“Jason,” he asked, “how do I save information so it is easy to find thereafter?” This is a great question, and one of our readers Gary sent it to me one Friday morning in April. Our in-house workshop called Mastering Workplace Performance teaches participants the 9 ways they can better manage themselves through the day to get more done, stress less, and be much more effective at work and in their life. One of the most popular tips is “Personal Knowledge Management.”

Where Do I Put It? How Do I Find It?

There are really only three things you need to know as you’re identifying the content AND the context of organizing your own personal information. But, it is VERY important that you stop right there, did you catch what I just wrote? It is critical that you identify the content AND the context of whatever it is that you’re doing.

Content: The things that are held or included in something. I can’t stress the absolute significance of capturing as much of the information as you can, AS it comes in. There’s nothing worse than – later on, or the next day – trying to remember back to when you said or heard or read something. Here’s what I do, and it seems to work well for me.

  • Think of your work and your life for the next 4 months; doable, right?
  • Next, make a list of 7-15 nouns (things, places, people, etc) that you know will GRAB at your attention.
  • Over the next 12 weeks, before you print another article, buy another magazine or download another book, ask yourself, “Does the new information help me further/more understand the topics that I’m interested in over the next little while?

Context: Where are you when you capture/find/creaate some of the best information that you’ll need access to? This is an important question with very, very significant implications on everything you DO work on. Over the past 8 years of running The Jason Womack Company, I’m convinced that I’ve “trained” myself to think about certain things, work on certain projects, and look forward to certain places based on the “kind” of work I need to get done!

3 Important Decisions

Ok, let me share with you the three decisions you need to make when it comes to saving the information you collect for later (possible?) use. Each decision is as independent as the last. The only problem – and, trust me, it’s a BIG problem – is that there is for you to solve is to identify what you WON’T keep. There is no “one way” nor “right way” does make it a bit of a challenge to our customers; but, in the long run, this kind of processing and organization is the most sustainable way we know of for the kinds of leaders, managers, entrepreneurs and community developers we work with.

1. “hard copy” or “digital”? – Either way that information comes in, I always ask myself if I’d like to have it, review it, or store it in the “other” format. There are many email attachments that come in that I immediately “Print.” Pretty much anything that I know I’m going to “study-to-know” gets this treatment. I find that with a paper printout, a pen, and a notebook, I can read that documentation ONCE, at a high degree of intention, and I’ll have a LOT of it stored in my head (actually, connected to other things I know in line with that topic.

Now, I need to let you know that I am an “Evernote.com” fan. (I don’t get anything for saying that; it’s just that I’ve been a user for a couple of years now, and the ability I have to take a paper document, notes on a white board, an article in a magazine, a video OR audio recording, almost ANY bit of information and store it in Evernote…it continues to amaze me. Now, in order to “find” it later on, I simply make sure that I add in as many “key words” and “tags” as possible. Then, when I go searching later on, I can always find what I know is there…

2. “if I think about it” or “at some specific time in the future”? – This is a great tip, I’ve been using it since 1997. That was when I started to really (and I mean REALLY) push on the use and power of calendars both paper-based AND digital. Often times I’ll find a piece of information (an article, a book, a website, etc) and think to myself, “I’ll save/file/bookmark it in case I ever need to come back and find it again.

Other times, I’ll take whatever information it is (paper OR digital) and add a note to the calendar I use. (This is one of my favorite tips for Microsoft® Outlook® users that is included in the www.OutlookDashboard.com course!) More than once this kind of “premeditated” need of information has really saved me a lot of time and an incredible amount of energy as I didn’t have to “go looking through everything” to find what I knew was there.

3. “is it just for me” or “is this for us”? – If there’s a theme here for you, yet, please do add a comment in the box below; I love reading your stories. Now, this last prompt is an important one. You see, many of us share space with someone else. And, I’m talking about ALL the space that we share. With our spouse, co-workers, managers, clients, vendors…you get it, there are a LOT of people out there who you are sharing time, attention, goal-management and INFORMATION with. When I’m working on something with a client, a mentor or a staff member, I always put myself 6-12 months into the future as I am “putting information away.”

When I identify something that I think would be valuable for us “both to know where it is,” I save putting that information away (in to my digital or paper-based system) until after we’ve had an in-depth conversation.

The idea of organizing and finding things later is only going to be more challenging as we to in to the future. I remember when I first heard Google’s mission statement: “To organize the world’s information.” It seems big, but they are pursuing that dream. So, as you turn back to whatever it is you’re about to do next, take a few moments to think about “what you’ll need to do with that _____________” later…