For some reason Christmas time makes me think about personal knowledge/information management. Perhaps it comes from the quest to track down the list of Christmas card addresses (did they move? do they have kids now?) or perhaps it comes from the scramble to sort out exactly what I taught and who I helped with research over the Fall semester. Maybe it comes from thinking about fun organizational tools to put on my Christmas list. No matter the reason, I thought I'd share a bit about my tools and strategies.

The tools I use to manage my own personal information can roughly be divided into two main categories: tools to manage information that I create, and tools to manage my acquisition and consumption of information created by others.

Managing the information I create:

  • TaskPaper - simple to-do lists. This is a mac app that works with drop box to create simple text-based to-do lists. Lists can be separated into projects and sub-projects, tags can be added and (best of all) a line appears through a task when you check it off. It's purely psychological, but I like seeing that I've accomplished something, rather than having the task disappear.
  • Google Calendar - If it isn't on my calendar, it doesn't exist. Lately, I've been trying to schedule time to just work on various projects so they don't fall off my radar.
  • Evernote - Great for taking notes, composing blog posts, attaching pics and files. Great for emailing notes and sharing links for notes. I use it for meeting notes, lesson plans (I can attach presentations or worksheets to my lesson outline), conference sessions and Christmas list planning.
  • Paper Notebooks - Sometimes I still need to put pen to paper, and I'm picky about my pens and my paper. I use a Notabilia notebook from Levenger for everyday notes, and a small pocket notebook to create short lists of what I need to accomplish today. And I can get a little irate if a colleague tries to walk off with one of my pens.

Managing information from others that I want to read:

  • Google Reader - I have way too many RSS feeds for journal TOC, blogs I like, fun comics, citation alerts, etc. I only consume a small portion of all this on a daily basis, and I'm probably overdue to delete some of my feeds.
  • Diigo - For bookmarking websites. Diigo has lots of collaboration and highlighting and note taking tools, but I mainly use it to bookmark websites I will never want to go back and read.
  • Mendeley - The absolutely necessary tool for managing my collection of journal articles. It's like iTunes for journal articles. Plus it helps with in-text citations and bibliographies. I highly recommend it.
  • SoundGecko - My new favorite tool. I have a long commute by car, and while NPR, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and The Now Show fill some of the time, I like to use some of it productively. SoundGecko takes all of those webpages that I didn't have time to read and converts them to audio files I can listen to on my way home from work. I'm using the free version now, which limits the number of articles I can get via audio, but subscription services are available.

With the exception of my paper notebooks, all of these tools are available to me on my computer and on my iPhone.

Sometimes I find that it is easy to get caught up in playing with the wide variety of tools available to manage information - the "Productivity" category of any app store is fascinating. Unfortunately, it's easy to miss opportunities to actually read or digest articles, stories and commentaries.

And sometimes it isn't about the tools at all, but about focus, how you work and how you prioritize specific pieces or types of information.

What tools and strategies do you use to manage the "Information overload" that many of us face on a daily basis?