How to Store Information
We live in the age of never-ending information. How should anyone possibly remember anything with so much information bombarding us every day?
- How do you make sure you find the information you saved once again?
- How do you make sure, you don’t lose valuable sources?
- How do you know, which information is valuable at all?
People have different ways of handling information. Some don’t care at all and remember nothing, note nothing down. Read it, forget it.
But I’m not one of these people, my brain functions too well, so I’ll remember that I read, saw or heard information on a specific topic, but I just don’t remember where. This frustrates me the most … the annoying feeling, when you remember you saw this video explaining how to remember everything you learn, but you can’t remember where you saw it (how ironic), or who created it. You could try to find it again by searching on Google, YouTube, or wherever you think you saw it.
But this will not work in all cases. And the Internet is a transient, floating world. Everything will disappear, sooner or later.
I tried a lot of tools … you name it: Evernote, Google Keep, Apple Notes, OneNote, Browser bookmarks, Delicious, or Pinboard.
I used Evernote very excessively since it’s founding in 2008. I had over 15000 notes for a time. But then Evernote got into trouble, the service corrupted some users files (which got me 2 years of free Premium) and bad press repeated over and over again, with recently needing to fire 15% of their employees and losing four of its top managers.
Nothing is forever. So I decided to think about a new strategy.
I came up with these three rules of storing information:
- Never use a service, which does not allow exporting my content easily.
- Never store valuable information only on an external server.
- It’s fine to store less valuable information on an external server, if it’s easily searchable and information can get back easily.
My first rule crosses out a lot of services. I don’t care how cool or awesome a service is, if I can’t get my information out, I’ll not use it … ever. This means, I’ll not even use it, if I can just export my files as PDF individually, or if I can get just the text or JSON, or if it’s complicated and I need to buy some external tool, which somehow tries to extract my information out of someone elses tool.
Evernote had always a very friendly you can export everything policy, why I still use them. But because of my rule number two, I can’t only rely on Evernote.
That’s why I bought last year DEVONthink Pro Office. The software is around since the early 2000s. It’s not the prettiest contender around, and the mobile app is still in its infancy. But it is extremely powerful, thanks to its artificial intelligence and text-analysis. It’s mostly used by professionals, like scientists, teachers, authors, journalists, or lawyers. It has countless features of importing, exporting, converting, sharing. You can index external files from all kinds of devices and store the information in databases, that you can save wherever you like.
So how exactly does my information gathering look?
My main entry for information is Pocket (Premium). I save every website, picture, link, or information (with an URL) with one click to Pocket.
Most of the regular information I consume via Feedly (Pro). Every article that I find interesting, I save directly to Pocket, which is extremely easy with Feedly.
When I write text, blog posts, ideas in digital form, I usually use iA Writer. It’s the best app to write text. Focused, distraction-free writing, Markdown support, and a few more very nice features. I store my texts in iCloud.
I also shoot photos of things I want to remember and store them in Apple Photos (they get synced automatically to Google Photos). Selected photos I send from Apple Photos to Evernote.
Interesting quotes I send directly from my Kindle to Evernote.
Physical documents I scan with ScannerPro. The text will be processed with OCR and saved as PDF to iCloud and Dropbox. From there I save them to Evernote once a week.
Attachments in Google Mail are saved automatically with IFTTT to Dropbox. These get also saved to Evernote once a week.
And I use a Traveler’s Notebook Passport Size during the day to write down things I want to remember when I’m away from digital devices.
I created a lot of automated tasks with IFTTT, which collects information from all kinds of sources and bring them to Pocket. Whenever I like, bookmark, upvote, or save on services like YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Reddit, Flickr, SoundCloud, GoodReads, Spotify, GitHub, Medium, or Ello an item, it will be saved to Pocket, including some default tags.
In Pocket, I process the content. I have a very intensive tagging strategy, which I apply to all items. Pocket Premium will analyze the content and suggest tags, which is very helpful.
Some content, which I just want to remember, I immediately archive after I tagged it (like videos, I already watched or links to websites to remember). Others I read, whenever I find the time, which might take a few days or weeks. When I didn’t like an item or think it’s not worth saving it, I delete it.
Items of special importance I mark as a favorite. This will also save the content to Feedly (via IFTTT), where it is automatically saved to my Dropbox (as HTML). Important items I also send to Evernote.
Pocket Premium has an extremely good full-text search, that is very quick and searches not only for tags but in all saved items. Additionally, the content will be stored forever. Even if a website goes offline, you can see the complete saved article (pure text and HTML).
After I archived an item in Pocket, the next automation starts: The link to the saved item is saved to my Pinboard account (including the tags). I subscribed to the Archive Feature of Pinboard, which will crawl all saved pages and archive them. You can also request a download of this whole archive, which is a fantastic backup plan.
Once a week I import the most valuable information of the week from Evernote to DEVONthink. I move it to the correct database and use the automatic sorting feature to move the content to the right folders. Everything is also automatically synchronized to Dropbox, from where I can use it on my mobile devices (with DEVONthink To Go). I also index external sources like my Feedly Vault, my iA Writer texts, photos, or external drives with movies to DEVONthink.
When I read books, I mark important passages and pages. After I finished a book, I usually wait 1-2 weeks and then move the marked contents into my Commonplace Book in my Traveler’s Journal. Sometimes I draw a Sketchnote of a specific topic, to make sure I don’t forget the information.
I try to automate as much as possible with IFTTT. All information is saved first to Pocket. Information of low or medium importance I just archive in Pocket and Pinboard. In both tools, I can easily find the information again with the powerful full-text search. Both tools save the content offline (not the videos, unfortunately), so I don’t have to care if somebody takes the content down.
The most valuable information I save to Evernote from where I import it to my offline databases in DEVONthink.
If I want to remember information (and not just remember where to find it), I use this well-known, slightly boring way of remembering information: Write it down, draw it, make a doodle or sketch. Read it. Read it again. And think about it repeatedly.