Are digital Everything Buckets a good filing system?

Services like Evernote and Pocket make a compelling case in favor of the Everything Bucket: capturing information is easy (simply save information and don’t spend time filing it into a topic-related folder) and finding what you need when you need it is easy with a powerful search engine (search with keywords instead of drilling through folders).

Meanwhile, the idea of all your stuff in a pile, be it digital or physical, makes some people itch. Everything is together! In one place! There is no order!

The choice to use an Everything Bucket versus filing data into subfolders is a personal one and there are advantages and disadvantages to the Bucket system when considering it. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses can help you make a decision for what filing system is right for YOU.

As mentioned above, adding new items to an Everything Bucket is a breeze. Evernote’s web clipper, for example, lets you quickly stash any page you like. You can even grab a specific snippet from a website, if a paragraph is all you need. Meanwhile, desktop shortcuts make it just as easy to add items as you work.

Tagging helps you find items later. Simply attaching a tag like “recipe” or “receipts” to an item, you can make it easy to find information later when you do your search. Speaking of search, that really is the marquee feature of programs like Evernote and Pocket. Simply open the “bucket app” of your choice, enter a word or phrase into its search bar and up pops what you need.

You also can go paperless and have access to your stuff virtually wherever you are, even on a mobile device. It sounds like a good deal, right? But there are downsides.

First up in the strikes against the Everything Bucket: they discourage the use of a structured file system. In exchange for ease and speed, you let the computer make sense of your collection. It will do just that, as computers are more effective with organized data. The program will build an index to make sense of that pile, which takes time and effort. If you’re a Mac owner and you have a slow machine pretty much immediately after updating the operating system, it’s likely because Spotlight is making a new index of your disorganized data.

In the case of an Everything Bucket, you’re inviting an application into your daily workflow that could possibly go out of business in the next couple years. If it does, hopefully you’ll be given notice so you can export your data or, at the very least, operate the existing app but not be able to add more information to it.

There is a middle ground, should these Everything Bucket concepts only partially make your skin crawl.

One thing you can do is use what I think of as dedicated or specialty buckets:

  • Evernote is for reference material I will one-day want but have no immediate need for. (I call this “cold storage.”)
  • Recipes I want to try are handled by Paprika.
  • Web links for things I want to go back and read are saved to Pocket.

Instead of filing into subfolders, it’s as if I’m filing into apps. Within those apps, however, there are no subfolders, only an Everything Bucket.

6 Comments for “Are digital Everything Buckets a good filing system?”

  1. posted by Hannah on

    I’m actually looking to move away from relying on evernote so much – I find the mobile apps to be completely hopeless so I only use it on my laptop which I never ever turn on.

    I use pocket to store articeles to read later but for archiving websites I have an archival account on pinboard.in – it has full text search for whole webpages and pdfs – and suits me perfectly!

    Thank you for the paprika link – I’m still trying to find a decent recipe website/app to the point where I’ve considered writing my own!

  2. posted by reenie on

    You can save files into folders in Evernote just as you can with Dropbox.B

  3. posted by kathny on

    I’ve been using Evernote for vacation planning and short term document storage. I store copies of itineraries, hotel confirmations, etc. on it so I can easily access it from my phone while I’m on the road. Other than that, I’m consciously trying to move away from leaving anything on there long term. At one point, I did have a lot stored on it in folders, but it just became too difficult to find anything, even with the folder system. It doesn’t let you group the folders.

  4. posted by Marge on

    Great article, David! Call me old-fashioned, but my favorite way to save online information is with bookmarks. It’s easy to put them into folders when you go to save them. I like having everything in one place – especially right there in my browser. Doesn’t matter if I’m on my laptop or phone, it’s easy to find. I don’t save things to read later because I’ve found that I never do go back and read them. Enjoyed the article.

  5. posted by Christian @ Zettlkasten Method on

    The real problem with Everything Buckets is what I call “The Collector’s Fallacy.” When you file so,ething, you get a false sense of completion. But just like making photocopies of a book doesn’t equal reading the text, filing stuff doesn’t equal you made sense of it.

    So the question bcomes this: do you need (a cloud synced) way to have access to all your laziness, or do you do knowledge work?

    When you do knoledge work, you need to work on stuff. Period. When you don’t take notes deliberately, you don’t gain much. Filing a PDF of an article in Evernote will make it searchable. But you still have no clue what it’s about. “I can search for this and maybe it’ll turn out to be relevant then” is the bottom line of the fallacy. It’s related to the cognitive fallacy of future discounting: just defer it and let your future self worry.

    When you just want to have access to files as they are, like recipes, invoices, inspirational snapshots and whatever, there’s nothing wrong with an Everything Bucket. Even when you work on art, the bucket can help: it’ll resemble a collction of inspiring things people used to put into a shoebox. (Also works for taxes :))

  6. posted by ssangam on

    Computers work best with structured data. Everything Buckets discourage the use of structured data by providing a convenient place to commingle “structureless” data like RTF and PDF documents. Good Article.

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