Category Archives: PIM

10 weeks of PIM (almost): My take-aways

After almost ten weeks of reading, discussing, and experimenting, my seminar, the Future of Personal Information Management, is drawing to a close. Sadly, I’m missing the last wrap-up class so this post will stand in as my final thoughts.

My first take-away – don’t be afraid to experiment.

The one sticky point about PIM is that we have all developed our own ways of doing things over the past 20, 30, 40 plus years. A person has worked hard to figure out a set up that works for them. Through pure trial and error, we have figured out what works well enough and what does not. It is hard to let go what works well enough for something that might work better, but could also be a colossal failure which might means we lose something or miss an appointment or be out the money we paid for that new app.

Personally, I let go of a few old habits. I found a new tool for my task management, OmniFocus, and let my old paper planner die a lonely death (I actually don’t know where it has gotten to. Probably under the couch.)  OmniFocus on the iPad has been a great success. It even looks like it will smoothly make the transition from managing my school assignments to my internship/ work tasks during the summer.

The second habit I have let go of is my laissez-faire management of my email inbox.  I noticed halfway through the term that I was having a hard time refinding emails that I wanted/needed. This is a huge red flag in PIM. If you can’t find it easily later then something just is not working. I decided to remedy this situation by finally figuring out Gmail’s labeling system. Now I didn’t go from my previous state of reading all email and letting sit in my inbox to a total labeling addict. Basically I created a few basic tags that will help me group important emails together. I created one label for my internship this summer and another for job info (job help sessions & job announcement I’m interested in for example). This will help replace my frequent “starring” of emails since I realized I was staring so much I had to use Gmail’s search feature to find emails within the starred category. This new habit has also been a success. I have been able to quickly and easily find emails that I need to consult. I will most likely stick with this system and add new labels as the need arises.

Since my two experiments have ended happily, I believe I will embrace experimentation in the future. Yes I have figure out many management activities that have worked well enough so far in my life, but I really do need to be open to change since I will soon move from the school environment and into the work environment which will have a host of new PIM challenges.

Second take away –  don’t be afraid to discuss PIM .

In our last class, we discussed how PIM as a discipline is not very widely known. When a popular news source does run a story about PIM, it is not usually named as such. We as a class discussed how we all need to be more open about our information management. By sharing tips, tools, and apps, you might actually help a friend, relative, classmate, or a total stranger improve his or her information management. I have know found myself being oddly fascinated by everyone’s information management styles. For example, I noticed a man at my local coffee shop take out a composition notebook. When he opened it I say that he had pasted or taped newspaper articles to the pages (like a low-tech version of Evernote or OneNote). I was so tempted to ask what the purpose of the notebook was. Were the clippings want-ads? My inner compass of socially acceptable public behavior won out and I didn’t pose the odd question to the stranger at the next table.  I’m still wondering about his unique approach to PIM, and if he would have been open to a computer tool that would have accomplished the same aggregation activity. Would he have thanked me for making him aware of such tools?

Overall this class has taught me to be aware and sensitive to PIM practices all around me. This can only help me as move forward in my career as an information professional. Not everyone organizes and keeps their information like I do and we can all continue to learn from one another. (Whether in a group project, work environment, or in a patron/librarian transaction)


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OmniFocus: task manager of my dreams?

After my last post, I was talking to my husband about my failure to find a new digital task manager that could replace my old-fashion planner. Once I was done explaining my requirements especially the sticking point that I wanted some kind of calendar interface as well as check lists, my husband suggested taking a look at OmniFocus. He had been thinking of checking it out himself and since we share an iTunes account we could share the app across both our iPads.

This app is a bit on the costly side at $40 (when less robust apps like Taskify from my previous PIM post was only a few dollars for the full version). However, I believe that if you want all I want from a task manager without having to compromise or hack the system then the high price just might be worth it.

Now after a week of use, I think I may have found the task-manager of my dreams. OmniFocus is based on the Getting Things Done philosophy. Now I’ll admit my use of OmniFocus totally ignores this philosophy because I am using it solely to track and plan out my school work. GTD is all about different contexts for tasks and well, all my tasks fell into one context for me — school. So I can’t really comment on this feature. However, I can see it being extremely useful if I started working while still in my MLIS program. I could have a context for work (or multiple contexts for work) and one for school. This way I could easily compile lists for one context and ignore the other.

For me the big selling point of OmniFocus was the breakdown of folders, projects, and tasks and the forecast mode. I made top level folders for each of my classes then within these folders each module (or week) is its own top level project and within each project I list all the tasks (articles to read, discussion boards to post on, assignments due). I also love that my quarter long group project can also be made into its own top level project in my LIS 550 folder. Here is what it looks like on my iPad:

From the OmniFocus app on iPad

Of course another selling point of OmniFocus is the “Inbox” feature which you can see on the upper left. You can quickly add “to-do” items to the inbox like “buy milk” or “send Joe an email” and then you can sort through these quick tasks later when you have the time. Now I really should take advantage of this feature more. For example, yesterday at the end of my PIM class we were discussingwhich articles to read for our next class session. I had a few articles I was interested, but we ran out of time so I didn’t get time to decide which one to suggest. Well I should have quickly created a task “send email with article suggestion” into my inbox, but I didn’t and only remembered to send the email around midnight (on the verge of forgetting it all together).

Now the other part of OmniFocus that I really love is the forecast view. This is the integrated calendar mode that I missed with Evernote and Taskify. I can easily see the number of tasks I have slated for each day and I can easily click on each day to see what I have in store. Also the little boxes on the far right of the tasks are check boxes that give one a nice feeling of accomplishment each time you get to check off a task as “completed”.

My Tasks for Monday

The forecast view also has a “future” selection at the end of the week that will show all of one’s long term projects. This is great for long term assignments that are due in few weeks or even at the end of the term.  Here is the view of my future tasks.

Hooray for long term planning

This is where OmniFocus even outshines my own planner system that I’ve stuck to for over a decade. I can clearly see all my long term assignments all in one place. With the limits of my physical planner I had to flip through pages or look at a cramped “month” view to take a look at the due dates for my long term assignments, projects, and papers.

Now as I have admitted several times during this post, I have not explored all of the views and uses of OmniFocus. Since my iPad is WiFi only I can’t add location reminders. I also haven’t run across a useful way of taking advantage of “flagging” tasks.  I also know that many people do not like to invest in applications that tie them down to one operating system (in this case Apple) and OmniFocus even ties one to a certain platform (my OmniFocus app is only for my iPad and I will have to purchase OmniFocus again for a laptop or iPhone). This does not bother me since I take my iPad with me anytime I think I might get work done, however, this handicaps my ability to use the app for quick reminders like one would stash in the inbox. I also don’t foresee abandoning my iPad anytime soon.

Is OmniFocus my dream task-manager? I just think it might be. I’m sure I’ll keep using it for the duration of this school year. I’ll see how it holds up when I begin my summer internships and it morphs from being a school planner to a work planner.

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PIM: Task Management

Very little of my PIM has come about by conscious effort. Most of it has evolved out of necessity, laziness, or some sort of management Darwinism. However, my task management or “to-do” list part of my PIM was forced upon me from an outside source and I am very much in debt to it.

My middle school introduced me to the wonderful world of school planners (also know as agendas, weekly planners, date books etc). My school gave each student a planner and we were instructed to write all of our assignments for each class in them. We had no choice in the issue. We had to have the planner with us at all times and if some poor soul forgot (or the horror LOST) his or her planner there were serious consequences (what my school called a penalty which could lead to an after school detention). Being the good little student and organizer I was I used my planner as instructed. It was also around this time that I learned that I remember material better after I physically write it down (which has made me a ridiculous note taker). I remember at the end of the day being able to recite homework class by class to my classmates with lockers near me so that we all knew which books to take home with us.

Well over a decade later I am still a huge believer in my little planner. I write all my school tasks in it every week. I plan my whole week out so that I do not let school work to pile up since as an online student I do not have any class times to force me into doing homework on a certain day. My planner also reminds me of doctor appointments, school events, due dates for long term assignments, group meetings etc (though I have begun to also put these into my phone calendar as extra insurance).

My ultimate task manager.

However, now I always feel a little ashamed of my little planner. I feel like when I tote around a smartphone and/or an iPad all the time that I should be taking advantage of all of those awesome task management apps out there. I would have less fragmentation of my information and one less thing to carry.

My PIM class this quarter has motivated me to try to find a replacement. So far I have tried Evernote and Taskify (the Lite version).

Evernote is a very functional program that can be used and synced between so many devices (my iPad, my Windows phone, my browser on my laptop), but it is really more of a note taking and remembering program than a task manager. I can make checklists but I did not find an easy way to add in the calendar element that my planner has. Also a lot of time the syncing between my devices was not perfect and I’d have to recheck items that I had already completed. So after two weeks I abandoned Evernote and went back to my planner.

