Wednesdays are simplicity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
After bumping into the Four Laws Of Simplicity, I realized that they can be applied not only to physical stuff, but also the aspects of every productivity system. In this series, we have already talked about applying it to “stuff, as well as calendars and task lists. Now we’ll take a look at how to apply them to reference material.
The Four Laws Of Simplicity
Let’s start out with a review of the four laws:
- Collect everything in one place.
- Choose the essential.
- Eliminate the rest.
- Organize the remaining stuff neatly and nicely.
It’s fairly straightforward, right?
Simplify Reference Material With the Four Laws of Simplicity
This will probably seem like the biggest part of simplifying any productivity system, just because of the volume of paper and other information that can collect. Don’t be daunted.
Reference material has a tendency to expand. It can be found in piles in various locations on horizontal surfaces, as well as in email, bookmarks, online sources and physical filing devices. You should deal with each type — paper, electronic file and bookmark — individually, rather than pulling everything into one place and starting.
The first step is to separate the material for things you are working on right now from things you need for long-term, or things that support projects you have done in the past. Divide your reference material into current and archive along these lines.
Now, for the archive pile:
- Is it paper? If so, can I readily find it online?
- Is it relevant to supporting the project? Or is it just notes?
- Can you decipher what it means? (I often find that going over my design notes three months later shows a pile of gibberish that really did make sense at the time)
- If it is a bookmark, does it still work?
- If it is an email, is the information contained in a reply chain somewhere else? (Many people save the message, plus any replies)
For the current pile:
- Is this necessary to the work?
- Does it make sense?
- If it is an email, is the information contained in a reply chain somewhere else?
For those archive paper documents that you can readily find online, ditch the paper. For those bookmarks that are no longer relevant, delete them. For those electronic documents, back them up and delete them.
The question for organization is first about how you are going to store your reference material. Will it be all digital? All paper? Or a combination?
The answer to that question will lie in large part with how you work, and where you work.
If you have a physical office where you do most of your work, paper reference material can work for you. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are always on the go and have no storage space, electronic reference material is going to work best.
Most of us will be somewhere in the middle.
A Word about Important Papers
As with many things, you need to file things so that you can find them again. I advocate a one-box filing method for things like bills, receipts and other documents that you need to hang onto for legal reasons.
Organizing bookmarks simply takes a good organizing tool. I prefer not to keep bookmarks in my browser, simply because it bulks up the browser load time, and it doesn’t have enough flexibility.
If you use a bookmarking tool like Deli.cio.us or Pinboard (my choice), you can tag your bookmarks every which way. I generally put a tag in for everything I can think of looking up later. If it is for a specific project, I also include a tag for that project.
This is probably the easiest of the three to sort out. Computer files should be segmented by Archive and Current, and the files placed in appropriate folders within these referencing the project. Files should be named appropriately so you can tell at a glance what is in there. Example: instead of “Document12”, the name should be “Notes on new product line”
Paper should also get segmented into Archive and Current. Unlike David Allen, I recommend the use of hanging file folders. It keeps the cabinets and files neater, IMO.
If you have the ability, store your current files separate from your archive.
Simplifying reference material, in theory, is a very simple process. Because of the volume of the work, though, it often can get put off. Start today with your bookmarks and get the simplification process rolling!
Do you have any tips to share? Comment below.
Photo by tpholland. Licensed under Creative Commons.