Tell me of your knowledge management systems!
August 13, 2018 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Hello AskMe! Are you a fiendishly organized person who applies the same level of intensity to organizing IDEAS? Tell me your tips and tricks!

I'm the kind of person who organizes their closet by color and tracks their budget down to the cent in a massive spreadsheet. I want to apply this to MY BRAIN. I have a lot of ideas and a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad memory, both short and long-term.

Here are some examples of scenarios I'd like to solve for:
1) I already made it to Bed, Bath, and Beyond before remembering that I have three Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons at home
2) It's Saturday night, I'm hungry, but I've forgotten all the 500 or so restaurants I've mentioned desperately wanting to try out
3) I can't easily tell you off the top of my head who my favorite visual artists are
4) It's August, and I see a bunch of cool stuff on Etsy that I'd like to give people as gifts at Christmas
5) I'm talking to my mom about politics and there's a MetaFilter comment that PERFECTLY encapsulates what I'm trying to explain, but it's not coming up via any of the keywords I'm searching for in my favorited comments
6) I have giant folders full of articles and photos I've saved from the internet and no way to easily find them by topic or theme

Hopefully you can see where I'm going with this! So: Do you use Pinterest? A bullet journal? File folders? Google Drive? Scrivener? Tiny drawers? Something even more awesome I've never even heard of? Tell me how you make it work for you!
posted by capricorn to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Quick question: have you been diagnosed with anything or use a regular medication that affects memory and/or information processing? This could make a difference in the responses you get.
posted by acidnova at 1:42 PM on August 13, 2018

Best answer: I use Wunderlist on my phone for some of these. So, for instance, I have a list for movies and TV shows I'd like to eventually watch and a second list for books I'd like to read. In your example, for no. 4, I'd make a Christmas list. For no. 2, I'd keep a list called Restaurants to try. I give an annual St. Patrick's Day party, and I keep a list of things to do in advance. I also keep a list of things I try to do every day (exercise, practice piano, eat a salad). You can check things off and then uncheck them, so you can easily reuse the same list again and again.
posted by FencingGal at 1:43 PM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: acidnova, that is a great question and I actually deleted a throwaway joke about it from this post because I didn't want anyone to take it the wrong way. Short answer is no, though I would not be at all shocked if I have something ADD-related that has not been diagnosed, but I'm looking for non-medical solutions here since AskMe is not my doctor.
posted by capricorn at 1:45 PM on August 13, 2018

I mainly asked that in case you did have ADD (or something) so that others in the same situation could have the opportunity to say, "hey I also have (thing) and I found this (organizational technique) really helped!"

I don't have a whole lot of suggestions because I am super disorganized and I actually have a really good memory so I rarely make a special effort to remember certain things. However, when there is something specific I know that I need for the next day (coupons, return items to the library, etc) I will set them on top of my purse the night before. That way, in the morning, I have a visual reminder of "oh, I need to return that" and so I'm better at doing the thing I need to do. This is especially true for coupons because if I just keep them in my wallet, I forget about them.
posted by acidnova at 1:55 PM on August 13, 2018

Best answer: Don Norman, the human-factors engineer, uses the phrase "putting information in the world," and I find this is a useful approach to compensating for my own lousy memory. So, for example, if I have a coupon or gift card, it lives in the car, because I'll probably be in the car the next time I'm at the store that takes it.

Other than that, I've got a few places to keep electronic information, and I make it a point to record that information when I'm thinking of it. So when I notice I'm low on milk, I add milk to the shopping list immediately.

If there's an article that I expect I'll want to refer to in the future, it goes into Instapaper (this is also my to-read list). Instapaper allows you to put articles in "folders," which I use a little.

My own freeform notes and long-form writing go into NValt on my Mac, and sync via dropbox to Editorial on my phone. This gives me pretty powerful searching.

Calendar events live in a calendar app. I've got a shopping-list app with several lists running at any given time.
posted by adamrice at 2:19 PM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

I use a combination of Bullet Journal (because I just like paper), iPhone Notes and Pinterest for these.

For your scenarios:
1) The coupons are in the pocket of my Bullet Journal, without which, I rarely leave the house- It lives in my purse
2) Restaurants are kept in a list (collection) in my BuJo. Or maybe in a list on my phone, if I'm going to be out and about whilst trying to think of a restaurant. If I looked at the menus online, I might make a Pinterest Board of the restaurants.
3) Pinterest Board
4) Secret Pinterest Board (to thwart members of my family who might snoop)
5) I'm a little stumped on this one...
6) Photos are sorted into Pinterest Boards. I don't save articles, but I've heard Pocket can be handy for this.

