Readers of David Allen’s Getting Things Done are familiar with his advice that general reference files are best stored in one A-Z file drawer (or rather one A-Z file system, using as many file drawers as your space allows.)
For e-mails that are not actionable but may have some future usefulness, storing on your local hard drive in a “Reference – Business” or “Reference – Personal” folder is a good option. You could make it one big reference folder, too. The point is your reference e-mails are in one location (and with a big enough hard drive, space isn’t an issue) where you can use indexed search functions to find that old message when you need it. More on e-mail implementation of GTD in a future post.
What about personal thoughts, notes, web site links, etc. you may want to access later? The proverbial “note to self” e-mail is an option, which you can then put in the reference e-mails archive on your regularly backed up 😉 hard drive. That’s perhaps the best option for sensitive or confidential information.
For everything else, a personal blog is an elegant solution that offers several benefits:
It is completely and easily searchable based on any word or text string you can recall about the contents. If, for example, I’m trying to remember the vitamin-related web site I heard about from my friend Morri last week, I could go to the search box in my right-hand navigation, type “Morri” and press enter, even if I couldn’t remember the name of his company or that his last name is Chowaiki, to find my post about dinner with him and several other ALI conference participants.
It allows you to add comments about and context for the resources you are gathering. Social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us (to be addressed in a future post) are great for adding one-word tags to a web site (and you can add brief comments), but to capture a train of thought relating to some information, a blog is unbeatable…and you don’t have to remember the exact tag you used. You can search on any tidbit relating to the post that you happen to recall.
Your thoughts and learnings are available to the world (unless you decide to make your personal blog a private blog that is password-protected for access.) Your post may lead to comments from someone else, which can help both of you, and others who may find your conversation.
For example, when I attended the ALI conference on blogging and podcasting in San Francisco last week, I posted on both of the pre-conference workshops and each of the general sessions. I included links to the speakers’ sites and to those they resources they mentioned during their presentations primarily so I would be able to go back and refer to them. This will be a valuable resource for me, much better than handwritten notes in a binder that will go on a shelf. And by including links to my posts, Shel Holtz made the information more easily accessible not only to those who attended the conference and knew I was blogging it, but also to his network of readers.
Finally, storage is unlimited, free, neat and orderly. You can dump the information into the blog, but if never clutters your desktop. If you take time to tag and categorize, it may be more easily accessible, particularly for others. But as long as you have a search function on your blog, it’s out of sight, out of mind, not cluttering your desktop (either physical or virtual)…but instantly accessible.
How cool is that?