Let’s talk about how to manage your information, knowledge, notes and documents.
We are flooded with information and documents on a daily basis. And not all of this is just distracting spam.
There are many things that we actually need to pay attention to – like our mail, our financial data, work information and personal documents.
Being able to manage all of our information, knowledge, notes and documents is an important life skill and part of the time management stack.
Why You Need to Organise Your Information and Documents
Organising your information and documents is important.
It lets you find what you need, when you need it.
It helps you build a digital record of your life.
It is a time asset – something that saves you time down the line.
And with the cost of digital storage being virtually free nowadays, there is absolutely no reason not to do it.
How To Organise Your Information, Documents, Knowledge and Notes
Here is a very simple system for managing all your information and documents:
- Collect all the information, documents, knowledge and notes that you have.1Versus tasks you need to action, or trash you need to discard.
- Pick an information management application.
- Pick a scanning technology.
- Input everything.
- Maintain the system.
1. Collecting All Your Information, Documents, Knowledge and Notes
The first step in this system is to put all your stray physical documents, information, notes and post-its into one pile.
Hopefully some of this has been sorted GTD-style already and there are no tasks or actions buried in there.
You should also make a similar pile for your digital documents – put them all into one folder on your computer.
2. Information Management Application
The second step is to choose an application that you will use to organise all your information and documents.
Here are some suggestions:
- Evernote.2My personal preference.
- Apple Notes.
- Microsoft OneNote.
- A simple folder on your computer, synced to Dropbox or Google Drive.
Some of these apps will cost money. It is worth the cost if you are serious about getting your information and documents organised.
If you have concerns about privacy, there are many privacy-focused cloud-based applications available – just do a DuckDuckGo search for them.
Regardless of which application you select, I would suggest that it has some form of cloud sync so that you can access your information and documents from your phone at any time.
Note that some information will not go into this application. This includes:
- Passwords, which should go into 1Password or a similar application.
- Income/Expense tracking, which should go into a dedicated finance application.
3. Scanning Technology
It is likely that a number of your initial documents like bank statements or identity documents will be in physical paper format. These will need be scanned.
There are a couple of options here:
- Scanning apps like Scannable or Adobe Scan.3I prefer Scannable as it integrates with Evernote.
- A physical scanner, which is the best option if you have one.
4. Initial Input
Now that you have chosen an application and a scanning technology, it is time to input all your initial documents and notes.
Anything that is just information can be directly created as a note in your chosen application.
Digital files can be directly dropped into your application.
Physical documents need to be scanned. Let’s look at how to do that.
4.1. Notebook Setup
First, set up your notebooks or folders in your application.
Here is a simple template to start with:
* Wealth * Health * Learning/Growth * Social * Dating/Relationship * Play
Astute readers will note that this format matches our areas of life.
You can and will want to get more granular with the template above.
For example, you can have subfolders under Learning/Growth for Book Notes or SOPs. You could also have subfolders under Wealth for each financial institution you have an account with.
4.2. Scanning and Naming
Once you have your folders set up, the next thing you want to do is to scan everything into your application.
This can be a little rough if you have a lot of initial documents.
At this stage it is easier to simply collect all your scans, information and digital documents into one folder in your chosen application. You can sort them in the next step.
One thing that can help here is to not scan anything you don’t consider important enough to archive and keep for the future.
Another thing that will help is to name things well so that you can find them easier later on.
Some bad naming conventions would be:
- Bank statement.
- Tea time.
- Receipt Monday Amazon.
Some good naming conventions would be:
- American Express Platinum Statement 202003.
- TWG Tea Brewing Times.
- Receipt Amazon 20200301.
Remember to input your digital documents as well.
4.3. Sorting Your Documents
Once everything is in your chosen application, you want to sort them into your notebooks.
This will be much easier to do on a computer than a phone, as you can just drag and drop.
You can do it on a phone – there will just be a lot of tapping and screen switching involved.
4.4. Keeping Physical Copies of Documents
One question that often comes up is, “do I keep the physical copy of something I have already scanned and stored?”
You need to ask yourself if you will likely need the physical copy later on.
For example, it may be worth keeping receipts for large purchases during the warranty period.
A good measure of how much to keep is this:
Your kept physical documents should fill a small file folder, not a filing cabinet.
For everything else, shred, burn or dispose of it.
5. Information and Document Maintenance
The last part of this information and document management system is maintaining it over time. This is what separates the truly organised from others.
You must maintain your system over time.
This means that you will regularly take incoming notes, information and documents, sort them and then file them.
You can make this part of your weekly inbox clearing routine.
And what about documents and information for business?
Everything outlined above largely applies to your personal information and documents.
For businesses, I recommend something more collaborative like a Dropbox/Google Drive and Confluence/wiki setup.
You can read more about knowledge management for business here.
What To Do Next
Once you have run through the above process once, you will find it surprisingly easy to maintain and keep your documents and information organised and accessible.
If you would like to hear more about the other parts of the time management stack, be sure to sign up for updates and grab your free copy of Evolution below.
- Versus tasks you need to action, or trash you need to discard.
- My personal preference.
- I prefer Scannable as it integrates with Evernote.
Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi.