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What to Do With the Stack of “Reading”? Creating A Personal Knowledge Management System

Confronting Your Reading Pile

I have been writing about my spring office cleaning exercise, and that has included much frustration about what to do with an enormous stack of great articles in a “Reading” pile. Do you have one of those?

I pawed through it; it is really excellent stuff, titles from David Stroh’s “Leveraging Change: The Power of Systems Thinking in Action” to  “5 Insightful TED Talks on Social Media” from the Mashable blog– all great information that I want, but I just don’t want it right now (and especially don’t want it taking up prime real estate in my tiny office).

Information is a Flow

Of course when I do need it, realistically, the last thing I will do is paw through that stack to find the most appropriate articles. Even putting them in topical files (like in the old days) seems like dooming them to the dark corners of my filing cabinet – and so many of them would have multiple filing locations, so I would have to go through many files anyways. Enough to put me off of that.

There is a limit, and a kind of perverse unintended consequence in this type of system in that the larger the pile grows the more good information that is there, true, but the more time it would take to go through it and therefore lessening the likelihood that I will spend the time to “query” the pile for information. Plus, let’s be super realistic, in the face of that I would probably just Google anyways. Information is now a flow and not a stock.

The Search Revolution

However, Google has its limits too. Some work has been done to filter out good stuff, say, from the 8.7 million results that you get when you put “informal learning” into Google. We are now using our Friends as filters, whether real friends or the mavens  in the topics we care about. To use this new Search system cleverly we just need to  know who knows what and who is doing what. So I follow the leaders, and they throw up good tidbits of information that are useful and interesting, but again too much and often not what I need at the moment when I find it.

So I do need some type of personal knowledge management system that I can query, that is between “I’m Feeling Lucky” of Google, and my former OCD response of printing and carefully “filing” by placing on top of the stack of reading under the table in my office.

Personal Knowledge Management System – Building for Scale

Please do not do the math (as in how long would it have taken me to just read that stack), I just spent some hours (still in the single digits) putting every single still-interesting article in my stack into Evernote (as in “Remember Everything”).

I will admit that this whole process of converting paper to online links took me longer than needed as I first linked the sources through my Delicious account (thinking it would be great to share this good work with others – still a good attitude I think). Only to be informed by my husband, a tech news devotee and generally up on all this stuff, that the talk on the street is that Yahoo (owner) will soon close Delicious. So, I went to Evernote. After I got the hang of it, it was pretty easy to just open the Delicious links in new tabs and copy the content of the article with the URL into Evernote, adding a tag called “Articles”. Although it took time, the system now is built to scale  -as in, it can get as big as needed and is still as useful as it would be if it was a small resource – unlike that pile of papers, which can only get as big as the table top, or the ceiling if I wanted to live like that. It’s useful because it is searchable by content, not just tags (like Delicious) or titles (like in a paper file I would skim).

Filtered Resources On Demand

It is also more useful as the content of the articles will be stored locally in Evernote on my devices (laptop, iPad) as well as on the cloud, so I can read them on the plane (yes, I could also read paper, but I would have to carry that around, and still have to do something with it afterwards to be able to refer to it later – choke up my GTD files, or back to fire hazard under table).

Now I can recycle those papers, and still query them electronically by any word I want through my Evernote interface. And I can add more as interesting things come in from the people who know. This is just one part of a greater Personal Knowledge Management system, as there are lots of other go-to places for knowledge. However, I am feeling good now about managing those articles and other resources that really stand out. And I rest easier knowing that this was an initial set up investment of time, and that upkeep will be faster.

Did you hear that? That was the sound of an enormous pile of reading hitting the recycling bin!

10 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hi Gillian, thanks so much for such a useful tip. I will definitely look into Evernote as I also find myself with a stack of interesting newspaper clippings which I'm sure will be more useful online. Will keep you posted but thanks for sharing this with us. Cecilia

  2. Gillian Martin Mehers
    Gillian Martin Mehers says:

    Hi Cecilia, You can try Evernote for free to see if it works for you – let me know how you get on. I know that Lizzie is using it too now, so if you have questions we can try to help.

  3. jmelfi
    jmelfi says:

    Gillian: I shuddered as you explained the piles of stuff in your office. In any event, on the happy side, thanks for sharing the notion of TED Talks with your readers. I love TED because it's always an incredible 18 minute journey into inspiration and innovation. Many times I'll put my work aside and listen to the latest talk. There are many sites like TED as I've discovered from my "talks passion." It's always refreshing to know that there are great men and women around the world doing great things to make this world better. Jim Melfi, founder, VideoTalks.org.

  4. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Is it spring already! I seem to have lost track of the seasons. Thanks for the tip..am opening an evernote account now. You should have seen the stacks of reading I had to go through at IUCN…one of them even made it with me and is now in its new home on my desk in Arusha. I flipped through it the other day 🙂

  5. PennyWalker
    PennyWalker says:

    I'm still a bit baffled. You scan all the articles to turn them from paper into electronic?

    Or this relies on there being an electronic version already on the web, and you just track it down?

  6. Gillian Martin Mehers
    Gillian Martin Mehers says:

    Thanks, Jim, for your comment on the rise of video-based talks and commentary available, it is an excellent way, as you say, to get rich information in a short time, delivered with all the passion and enthusiasm of the idea holder.

    I think it also is helping us all make better presentations, formal or informal, about our ideas as we all collectively raise the bar for these kinds of inputs in our work. So many organizations now want TED-like presentations, versus the standard PPT and talk that we saw so much of before!

  7. Gillian Martin Mehers
    Gillian Martin Mehers says:

    Hi Andrea, wow, you even moved your pile of papers with you – let me know how you get on with Evernote, happy to share my learning even further – Nice to hear from you in Tanzania!

  8. Gillian Martin Mehers
    Gillian Martin Mehers says:

    Hi Penny, I have not scanned anything yet, you would not believe what you will find on the web now. So many people have gone back and put up pdfs of old newsletters, articles and other things that at the time of printing are only in hard copy. In that huge stack of mine, there were only 2-3 docs which I could not find (some were locked – that is pay sites, but even those in many cases there were synopses or others who had posted them, in some cases the authors themselves on their own websites.)

    So, with Evernote, you get a little button called Web Clipper that shows up on your toolbar. When you open a website, or web document, you just select part of it (just highlight it) or you can capture the whole page by clicking the button. A small window opens asking you which Evernote notebook you want, and what tag, and then it is done. It takes a few clicks but then all the content is there on your local drive and on the cloud.

    So, to your first question, I simply typed the title into google, found the doc (and in 99% of cases it popped up first), opened, selected, and saved into Evernote (and tossed the paper version). Does that make sense?

  9. John Waugh
    John Waugh says:

    I've been using Evernote for years and agree that it is an amazing service. Another way that it is really useful is that you can save starred items from Google Reader to it. I use Google Reader constantly to scan through hundreds of RSS feeds (including YLSN). Often I do this during those little bits of time en route from one place to the next on my mobile devices. If I want to save something from a feed to read later or put in my archive, I can mark it with a star, and I've linked the account with Evernote so I have it waiting for me when I have some serious reading time. Evernote works across all my devices and because it is cloud-based it keeps them in sync. I spend much less time wondering where it was that I saw something interesting a week or two ago… Keep up the great work, G.!

  10. Gillian
    Gillian says:

    Hi John, That is a great tip, to link it to your starred items in google reader. Data and information comes at us from all sides, so it is good to have strategies to capture it howevr it comes and then get it into a trusted system for search. Thanks for adding that!! all the best, Gillian

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