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Organization

Tip For Getting More Organized: Don't

devils advocacy

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#1 gbarry

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Posted 13 January 2012 - 05:14 PM

An interesting article in HBR, mostly focusing on the future of organization. The gist:

By combining threading with search, technology makes an economic virtue of virtual disorganization. The personal productivity issue knowledge workers and effective executives need to ponder is whether habits of efficiency that once improved performance have decayed into mindless ruts that delay or undermine desired outcomes. Are folders and filing systems worth fifteen to twenty-five minutes a day of contemplative classification and sort for serious managers?


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#2 jbenson2

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Posted 13 January 2012 - 05:32 PM

"The essential takeaway is that the new economics of personal productivity mean that the better organized we try to become, the more wasteful and inefficient we become."


Wow!
Search is king.
The article is quite a shot across the bow of the G.T.D. folks and users of Evernote Tags.

p.s. On the other hand, MEGO with articles that discuss the asynchronous interaction of organization interfaces.

#3 gbarry

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Posted 13 January 2012 - 05:43 PM

It's a little contrarian, that's true. I think the kernel of truth lies in statements concerning making (or waiting for, as the case may be) technology do the organization for you.

I think tags and organizational structure still have a place in this. Part of the idea of all of Evernote's integrations is that information input (remembering) becomes seamless. So when you scan that paper, it goes where it needs to be. When you receive an email of a certain ilk, it goes where it needs to go.

Our meat brains do this automatically, you don't sit there and categorize your memories (not usually, anyway--memory experts have different strategies that are more foldery). The article points to organizational tech that does it for you, that preempts the need to manually bucket. I'm not a big GTD guy, but I think GTD will likely evolve to embrace new technology that interprets where things go. Right now it feels like we're sort of in a transitional period, with learning technology just beginning to grasp our needs and functions.

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#4 GrumpyMonkey

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Posted 13 January 2012 - 06:07 PM

It's written from a certain GTD, productivity perspective that values the doing over the contemplating (organizing ideas and information). Still, I don't think it is critical of tagging at all. Tags don't organize notes, because the notes never move. Tags are labels or keywords. He's even got a few of them at the bottom ("More on: Managing yourself, etc."), though I think that was stuck onto the article by someone else.

If your goal is to find his post in your account, just type "Michael Schrage." You don't need tags. However, if you are looking for information that conceptually may be related to Michael's article, but still wouldn't show up on that search, then a tag like GTD works really well.

Folders (Notebooks for you and I) are organizational monkeys on our backs, and I agree with him that we should let go of our obsessive desire to file everything.
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#5 gtuckerkellogg

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Posted 14 January 2012 - 12:06 AM

The original research article ends up excluding tagging from the mail retrieval study, since in the course of the study hardly any of the participants used tagging at all. So, for email retrieval, tagging just may not be popular, regardless of efficiency.

#6 jbenson2

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Posted 14 January 2012 - 12:41 AM

gtuckerkellog,
I enjoyed your blog post about sitting next to GTD David Allen on a flight and the resulting business that developed from that chance meeting.
http://tucker-kellog...len-experience/

By the way, I'm sure I would have had the same reaction when he showed his United Airlines frequent flyer card, which had Five Million Miles printed on it in raised lettering. Holy *****!

#7 gtuckerkellogg

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Posted 14 January 2012 - 01:24 AM

jbenson2, thanks! One of the most memorable plane rides of my life, and I've logged a million or so miles myself. Gotta update that blog.

#8 jefito

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 07:45 PM

Interesting article; not unfamiliar ground for me. I am a pretty loose tagger, and have thought for a long time that folders would not be particularly helpful for Evernote. In the presence of good search, information will often organize itself; the organization might only need to be temporary and ad hoc -- that's often good enough for me. But Evernote does have enough tools to make more permanent organization do-able, or at least good enough for my purposes.
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#9 BurgersNFries

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 08:15 PM

IMO, one of the greatest ironies on the EN message board, over the ~three years I've been frequenting it is the perception that a system with no sub-folders "works well for those with fewer notes. But those with a lot of notes need the ability to have sub-notebooks." IMO & IME, it's the opposite. And I think I use more notebooks than most other long time users. But I also think it takes an act of Congress, sometimes, to get people to realize that. I often long for & wonder what it will be like if/when Gordon Bell's Total Recall theory/experiment becomes more of a reality. The idea of events/experiences being automatically recorded/uploaded/organized is fascinating to me. (Although I'm sure some (a LOT?) of it may qualify for TMI.)
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#10 gtuckerkellogg

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Posted 17 January 2012 - 02:08 AM

Let's not interpret the article too broadly. The research was only studying the task of email retrieval, not a filing system. And if the article suggests filing emails in folders is less efficient than search, it is devastating for tags, which (in the research) are so pointless as to be excluded from analysis, despite their initial inclusion in the study design.

Evernote is not email. The optimal strategies for retrieval in Evernote may be quite different from those in email.

