Even if you don’t think about it, you are managing personal information
You have to control lots of information. Passwords, phone numbers, dates,
to-do list items, email, and more. Controlling the deluge saps a significant
amount of your time and effort, even if you don’t have a system. If information
is valuable, how do you store and secure that value?
The bad old days
In school, I didn’t take good notes. For the most part I didn’t have to, I had
a decent memory, and usually retained information just long enough to pass the
test and move on to the next thing. However, this meant I had almost no
discipline in keeping notes. I also grew up in the time where kids didn’t own
cell phones, Palm Pilots, or anything like that. My data-keeping strategy was a
few three-ring binders full of stream-of-consciousness notes and the backs of
old mail envelopes with various phone numbers and to-do items. Keeping digital
data meant stacks of AOL floppy disks with various doodles on the front
(eventually migrated into Zip disks, with almost no directory structure).
Late in middle/high school we were given spiral-bound ‘planners’ which we were
required to put our homework assignment information into. I didn’t get the
point of this, though, and my planner ended up full of cryptic scribbles with
the occasional range of page numbers I would need to read.
Scaling up your PIM handling
The idea of trying to use my middle school scheme gives me chills now - it’s
not a scalable approach, and you lose a lot of valuable info because you forget
it, and the mass of paperwork is no help at all.
Which isn’t to say you can’t be organized with a thoughtful paper approach, but
an ad-hoc system with no thought will waste more time and energy than coming up
with a system that can scale to your needs.
Now imagine from the age of 20 you started taking an average 2 pages of written
pages of notes of various information every day. How much info would that lead
to in 10 years time?
At 30 years old: 2 * 365 * 10 = 7300 pages
A lot of that information will become "yesterday’s news," and be useless within
a short period of time. If you only end up saving 10% of that info, you’re
still left with 730 pages of information, which is well outside the limits of a
few 3-ring binders (even if you write neatly ;-).
Plaintext, future-proofing what matters
One of the biggest digital problems we currently face is important data getting
locked into proprietary document formats. Plaintext is easily version-controlled
(with something like git) If you want to change programs for whatever reason,
your data can be easily extracted and moved to something else. This was really
handy when I moved to daveops.net Pelican from TiddlyWiki
Good PIM is effortless
Your information should be:
- Easy to add,
- easy to find, and
- easy to maintain.
You want to offload as much mental effort as possible - can you find the
command line one-liner you’re looking for when it’s 2 A.M. and you’re sleepy?
Elaborate file hierarchies can take time to maintain, and there’s always the
possibility of losing something in a large system. Tagging and search are
powerful tools for helping find data quickly.