Last week, I offered a few suggestions for uncluttering your computer’s file system and organizing the files that you need to keep using simple folder structures. While that setup works for many types of data, you’re still limited in the way that you can search and use the information you gather. If you write, manage creative projects, or spend time gathering and using research, chances are that such limitations have led you to cobble together your own hybrid system of notebooks, computer files, and physical files.
Enter the personal information manager. A personal information manager takes all of the assorted clippings, bookmarks, images and other files, and stores them in one convenient place. Think of it like a binder without the messy hole punchings. There are several very good PIM tools available that will help you stay organized, but they all have a few simple concepts in common.
You can’t use information if you don’t remember where you put it. A PIM allows you to gather all of your information in one location. When you need to save a clipping from a website, an image, a PDF, or most other information, you save it into your PIM. Many of the available tools make it incredibly easy to save information with just a few clicks. The important thing is that if you go to save or retrieve information, you’re able to go to one place and be reasonably certain that’s where it is or needs to go.
Convenient Data Input
A data storage system is worthless if it’s too inconvenient to use for storing data. The idea is to save your clippings, images and other files as you encounter them, whether you’re surfing the web, reading e-mail or creating the data yourself. A good personal information manager makes this a snap. Several of the more popular PIMs include “dropboxes” that sit on your desk top waiting for you to drag content into them, add options to dropdown menus, and take advantage of keystrokes. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Searching is great, but sometimes it’s easier to work with information if you can group it with other similar information. If you do a lot of research, this is especially critical. Personal Information Managers almost universally support the ability to tag information with metadata. For example, if you were to save a copy of this article, you might assign the tags “uncluttering,” “computer software” and “personal information managers.” Then you can easily search for all other content that you’ve saved with the same tags. Most of the available PIMs include the ability to create folders based on your metatags. This allows you to automatically group data together, allowing you to use it easier.
Here are a few of the more popular Personal Information Managers for Macs and PCs. Most of these programs have trial versions so you can download them and figure out which one works best for you.
- DEVONthink – The most full-featured of the Mac PIMs. Also the priciest if you want the advanced features. Somewhat steep learning curve. But, if you’re willing to spend some time with it, it’ll end up saving you lots of time down the road. The “Pro Office” version of DEVONthink integrates very well with our favorite document scanner, the Fujitsu ScanSnap.
- Yojimbo – My personal favorite. Fast and easy to use, with “smart” folders for grouping tagged content. Doesn’t support all file types, but integrates well with other Mac programs.
- SOHO Notes – Handles most file types, and supports aliases. Truly “One Place.” Very convenient input. Lots of useful features, but like DEVONthink, you’ll need to spend some time with it to really take advantage of what it offers.
- Journler – Targeted toward bloggers and writers. Integrates well with iLife, and, like SOHO Notes, supports pretty much any file type. Integrates with various blogging software.
- Bento Personal Database – This newcomer to the Mac PIM scene has more of a project focus. I haven’t dug deep into it yet, but based on what I’ve seen so far, this one has the best shot at replacing Yojimbo in my workflow.
- One Note – Excels as a repository for digital notes. Supports drawings and handwriting (which is searchable). Integrates well with other MS Office applications, and Internet Explorer. Limited support for tagging.
- Evernote – Very similar to One Note, and offers a free version, as well as a Linux version. Includes text recognition in files, but lacks integration with MS Office. Also doesn’t support PDF files beyond linking.
- Google Notebook – Great for gathering text data and bookmarks on the web. Works well with Google Documents, and you can make your notebooks public. Doesn’t support organizing other files, but you can access your notes from anywhere that you can get on the internet.