Unclutter your computer with a Personal Information Manager

Computer Clutter II
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.

One Place

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.

Available PIMs

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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.


  1. 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.

27 Comments for “Unclutter your computer with a Personal Information Manager”

  1. posted by Rubin on

    Evernote should be mentioned in all three categories, as one of its killer features is to offer PC, Mac & online versions and to keep them in sync…

  2. posted by Chad on

    I’ve tried Yojimbo and DEVONthink, and while they seem to be pretty slick, I just don’t see the advantage of using them over a well-designed folder structure in the filesystem itself. With the Mac OS especially, I feel like I can recreate about 90% of their functionality with folders, Spotlight, spotlight metadata, and Smart Folders. Plus, your data doesn’t get locked into any kind of odd database format. Am I missing something?

  3. posted by Steve on

    Don’t forget Together for the Mac. I tried all the other ones on the Mac list and settled on Together instead. Easy to use, feature-packed, developer is responsive and great when it comes to adding feature requests.


  4. posted by Steve on

    (and Together doesn’t move your files into an odd and inaccessible format like Chad mentioned)

  5. posted by trip on

    Yojimbo uses the same db as Mail.app. Do you trust your attachments in Apple Mail? Not to start a flame-war, but Yojimbo export and migration (while a bit cumbersome) works.

  6. posted by rashid on

    As a student, I take all my notes on one note using my computer. I have tried other alternatives, but I have not found anything as suitable as one note.

    One of Microsoft’s best products in my opinion.


  7. posted by Robert on

    I use Yojimbo and Devonthink Pro. I don’t think that the Devonthink learning curve is that steep. I tried and liked Together too, but decided to stick with Yojimbo.

  8. posted by E.T.Cook on

    Evernote is absolutely spectacular, and their new invite only beta has some awesome features, including IMAP access to your notes etc.

    All in all, good stuff. I recommend it highly. I use it for my law research.

  9. posted by unimax on

    I use “Copernic Desktop Search” for all the searches. I found it really useful as it scans thro’ the pdf files also. It indexes in background and very fast in finding. Ofcourse folder organization helps. My 2cents.

  10. posted by dtaschler on

    Vista seems to have improved the “My Documents” folder by leaps and bounds. I’ve found that it is extremely useful and have based my file organization on its simplicity. I admit, there are some subfolders, but they are many fewer than before. The “Documents” folder houses the majority of the files, but they are clearly organized within the structure.

    I find the PIM is just a portal to organized folder structure. It’s a great idea, but bloated. Vista’s search is perfect as well!

  11. posted by Matthew on

    Wow, this is a great list. Thanks!

  12. posted by Kevin on

    A free open source PIM and all-in-one tool I find very useful is Omea Pro. It combines note making, email, file, contact, tasks, rss, … into organized categories. I couldn’t ask for more.

    Keep up the great work on your site!

  13. posted by Brian on

    I’ve tried 4 of the 5 Mac apps listed above before going with Together. It’s stable and getting information into it is a breeze, something I can’t say for DevonThink. Another great thing about together is it that it makes it very easy for you to open a document in its native application. PDFs are viewable within Together, but with one click you can get them to open in Preview, giving you better navigability. Check it out. It’s a winner.

  14. posted by Gillian on

    No one has mentioned Notebook by Circus Ponies. I’m very tempted by it, but haven’t heard anyone comment.

  15. posted by Andre on

    Just wanted to throw in a suggestion for EagleFiler, which is similar to Yojimbo, but with a nifty trick: You press F1, and it captures what’s in the foreground. Additionally, the files are left as files, and writing plugins for apps is a synch, not that I’ve needed to anyway.

    I just love the simplicity of pressing a key, and whatever I’m looking at is preserved. No muss, no fuss. Unclutter your brain while uncluttering your computer.

    Worth a look. I love it.

  16. posted by Alessandro on

    I went to look at the websites for the two applications that were mentioned for the PC – Evernote and OneNote.

