New York Times technology writer David Pogue offers a few of his biggest productivity tips, from working at home (thus avoiding a time-intensive commute) to using voice-to-text transcription software, text expansion, and keyboard macros. What caught my eye is how he uses a personal database to store and find information he needs. Pogue writes:
Years ago, I started using an address-book program that’s now called iData 3. It’s a freeform database, meaning that the “cards” in this database don’t have separate fields for Name, Street, City and so on; instead, you can type or paste whatever you want into each freeform card.
This program doesn’t play well with field-based contact managers like Google’s or the iPhone’s, but the beauty is that it holds whatever you want: recipes, brainstorms, article fragments, driving directions, lists, Web addresses and so on. And you can find anything in a fraction of a second. (Actually, iData now lets you create field-based databases as well, but my freeform database has been growing since about 1988 and I’m not about to convert it.)
An iData screenshot is included here; it’s $70 for the Mac, with a Windows version also available. For awhile I did the same as Pogue does with a personal wiki. Tired of hosting my own installation, eventually I switched over to Evernote, and I use KeePass for sensitive stuff like passwords, PIN numbers, and software serial numbers which I want encrypted and saved only on my own hard drive.
When you’re choosing your own personal database software, the question of structured (fields) versus unstructured (freeform) data is an important one. Both wiki pages and Evernote are pretty unstructured documents, though wikis do offer inter-page linking. KeePass is a structured database (it comes with username, password, URL and other fields) but it also offers a freeform comments field for each record, which you can use how you like. No software application is perfect, but as Pogue says, it is a time-saver to have that one place where you know you can store and find everything you need quickly. Pogueâ€™s Productivity Secrets Revealed [NYT]
I use Evernote as well – love to see a write-up from you on how you use it.
This is a timely piece by Pogue, as I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I’ve got a question for you, however:
How are are using Evernote? I mean, it has the potential to be an awesome wiki type application, but is frustratingly incomplete. Tags are nice, but there is no tag cloud to visualize notes.
I’ve recently been testing out PBWorks, the updated pbwiki and have found it to be really nice. What makes it even more compelling is that the paid version offers unlimited file storage, and you can search most standard file formats. Someone recently published an iPhone app called PBrowser that brings most of the PBWorks functionality to the iPhone. What PBWorks doesn’t offer, unfortunately, is a way to email attachments or notes to a page.
Anyway, I’d be interested in learning how you’ve structured Evernote to work for you. I regularly switch between WinXP, Mac, and iPhone. I’d love to have a single solution that gave me a consistent experience on all platforms.
Where I struggle with this concept of a “personal database” and/or programs like Evernote is the boundary lines; what goes in it, what stays out of it, and how do you know the difference?
I keep ‘some’ of my stuff in the file system (pictures, etc), ‘some’ of my stuff in Evernote (web clippings, etc), and ‘some’ of my stuff in my email program (emails), and so on. Most separation between these ‘buckets’ is kind of self-evident; email stays in my email program; digital photos taken by me or someone else stay in iPhoto; music and audio go in iTunes; etc, etc, etc.
Where it breaks for me is with Evernote and the fact that it seems to somewhat reproduce the functionality of the FInder on my Macâ€”i.e. an Evernote note could just as easily be stored as a .txt or .rtf file. So the line of when I stick something in Evernote versus just saving it to a file somewhere becomes blurrier.
Does anyone else have any thoughts about this?
Another freeform database to consider is DevonThink. Has superb indexing capabilities for when your data collection reaches the size of David’s. Somewhat of a learning curve, but really excels at finding and cross-referencing information.
SBook, an old-school NeXTSTEP application, which lives on as SBook5 on the Mac now, does the same as Mr Pogue suggests, but costs nothing.
Hey Gina — Good post. Been doing this for sometime, using Gmail instead of a separate app. Only drawback is when I need to search on the go, I have to log into Gmail using Mobile Safari. Also, Gmail search is pretty mediocre.
I downloaded Evernote but I don’t use it as often as I originally thought I would? I use DevonThink more. Now, I’m playing around with an app called “Notebook.” Heard of it before? 🙂
Thank you so much for this article! I had never thought about needing a software-based database system, but since I recently got started with GTD I immediately saw the benefits to having one.
My solution actually ended up being a wiki-database hybrid (plus alpha!). While the wiki system works as a general database for information, I wanted to keep all my address book information in the same place, which is where the database part came into play!
Apparently, iData supports fields now, but I’m not working on a Mac and I wanted something that I could access online. So I asked the hive mind and I found (what I think is) the perfect solution: Drupal!
It took me a full day and a half to figure it out (the learning curve is kinda sttep), but I was able to create a site almost exactly to my specifications! And Drupal is so flexible that I an continue to modify to my needs as they change!
I’m especially happy with the address book side of it all, because now I have only what I need, and am no longer bogged down with all the extra fields and functions you find in other programs that have to cater to a large crowd.
Also, I was able to finally solve an issue of dealing with contacts from multiple countries, like USA and Japan, where the difference in contact management systems due to the languages were driving me crazy. (Many English based programs have no fields for Japanese or Chinese names.)
And then like you, I use a separate system for more sensitive information like passwords.
Thanks again. I feel like my life has gotten a lot easier now that I have a great tool =D