I have been reading “Getting Organized in the Google Age by Douglas Merrill and James Martin. I picked it up because it seemed like the tools for staying informed and organized today is different from what it used to be, and Google is certainly one of the reasons or indicators of that change.
The start of the book talks about how our brains work, what are real constraints are and how to work with those, and the importance of goals. I enjoyed this section because I do think that we often try to uphold systems or an idea of what we should be capable of doing that just doesn't match with how our brains work. Primarily that we can only hold small bits of information in our short term memory, and that information can be challenging to remember. The section on constraints is interesting because he asks you to really consider if the constraints you identify are legitimate and real or imposed. These are important because these will help you chose methods that will work for you, working around your limitations. I think the section of goals is intriguing because I don’t think that organization is often thought of from the perspective of having a goal. The goal is the organization itself. Yet, the purpose of organizing information is so that it can be retrieved later.
This blog for example, exists to share information with others about tools, techniques, and ideas. But I also use it to store thoughts I have, which I think will be of later use, with the assumption that it may help others. And when I am looking for a prop or material that I have encountered here I often search here first. Obviously sometimes a Google search is all you need to do, but often times I want to remember more particulars about an item, or the differences between websites. The down side to this blog is that as it is about 6 years old, some of the links don’t work, and terms that I think of to search under are not what I originally indicated in the title or text, and the keywords have many entries within each one. For example, the other day I needed a 5” radius wood column. I finally found what I was looking for in my blog, but I had called it a cylinder. Had I recognized search difficulties in the beginning, I might have included additional tags in each blog that would later help me find that entry. The last drawback of this blog versus a private forum that does the same is that a private depository of info would not need to have fully formed (or written) ideas. I do posts with links and minimal texts, but there are often ideas I think about while commuting that would really be good to post, but thinking while driving and finding time to write out those thoughts don’t always go together.
The point being that understanding the goals might lead you to a different process – and I think it is a question that we often don’t think about before forging forward with a system.
The book talks a lot about specific technologies and how to use those technologies. Something that is probably out of date now that it is a few years old. However, the basic ideas that he puts for is using “search” to find things, using the cloud for storage, ways to store information in email, and sharing information. He also talks about filtering, getting things out of your head, and contexts.
I will start with filtering, because the author proposed a high level of filtering out information. Since the brain can’t focus on too much at once, the more that you filter out, and don’t really think about in the first place, the less your brain has to work. To do this effectively you need to know what is important and what isn't. We all do this naturally when driving, as an example. If your goals are off, you may inadvertently filter out the wrong information. While I agree with this concept, my concern is that just because you may not want the irrelevant information now, it could be useful later.
This book would propose that you stop using file folders, sorting your email, and so forth and dump everything into a central place and search for the info that you need. Yet he talks a lot about sharing information, which I feel is somewhat incompatible. Where I work we have a very defined system of organizing project related information that allows anyone to go into any job and find particular information. It doesn't matter what the job is, or if it is titled something odd, it should be easy to find. Conversely, on a job where there are literally a 1000 emails, using search to find what you need is helpful.
Using email was also talked about quite extensively as a way to basically keep a private archive that is personal and searchable. Obviously, he talked about Google and tools within Gmail to do this, but most web based email with large amounts of free storage would work. If I wasn't interested in sharing the information I blog about – I could write it up and email it to myself, with key words and categories. I would have a searchable index of technical theatre information. He proposes emailing himself copies of documents, perhaps indicating where the printed version is filed. He can then copy anyone that might also need that particular document. He uses emails as a to do, but he codes them differently. Once the emails are all coded, he can use filters to only see things that he wants to see. I see ways that this works, but doesn't seem any less time consuming than other methods.
Perhaps the benefit of this is “free” cloud storage, though he talks about using drop box and other cloud storage programs that can keep your information readily available on a range of devices. In addition many of these services allow collaboration and document sharing. A good way to share information, but a whole different beast in terms or organization and making sure that people have the information that need to have and understand that info.
Sharing information is obviously very important. Obviously having information on a shared drive makes that easier. On the other hand it is hard to know when new or updated information appears on the drive. In my drop box, a little message pops up, but I only see it if I am sitting at the computer. When dealing with lots of info, it’s unrealistic to get a notification for every change. Yet when info is publicly available some people will assume that you know about the changes because they are available, but this is also unrealistic without some sort of notification.
Getting things out of your head is definitely something that interested me about the book. Not sure that I learned much here. Paper is fast, but how do you find that info later? It’s also unorganized. Redoing notes is time consuming. And perhaps I could use a voice to text app to let me record thoughts on the run. Digital technology is great, as is search, but many of the PDFs of research that I have do not have readable text within the pdf – so it’s all about either folder organization or documents title.
Contexts were particularly interesting to me. We all shift contexts regularly. It did bug me that he actually shifted contexts within the book frequently – particularly with song quotes. But it did emphasize that when you shift contexts you forget parts of the first context to think about the new context.
Ultimately I think he is a little too specific about technology in terms of products instead of product categories, but there is obviously a lot of food for thought within the book.
Calling yourself to leave notes (like while driving), particularly if you subscribe to a service that transcribes these notes and sends it to your email.
Paper vs computer – sometimes it is easier / faster to get things on paper. He has ideas on when each is better, but I think there are personal choices involved. There are also pluses and minus of each. Obviously what is on paper can be scanned (word recognition preferred) and stored.
Within his reading / scanning, he proposes to read and mark. Star whatever stands out, and keep moving forward. Then come back to what is starred and read it – then sort it into whatever applicable categories that had previously been determined. (Perhaps, a color for something you don’t understand, one for quoting, etc.)
Lastly, I have thought a lot recently that in a 1000 or so years people will look back on today as a dark age. Why? Because they will be unable to read what we write, or see what we do. As people write real letters, publish paper books, and print less photos, there is less of a “permanent” record of what we do. I don’t have the software to open files from my undergraduate work in the early 90’s, I’m sure that will only get much, much worse. Obviously this last bit is just food for thought, but it does make me wonder.