    Neither seems to do what I thought the point of the article was. I don’t see how I can use Evernote for instance to organize and search all the files that I already have in my MyDocuments folder.

    I’m not saying I don’t think the application is useful, it looks very nice indeed, but it just doesn’t seem to serve the indexing and searching through your files purpose.

    I might download the evaluation and give it a shot nonetheless to see if in fact the application does that but the ifno I read so far doesn’t mention it.

  17. posted by David on

    fyi, Evernote is the giveaway of the day – note that both version 2.2 and the Beta version we available for free


  18. posted by Mardi on

    I’ve been trialling DevonTHINK Office Pro and EagleFiler and have almost settled on EagleFiler, however after reading this I might try out a couple of the others before laying out any $$.

    Very timely! Thanks 🙂

  19. posted by Keter on

    For the PC, there’s nothing better than Art Plus Easy Noter.


    I use it at work and at home. There’s a free version and two paid versions…the free version is adequate for the casual user, but the power user will find the $35 price tag for the pro version well worth paying!

  20. posted by Keter on

    Incidentally, I’ve been an EverNote user for a couple of years, too…I use it for web clips, mostly. It rocks!

  21. posted by 67687968796 on

    What if your computer is cluttered with crap?

    New PCs are so cluttered with crap that I prefer buying parts and assembling them myself. Here is an article about “economy of crap software”:

    New PCs come littered with demoware and ads you never asked for. Does all that stuff affect performance? You bet. Here’s how to get rid of the crud–or avoid it in the first place.


  22. posted by eamon.mack on

    Hi, I love EverNote, but I’ve switched to Linux and can’t find the version mentioned above. Are you sure there’s a Linux version? I’ve tried running it under Wine, but the functionality suffers a lot.

  23. posted by urban thinking on

    ScanSnap 510M – Ein weiterer Schritt Richtung “papierloses Büro”…

    Auch der “Guru” selbst – also Merlin Man – hat einen sehr interessanten Beitrag zu dem Gerät verfasst, hier sind vor allem auch die Kommentare sehr hilfreich.

    … Bei Bedarf kann ich euch den Lieferanten von meinem ScanSnap nennen, falls ihr n…

  24. posted by sharon on

    Love this Blog! Hope I can contribute info on a cataloging software that helps you find information on all your backup discs.

    In my case I use SUPERCAT, cataloging software.. It’s been a real blessing when it comes to finding information I’ve backed up.

    The program scans each disc and keeps a record of the file names and folder names for later searching results

    Whenever I need to find project artwork or old client
    information all I need to do is type in the client’s name in SUPERCAT’s search field and up comes a list of all scans with that name mentioned in either a file or folder name.. I name each scan with the same # as the disc.

    So long as I
    1. name my folders or files with easy to remember names
    2. title the scanned file with the number of the disc,
    3. file my disc in a chronological order

    I’ve always been able to easily find the information I need. Wish I was this organized with the rest of my life! haha!

    hope this is useful.

    btw, Supercat is not the only catalog program available, but since I haven’t figured out how to export and import my existing cataloging lists I haven’t bothered trying other cataloging software.

  25. posted by Steve on

    Evernote is now supported on the MAC and it also now supports PDFs which is a huge improvement. They are making upgrades on a daily basis, so definitely check it out. If you need a beta invite, email me at [email protected] and I can send you one. I have 10 left.

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  27. posted by P.J. Ryan on

    I absolutely love my MS OneNote. Have used for several years to help me organize web research like this article with link and date back to the original site, comparision shop, grab inspiration images, and copy online receipts instead of printing.

    The 2007 version has lots of new features; easy to have separate “notebooks”; Easy search for any key word in your document or title; Can copy text from a captured text screen! Haven’t tried the audio recording features that sync to your notetaking.

    Indispensible, as I think and work in a non-linear fashion.

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