.

In this episode, Eric Mack is joined by GTD creator David Allen and GTD coach Kelly Forrister, a definite powerhouse trio of productivity knowledge. They discuss the ins and outs of personal reference systems and how you can create an outstanding system in Lotus Notes.

Ask yourself:
Do you have a trusted system where you can park all that non-actionable reference information that comes your way? Or is your desk, your office, or even your house a personal information landfill?

Tune in for expert solutions to these questions.

One great way to use eProductivity Reference

Ken, an eProductivity user, sent us a tip in response to this week's Tip article. The article discuss the kinds of information that are great to store inside eProductivity Reference.

He wrote:
The single most useful item in my eProductivity Reference is called "model numbers" and has a list of toner cartridge numbers, car VIN's, vacuum cleaner bag sizes, lawn mower model number, furnace filter sizes, battery sizes for gadgets, etc. I refer to it often when out and about. If motor oil is on sale, I can look up what rating my snowblower needs, if I have an @errand to look for tires, I can look up my tire sizes, and on and on. I built this list over the course of years by entering info I used to look up and carry on a piece of paper and then throw away.

I think this is a great example of what eProductivity Reference can be used for and definitely worth sharing. Thanks, Ken!

2 Tips for Organizing Digital "Reference" Items

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Everyone has reference items. It's the non-actionable information you'd like to hang on to. Perhaps it's a business contract that you need to refer to as you complete a current work project. Or maybe it's the manual that came with your car - that might come in handy someday!

So how do you organize and store your reference items?

Well for most people, the answer is they default to a system of semi-organized chaos. Papers get randomly stacked on desks or get shoved into drawers. Emails are left sitting in the inbox. Chaos is the norm.

Despite what some people claim, this is not an effective system.

Two reasons people leave their reference information in a chaotic state:

  1. They've never implemented a more effective system (for whatever reason)
  2. Their system is too hard to maintain

The good news is, there are simple things you can do to improve your handling of digital information.

With that in mind, here's two tips for improving your process of organizing digital reference materials.

1. Organize the Information that is Current to You

If reference information is current to you - meaning you'll probably need it sometime soon - it should be organized into categories for fast access. I find up to 1 year to be a good guideline for "current".

(You'll need a digital tool that supports your categorization needs. Here are some tips on choosing a digital filing system.)

By 'organize information into categories', I mean you take the time on the front end to think through how you might use this reference information, and then assign it to an appropriate category (or multiple categories, as needed). Although this has an initial time cost, it pays itself back quickly because:

  • You can find it faster
  • You can easily see what kinds of information you have for a certain topic

For instance, I keep a category of blog post ideas - any ideas that cross my path get filed there. Then, when I sit down to write a post, I look at my list of ideas to rapidly get inspired (hopefully!).

If I don't take the time to categorize my current reference information, I tend to dump it in the "General Reference" category and it becomes pretty meaningless.

But for those items that truly fall into "well, someday I might need this"...

2. Create a 'Catch-All' Location(s)

You probably frequently run across information that is interesting, but you have no idea how you might use it in the future. Put this information into some kind of a 'Catch-All' or General Reference location and don't feel like you need to organize the information further.

This is where digital information really shines. If you have full-text search, you can find just about anything you need in the General Reference category with minimal effort. And because hard drive space is so cheap, you can store lots of files and easily purchase more space as needed.

For me, an email archive can function as a Catch-All category - I just pour email into there without attempting to categorize it. It's somewhat filtered - I only archive email that I think might have future value, however small - but beyond that, it's just a mass of unsorted email. To find something, I can use the powerful search features built into Lotus Notes, Gmail, and other email systems.

Just remember, if you need to access specific info in the Catch-All location(s) on a regular basis, it's probably in the wrong place. Put it in a distinct category.

So what are tips you have for organizing your digital reference items?

Criteria for Picking a Digital Filing Cabinet

Reference items are non-actionable pieces of information that you want to hang on to. Everyone has plenty of reference items!

In my experience, digital reference items tend to come in three different forms: emails, webpage URLs, and documents (e.g. PDFs, Word documents).

For storing emails, email folders are a logical choice. For webpage URLs, many people favor web-based tools like Delicious. For documents, the My Documents folder or a network drive are common destinations, with Dropbox being a popular web-based alternative.

But I find that consolidating my reference items into a single tool works best for most of my items. (The exceptions are things like my music and picture files, which are fine in their current My Music and My Pictures folders). Too many storage locations leads to items becoming "out of sight, out of mind" and the reference items lose their value.

Instead, I prefer a single "digital filing cabinet" that I can put everything in and see it all in one place. Here's some of my criteria for picking a digital filing cabinet:

  • Stores any kind of file or media
  • New entries are easily created
  • Entries can be assigned to multiple categories
  • Allows an unlimited number of categories
  • Provides full-text search for finding items quickly
  • Accessible across different computers and mobile devices
  • Integrates with email

For these reasons, I'm not bashful in saying I favor the eProductivity Reference Database (available as a free download). It fits my criteria well and most importantly, it integrates well with my Lotus Notes email system. This is critical because I find most of my reference information comes via email, and I can simply drag-and-drop the email into my Reference Database to create a new entry - very slick!

The bottom-line is, I have a place that I store everything in, so stuff isn't scattered across my computer.

Another popular reference system I hear mentioned is Evernote, although I've never personally used it.

Do you have other reference tools that you use? Any tips on choosing a reference tool? Please share them in the comments!

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