This past week I picked up Taskify Lite in the Apple App Store for my iPad. I do a lot of school reading on my iPad so it is usually at hand. Sadly I hit the “task limit” for the free version before I could make a full judgement of the app. It is easier to assign due dates, but since I’m in an online program my due dates are a bit more flexible, and I did not want to make the “due date” the day I planned to complete the reading or discussion posts because I did not want to deal with the huge “this item is overdue” alerts (since putting something off a day is not a big deal).

So I still have not found a replacement for my long suffering planner. I believe want a need is a marriage of a task management and a calendar/appointment app. Really I just want my planner in digital form. I would also like to be able to set reminders on certain items and maybe a feature so that I check off or strike through completed tasks but still see them.

Readers, do you have any suggestions for a program that can help keep my academic life in order? One of the readings this week for my PIM class covers alternatives to Evernote and I will spend a chunk of time looking into that. I will also continue looking through the app stores of both Apple and Microsoft.  I will keep you all updated on my progress in finding the perfect task manager.

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My Personal Information Management

For the next ten weeks I will be treating you dear readers to a new topic that is tangentially related to personal digital preservation – Personal Information Management or PIM. Why you may ask this topic and why just ten weeks? Well that is simple. This new topic is the theme of one of my classes for the quarter and our professor (hello!) requested that we try blogging about our own PIM and any PIM experiments we try over the quarter.

Now I know some of you are probably wondering what exactly is PIM. The short and sweet answer is that PIM is the art of getting things done in our lives through information or having the right info at the right time to meet our needs.

As a starting point in this post I’ll be sharing my PIM as it stands at the beginning of the quarter. Nothing here is extremely ground breaking or even that sophisticated, but it has worked so far for me.

E-mail – I use Gmail for both my personal and school use. I never delete any emails (thanks to the ridiculous storage of Google!) I actually have email in my personal account going back to 2004. Now one might think this is a ridiculous large dump of info and that I would never be able to find anything, but since I keep everything in my inbox it is very easy to search for keywords or email author or recipient. If I need easy access to certain important emails frequently I “star” them.

Files– I have folders for each class for readings and papers. I create us folders for major projects especially long term group projects. When a class ends I move the folder from the desktop (for easy access) to an MLIS folder. I also have folders for my job search that contains resumes, cover letters, and helpful news articles, important non-class school documents, and important personal files such as tax documents. I also have a miscellaneous full of saved amusing pictures or articles from the Internet.

Photos – My photos are kept in topical folders (vacation, PAX, Christmas etc) with the year or date. I take very few “everyday” photos a picture organization scheme by month doesn’t make much sense. Except for photos of my cat, but these can be kept in a cat folder with subfolders of different years then months.

Notes – I almost exclusively still take notes in physical notebooks. I use one notebook per class and after the class is over I filed in a file box under the class name/number. I do take reading notes on my iPad in the PDF app I use. These PDFs can be moved off my iPad with the annotations and notes still intact.

Recipes – I keep almost all of my recipes in a Google Doc. These recipes come form websites and blogs. I keep the recipe title, website/blog name, and URL. I highlight the recipes that I have tried out. I may start highlighting favorite recipes in a different color to make them easy to spot in the list.

To-do lists – I have been using a physical weekly planner for my daily and long term to-do lists. At this time I have no digital system has even approached replacing the method I have been using since middle school. However, this is one area where I am interested in exploring alternatives. I will most likely be searching for iPad apps that can mimic or even improve on my weekly planner.

Reading lists – I have recently begun using Goodreads to manage my reading lists. Since grad school keeps me from picking up interesting novels or monographs as soon as I come across them, I use Goodreads to keep track of my “to-reads”.

While compiling this list I have learned that I organize my information in a very topical manner. Dates have very little place in my file names. I’m not sure if this is a good trait or not or what it has about me as an organizer of information. I also have noticed a few areas where I would like to experiment and try a few tweaks to my PIM. I will keep you all updated on my progress in these areas.

Not all my PIM blog entries will be this “me” focused. Hopefully I’ll be able to review a few PIM services and share my thoughts on different PIM principles. Also I won’t exclusively talk about PIM over the next 9 weeks so no worries on that front if this is not your cup of LIS tea.

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