Our “information age” has brought with it many improvements and advantages. We can find out answers to all sorts of questions quickly and easily, and watch DIY videos on how to do literally everything. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of our digital age is that the amount of information available to us can feel overwhelming. With so many great resources at our fingertips, how do we sort through them? Once we find something good, how can we keep from losing it again? Here’s where a good information workflow comes in.
1. Use a good grab-and-go program. Personally, I use Instapaper, but there are several others. The advantage to programs like these is that they allow you to store anything – articles, websites, etc. – to read later when you’ve got more time. You can organize your finds or just leave them in one big list. To save to Instapaper, just tap the “share” shortcut on iOS devices or use their extension in Chrome, and you can always go the old-fashioned copy/paste route. Each thing you save gives you a reading time estimate, which lets you figure out if you’ve got enough time to dive into it (very convenient!). So, next time you come across something great on Twitter, try saving it until a more convenient time! Pro tip: download the articles so that you can read them offline the next time you’re bored on the plane or out of network range.
2. Consider Long-Term Organization. Once you’ve had time to read through your Instapaper finds, the next step is handling those you want to save. For this, I use Evernote (which is very similar to Microsoft’s OneNote, but works on any platform). Evernote is a heavy-hitter in that it does a whole lot of different things. For example, Evernote allows you to store websites, PDF articles, videos, documents, pictures, and more – all in organized and fully text-searchable notebooks.* You can use tags to keep things organized and completely customize your own system. Additionally, Evernote allows you to take your own written or typed notes right within the program! As an icing-on-the-cake bonus, you can also set up reminders in Evernote and use it for project management or even an everyday task list.
My current notebook and tag structure, as an example:
You can type or hand-write notes, snap pictures, and add documents – all within a single note. Perfect for conferences!
PDFs that are stored in Evernote can be annotated, and an “annotation summary” appears before the text of the article. This allows you to pick out the key points quickly, without having to scan the whole article.
In addition to PDFs, articles, and notes, Evernote is a one-stop shop for storing literally anything in a digital format. A few other ways I use Evernote include:
3. Keep Documents in the Cloud. We’ve all had those times when our laptop battery died, our hard drive crashed, or a computer update meant we needed to work elsewhere for a while. If you’re saving your documents locally, there’s nothing you can do but wait (and in some cases, hope for IT to recover your documents). A great alternative is to store your documents “in the cloud,” which just means that they will be placed in a server that is accessible online. There are several different options here, with Google Drive and Dropbox probably being the two most common. I prefer Dropbox because of its ease of organization, but both are excellent options.
Advantages to storing your documents in the cloud include:
If you’ve followed along this far, you may be asking why you need to use both Evernote and Dropbox – after all, they can be a bit redundant. However, I believe they serve two very different purposes. I use Evernote exclusively for note-taking and storage of articles, household information, etc. and only occasionally store documents there (and only if they’re relevant to the specific note I’m working on). Perhaps the best way to describe this is to say that Evernote is more dynamic. Dropbox, on the other hand, is where I keep documents (syllabi, manuscripts, etc), spreadsheets, powerpoint files, and so on. These require a different set of editing tools (usually Office 365 for us) and work best with a different type of organization.
Taken together, these three tools can help you manage the constant flow of information that we face each day. These programs are meant to work seamlessly together, and each can be customized to meet your needs.
Next time, we’ll be talking about project management. Is there a tool you use that works better, or is there something you’ve always wanted to try? Please leave questions or comments below!
Written by Jenel Cavazos