#11 jefito

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Posted 17 January 2012 - 04:01 AM

In point of fact, I used to use folders in Outlook, for note storage, with rules to move certain emails to specific folders. I pretty much abandoned that a couple of years ago (with several remaining exceptions), in favor of Outlook's Categories (moral equivalent of tags), also rule driven. Since I've adopted gmail in my life as my personal email client, I use labels and rules. In the main, I don't need a traditional folder-based filing system for emails or notes (or at most one level deep, a la notebooks in Evernote), and I am starting to believe that I don't particularly need one for most of my personal content-containing files. I still believe that tags have plenty of utility, even though Owyn keeps hammering on the fact that they're not really required for finding things -- they allow you to add specific categorizations that cannot be captured by search -- but I can see what he's getting at.

Folders, I just cain't quit ya... yet...
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#12 May

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Posted 17 January 2012 - 04:53 AM

I agree with the article, I personally don't see it contradicting GTD much because processing and organizing are separate processes. It doesn't say - don't process the information for example. It just focuses on organization of the information itself.

GTD consists of 5 phases of workflow, i.e.
Collect
Process
Organize
Review
Do

Processing could only be done by the meat brain, i.e. you have to decide what the information represents, is it actionable or not and so on.
Organizing however is a different process, it doesn't necessarily require your meat brain.

It's true that the less time you spend on organization - the better, as long as you can still see everything you need to see at the appropriate time. Technology isn't replacing the processing/decision making, it's replacing organizing.

The article isn't really clear about a distinction between processed and unprocessed information though.
There is still no contradiction with GTD in any case. You could still do or not do GTD. If you don't do GTD and don't process the information yourself then you'd just stay personally less organized regardless of how the information itself is organized because you can't automate your personal decision making process about what the information means to you, that's all.

GTD is really not about just organizing stuff, you know.


I don't organize my email at all, it's either read or unread because everything actionable is added to a different system during processing. So all my email is just reference material after processing and it doesn't need any organization whatsoever because everything could be found with search. Organizing it is just a waste of time.

General reference(information with no actions attached) doesn't have to be organized with tags/folders/categories all the time, I'm pretty sure about 80-90% of it could be filed in a single flat list/folder and it would organize itself sufficiently in the presence of a good search, as jeffito pointed out. So this is true that old filing systems are outdated in most cases.

However if you want to organize some information by projects, i.e. to organize project support material then you'd need a little more organizational structure. E.g. In the case with project support materials you'd want to see all notes for a certain project in a single place instead of using multiple searches all the time and still maybe missing some things.

#13 Brandie

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Posted 20 January 2012 - 02:54 AM

Loving that article. He makes a good point, that needs to be said. Too many times, people "over organize" and it becomes a distraction rather than a tool. Or worse, it doesn't get done (organizing), guilt and procrastination ensue, and self-worth takes a dive. No good.

Loving where this is heading...
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#14 hostricity

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Posted 24 January 2012 - 08:21 PM

I agree with the intent of this thread.

I am working to avoid notebook and tag proliferation, so I use searches extensively. I search across all notebooks, or within a specific notebook, depending on what I am looking for. As i identify searches I use a lot, I save them. I have ONE printed document on my desk at the moment: The EverNote list of search terms and how to use them.

My theory is that notebooks should be used for large numbers of related notes, tags to organize large amounts of stuff within and accross notebooks, and that searches shold be used for everything else. To repeat: Minimize the number of notebooks and tags, by heavily using searches. It's a balance between notebooks, tags, and searches. Structure that saves time is good. Structure that sucks up time keeping it organized is bad.

That's why my GTD notebooks are Inbox, Next Actions, Completed.

The inbox is where anything that will require action goes. I then move and tag from the inbox and keep it as empty as possible.

If an item needing attention comes in via email (my helpdesk) and I can complete it immediately, I leave it in email. If it can't be done immediately, I copy it to EN. (I will look into emailing with EN if I need it.) In my situation, stuff that comes in by email tends to be stuff that can be completed at the moment I read the email and stuff that requires more work generally has a phone call associated with it, so I put it into EN.)

Next Actions is where I put stuff I want to work on today or within the next few days. If there's a specific due date, I tag it "due" and set the creation date to the due date.

Completed is pretty obvious.

I tried clipping to my Reference folder, but that gave me two places to process incoming stuff, so I clip into the Inbox.

Here are all of my notebooks:

GTD (empty)

Inbox

Next Actions

Completed

Reference( I clip to here and then immediately move and tag it, so the Reference folder is kept empty.)

Code Snippets

Using Evernote

Web Research

Writing (Among other things, I'm a writer and write for publication- but not enough to break it down further.)

I have my office in my home, so I make no distinction between work and home contexts.

I have these context tags:
@grocery
@home (which includes work stuff)
@other (Everything done away from my home/office which is not going to the grocery store.

I have these additional tags:

Customer

Sub-tag for each customer (This is to tag the items I need to do for this customer, not to keep contact info.)

+ - Which means needs to get done soon.

++ Urgent


In my Reference folder + and ++ identify the specific items I think will be more useful and most useful - so when I go back to reveiw the material on a particular topic, I know what to look at first.

I use tags when there's a search keyword which may not appear in the note or the note title:

I tag material for a particular client with that client's tag.