Now, the new problem with this is trying to remember just WHERE you put the data. I use the phone to capture stuff I don't have time to write in the BuJo; and then I need to go back and transcribe it - but again, I like paper. I use Pinterest for visual things and tend to remember the visuals, so that cues me that the thing I'm looking for is on Pinterest.
posted by sarajane at 2:23 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

So, for gifts, here’s what I’m thinking of doing:

Set aside a box in a closet for each gift recipient. The minute you see something a recipient would like, buy it, even if the gift-giving occasion is 11 months away. When the occasion is nigh, go to the box and marvel at your preparedness.

You could also do a similar thing virtually by making a list or using an app to collect ideas for each person, and then purchasing the items later.

For gift cards, I try to use them very shortly after receiving them, even if I don’t “need” anything in particular from the store. I just go and treat myself before I forget all about the gift card.

Not sure how to deal with coupons, though. That’s harder.
posted by delight at 2:26 PM on August 13, 2018

Best answer: A few things I do which helps with my ADD... I keep three notebooks:
  • a bound bullet journal-ish book that includes sets of calendars, appointments, to do lists, waiting for lists, brainstorming lists/mindmaps, a kanban spread showing projects in progress, some habit goals, etc.. Basically my system is a blend of GTD and classic BuJo with a few tweaks. It has an index and is pretty tidy and minimalist, because I don't subscribe to the washi-tape and fancy pens school of BuJo;
  • a notebook containing what the bullet journal folks call "collections" because I don't want to have to keep recopying the important stuff. This is where stuff like movies to watch, gift ideas, bizarre information tidbits (e.g., the type of ink cartridge each printer requires, people's clothing sizes), packing lists, brainstorming for long-range projects, etc. goes. This book has a spiral binding, so I can tear pages out when useful. I also make an index as I fill it.
  • a super cheap notebook in which I scrawl random bits of information I pick up during the day, or things I think of, like what groceries to buy on my way home. It's also where I jot down stuff like the RGB code for a color or the name of the customer service person helping me. Every few days I go through it and put the important stuff in one of the other two books, tossing the rest. Sometimes I take a pocket-sized one with me if I'm travelling light.

    This system means the first two books stay neat and somewhat curated and that the "collections" book will last a few years.

    Important projects/clients also each get their own notebooks. For them I also use a drawer system. In my office I have two big "lingerie" dressers, each with eight drawers the size of magazine cases. When I want to work on one of the projects, i take the entire drawer to my desk. If something comes up for the project when I don't have the notebook with me, I use something else and then tape those pages into it.

    I know this sounds like a lot of notebooks, but they all have very specific roles in my life.

  • posted by carmicha at 2:28 PM on August 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

    Oh and I also use the same hierarchy and labeling system for my computer and physical files.
    posted by carmicha at 2:29 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

    Everything goes in one place with a backup, if needed. Backups are essential for things you created like photos and writing as you can't reacquire them from elsewhere. Things that can be bought or found again should be backed up if they would be costly or hard to find.

    Each category can have a different place, but everything in a specific category is in one place:
    • Calendar events - all go on my Personal or joint Google Calendar - I don't need this to be backed up.
    • Bookmarks - all are saved in Pinboard - I download a back up 2-3 times per year. I tag everything with a general topic at least and try for more specific ones. Some are as vague as "ToDo" and "Watchthis".
    • Recipes - saved as a bookmark until I can "process" them into Pepperplate and that means importing, tweaking and tagging.
    • Pictures - copied to an external drive and uploaded to 3-4 cloud services - I generally only keep one of the services organized in a meaningful way.
    • Lists of things I liked/watched/read/went/ate, etc. are kept in documents unless there is a purpose-built website for tracking them. Movies go in IMDB. Books go in Goodreads. I prefer complete datasets, so even though I mark things as visited on Atlas Obscura, it does not hold everything and so I keep those lists myself.
    • Lists of things I want to do/see/eat/visit go in a similar place, either a purpose-built website or my own private document.
    • Coupons - these go in my wallet - but if there were too many, I'd keep them in my glove compartment or with my reusable grocery bags.

    posted by soelo at 2:59 PM on August 13, 2018

    Evernote. It organizes ideas. I love it.
    posted by whimsicalnymph at 4:16 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

    I use the iOS/MacOS notes app for a lot of things. I love that it's synced between my phone and computer. Lists of movies to see, short shopping lists, general gift ideas for different people.

    Pinterest is also helpful. I have private Pinterest boards for different people for specific gifts I want to buy.
    posted by radioamy at 4:23 PM on August 13, 2018

    Response by poster: Oh man, y'all are awesome. I had never heard of Wunderlist or Instapaper and am excited to start digging into them. Thank you, and keep 'em coming!

    acidnova: "I mainly asked that in case you did have ADD (or something) so that others in the same situation could have the opportunity to say, "hey I also have (thing) and I found this (organizational technique) really helped!""