Some code snippets have the name of the language and some don't, so I tag them by programming language: : php, apache, sql, html, xml, python, C++, etc.

I do not keep customer phone numbers in EN, because they are in my Android Contacts list on my phone. If I could sync my Android Contacts with Evernote, I would consider doing it - If I could click on a contact in Evernote and have it dial my phone. Right now, if I need to visit a client and I don't know their exact address, I add it to the Android Contacts list by hand. My phone has a callerid feature which allows me to enter the name and number of anyone who calls me into my contact list without typing them in.

I do not keep customer addresses, etc. in EN because they are in my billing system (Which also has email addresses and pone numbers).

I do not keep email addresses in EN because they are in my helpdesk client and my billing system, which is where I send email.

Also: I am trying out using Evernote for time tracking by inserting start timestamps and end timestamps into the items in Next Step, and adding a Billing tag.

#15 hostricity

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Posted 24 January 2012 - 08:30 PM

I agree with the intent of this thread.

I am working to avoid notebook and tag proliferation, so I use searches extensively. I search across all notebooks, or within a specific notebook, depending on what I am looking for. As i identify searches I use a lot, I save them. I have ONE printed document on my desk at the moment: The EverNote list of search terms and how to use them.

...

I do not keep customer addresses, etc. in EN because they are in my billing system (Which also has email addresses and pone numbers).

I do not keep email addresses in EN because they are in my helpdesk client and my billing system, which is where I send email.

Also: I am trying out using Evernote for time tracking by inserting start timestamps and end timestamps into the items in Next Step, and adding a Billing tag.


Given what I wrote above, I would like to consider keeping contacts, phone numbers,and email addresses in EN and to using the EN email feature, but I can't see how to do it without actually creating more work such as manual processes to get the stuff into EN and manage it there.

#16 hostricity

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Posted 24 January 2012 - 08:33 PM

Let's not interpret the article too broadly. The research was only studying the task of email retrieval, not a filing system. And if the article suggests filing emails in folders is less efficient than search, it is devastating for tags, which (in the research) are so pointless as to be excluded from analysis, despite their initial inclusion in the study design.

Evernote is not email. The optimal strategies for retrieval in Evernote may be quite different from those in email.

Right. But, until I started using EN, email was my primary repository of business information.

#17 hostricity

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Posted 24 January 2012 - 08:43 PM

Oh, one other thing: Am I correct that EN does not have the ability to save a search and then tailor it on each use? For example, if I have a saved search with the INTITLE filter, I can't change the target portion of that filter without deleting it and adding it back with the new search target. (The saved search includes, intitle:Suzy Creamcheese, and I want to change it to intitle:Willy Wonka)

#18 jefito

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Posted 24 January 2012 - 11:18 PM

Oh, one other thing: Am I correct that EN does not have the ability to save a search and then tailor it on each use?

That is somewhat correct. You can save a search, and then continue to type into the search box to modify the search, but the saved search does not actually leave any text in the search control for you to fill in.
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#19 hostricity

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 12:06 AM

Oh, one other thing: Am I correct that EN does not have the ability to save a search and then tailor it on each use?

That is somewhat correct. You can save a search, and then continue to type into the search box to modify the search, but the saved search does not actually leave any text in the search control for you to fill in.

Given the importance of searches, it would really be great if you could modify a search term by right-clicking on it -- similar to the way you can rename a tag by right-clicking it. In fact, after seeing how the right click worked on other things, I was surprised that a right-click didn't allow me to modify a search term.

#20 hostricity

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 10:42 PM

And, one more thing:

There are trade-offs for varying degrees of organization. This trade-off is different for various types of information. Considerations include, how often the information will be accessed, the volume of information stored, the time and effort required to store and organize the information, and the time and effort required to retrieve it.

A big advantage of EN is that you can use it for loose and simple organization of information, or you can tighten it up and impose much more organization on the information. You can even organize information in different ways. This is a big advantage because while the gist of the HBR article and the comments here are correct, some types of information do require more organization than other types of information..

The trick is to determine which way to organize various types of information and how much organization each type needs and then only organize that type of information to the extent required - and no more.

We have customers who are required by various regulations to store their informaiton for varying amounts of time. Our customers regulated by SOX cannot delete any email and must retain it for at least 7 years. We provide them with a WORM (write-once-read-many times) archiving system which stores all incoming and outgoing email. This not only guarantees all email is retained. If they went into court, the archiving system will standup as proof they have not edited their email. The organization on it is to, from, date, subject, and then the bodies of the emails and attachments -- All searchable, by those fields or just a one big bucket. In the industry this is called "discoverable" as in the "discovery" phase of a lawsuit.

The organization of this archiving system takes advantage of the fields already present in the emails stored. It would be like being able to search all of the email received and sent to your entire company for at least the last 7 years - with search tools that are more powerful, faster, and easier to use than the search capability of Outlook or Thunderbird. In fact, many of my customers pare down Outlook to what they are currently working on because everything is so easily accessed from the "discoverable" archive, either from a desktop tool, from anywhere Internet access is available through a web browser.





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