    Totally agreed! I'm glad you brought it up. I should say, if anyone has advice along the lines of "I have ADD and my therapist told me to do Thing X and it CHANGED. MY. LIFE." I don't think it falls under YANMD, and I would love to hear it!
    posted by capricorn at 5:18 PM on August 13, 2018

    I'm ADD, as well, and here's my overall system, FWIW. (N.b., I don't like repeated work, so I try to only use a notebook as a "capture" method. I write it down, and put it into another system.)
    1. I use a Getting Things Done style system with Todoist to manage my tasks. I try to break things out into individual subtasks, and for anything important, I make sure to set a due date. Sometimes those dates are flexible, but anything I need to do that isn't painfully obvious, life-or-death, can't not miss goes into Todoist. 1a. I keep a digital calendar with all my appointments and other external, date sensitive info on it, down to my regular work schedule, my partner's rotating days off, medical appointments and errands, and anything that involves being at a specific time or specific time and place.
    2. Links I want to read/YouTube videos to watch are stored in Instapaper. 2a. I also have an IFTTT workflow to create tasks in Todoist to read my Instapaper stuff, set for two days out from when I saved the link.
    3. Links I want to refer to later go into Pinboard. I keep notes, and other reference material in Apple Notes, using the Drafts app as my digital capture tool on my phone. I've used a million other tools to keep my reference materials together, but Apple Notes is everywhere for me, is easy to use, and just friggin' works.

    posted by SansPoint at 6:33 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

    Not so much a system but the simple mantra “brains are for thinking, paper is for remembering.” Really helps me. So I don’t need to remember my dentist appointment because it’s already in my phone. It sounds silly but it takes away ALL worry to just write it down.
    posted by raccoon409 at 5:22 AM on August 14, 2018

    For anything where I'm at a computer (which is most of the time), I usually have 3-5 txt files open. I jot down notes by copy/pasting links and quotes all the time. I make notes while I'm browsing the internet, and decide later if it's worth saving them. (I have a misc_bits.txt file on the desktop. And a "familiars needed.txt" file for Flight Rising, in my gaming folder. And an "activism" folder where I throw PDFs of court rulings I'll want to read later.)

    For starting with an already crowded collection of internet files - I'd take an afternoon and spend it sorting. (I've done this with ebooks and gaming files.) Now that you have a large enough set to sort, figure out what categories make sense to you, and start with sorting the things that obviously fit in those categories, then move to things you have to open to figure out where to sort them. Rename as needed, so that they'll stack alphabetically in a way that makes sense to you later.
    posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:19 PM on August 14, 2018

    One thing you might find useful is location based reminders if you have an iPhone, you can set a reminder to alert you when you get to a certain location. It’s handy for things like remembering you have a coupon for a store or reminding you to do something when you get home.
    posted by mattholomew at 6:53 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

    >1) I already made it to Bed, Bath, and Beyond before remembering that I have three Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons at home

    keep coupons in purse or car, a coupon at home is the same as a coupon in the trash

    >2) It's Saturday night, I'm hungry, but I've forgotten all the 500 or so restaurants I've mentioned desperately wanting to try out

    maintain a bucket list for this and other things in the general category of "Want to do". I used to use email, but now i have a slack, with channels for each category. google docs would also be fine.

    so "restaurants i wanna try", "books i wanna read", etc etc...

    except for cookies-- cookie recipes i want to try are bookmarked on my computer, I'm not going to need them on the go and this way i have recipe on hand.

    >4) It's August, and I see a bunch of cool stuff on Etsy that I'd like to give people as gifts at Christmas

    Buy them now.

    >5) I'm talking to my mom about politics and there's a MetaFilter comment that PERFECTLY encapsulates what I'm trying to explain, but it's not coming up via any of the keywords I'm searching for in my favorited comments

    make a metatalk question and someone will find it for you in like three seconds.


    my organizing principles: do a thing or set an alarm to do a thing the second the thought of the thing crosses my mind, because otherwise I will forget.
    use google calendar on my phone, always with reminders enabled, because I won't necessarily remember to check the calendar.
    posted by Cozybee at 4:49 AM on August 20, 2018

    Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your thoughtful answers!

    raccoon409: "Not so much a system but the simple mantra “brains are for thinking, paper is for remembering.”"

    This turned out to be the truest thing, except sub 'iPhone' for 'paper', and I just started making a ton more notes files on my phone for everything from shopping lists to creative project ideas I've had. I also created a notes folder and a To Do folder in my email so I can email things to myself.

    I still haven't gotten around to that ADD evaluation, because trying to find pdocs that accept insurance in DC is a scourge, but that's probably a whole other AskMe...
    posted by capricorn at 6:30 PM on December 3, 2018

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