How I manage my digital life

Keywords: home improvement project, project folder, folder system, folder structure, work vendor, multiple project, multiple file, multiple home, devonthink, replication, store, replicate, day. Powered by TextRank.

In the digital age the amount of information accumulated is pretty insane. If you wanted to keep a copy of all the communication and receipts and other stuff 20 years ago, you'd need a dedicated archival room with rows of filing cabinets. But now all of that stuff will fit nicely on a personal computer.

Why would you archive these? For me, I like to reflect back on things. This could be looking up a simple fact to satisfy curiosity. It could be to re-implement something I did a while back. End-of-year performance reviews is a good reason to be journaling and tracking project details. I don't know about others but whenever I need to prepare for behavioral questions in interviews I need to reflect back on the projects and what happened with other people working on the same project and having these documented comes in really handy. So whatever the reason you probably should be capturing, documenting and archiving your life.

When you start accumulating a good amount of data, accessibility starts becoming an issue. There are a bunch of systems that work for taming the chaos but it really is a very personal issue. Everybody's access patterns to their data varies and that's why it's important to customize a system to your workflow. I think most of the apps out there from Evernote to a plain text editor supercharged with CLI tools could get you 99% of the way there, so I don't think it's worth spending too much time on analyzing different software packages.

I just want to briefly go over the system I came up with, using DEVONthink and why this works for me. So the system is pretty simple and is influenced by the PARA method.

This is the main outline:

The key idea is that I need documents within a context, especially right at the location or project that I might need to refer to the file. A lot of the time this means that the same file needs to appear in multiple locations. This is not possible to accomplish with a tree structure which a typical folder system on a disk replicates. You need to be able to use symbolic links or in DEVONthink terminology "replication".

Let's go over an example:

Let's say I'm looking to replace the doors in my house. I already have a bunch of other home improvement projects that I have done this year and I would like to see which projects I have completed and get an idea of how much I have spent on home improvement. Here's how I approach this project in my system:

Home improvement is a continuous and on-going thing I do. It's not a one-off thing so it's too big/continuous to be a project. It's a resource. So I created a folder in the resources section for home improvement. This is what my folder structure looks like:

+ 00 Projects
- 01 Resources
- ... Home improvement
- ...... 2023-01 Fence repair
+ 03 Archive
+ 04 Store

(+) represents a collapsed folder, (-) represents an expanded folder.

Ok. So I want to get some quotes for my door replacement project. So I need to create a project folder for it.

- 00 Projects
- ... 2023-04 Door replacement
- 01 Resources
- ... Home improvement
- ...... 2023-01 Fence repair
+ 03 Archive
+ 04 Store

I got two quotes from vendor A and B so I'll file them for the project. I might need to reflect back on these for future projects so I'll put the originals in the Store under Vendor A and Vendor B and replicate them to the project folder.

- 00 Projects
- ... 2023-04 Door replacement
- ...... Vendor A (r)
- ...... Vendor B (r)
- 01 Resources
- ... Home improvement
- ...... 2023-01 Fence repair
+ 03 Archive
- 04 Store
- ... Vendor A
- ... Vendor B

Let's say I chose Vendor A. They completed the job and sent over an invoice which I would file in the Store under Vendor A and replicate again. It's not super important where you put the original, you just need to replicate it to the places that are important. I also took some pictures of the work in progress and the finished work which I will add to the project folder. I don't really need to replicate the photos anywhere as I don't forsee them being used anywhere else. After the project is done I can move it to the home improvement resource folder. This kind of replication gives you the ability to do different views and queries on the data which is ultimately what you want (apart from search). I can easily see what projects I did for home improvement. I can easily see the volume of business with Vendor A. If I can't remember who replaced the doors, I can always track it back to Vendor A. If I can't remember the work Vendor A did for me it's linked to the door replacement project. My data has become a graph, a sort of web of data rather than a hierarchical, rigid structure of files.

Sometimes you need to add some metadata to use for your queries and grouping. The best way I found to do this kind of lightweight annotation is using tags. So if we had multiple homes in our example above and we wanted to see the reports for improvement on House A we would either need to introduce another folder for grouping and then replicating the projects to these folders or an easier way is to add tags with HouseA, HouseB etc. Replication and tagging are kind of the two sides of the same coin. I like to use tagging as a secondary indexing key and replication as the primary indexing key as it's easier for me to visually process replicated items in folders.

Granularity of notes

Document management for things that you didn't produce is prescribed. You have the document and you need to file it. But for notes that you are producing you have another options: How granular should my notes be? Do I have a giant file where I put all my journal entries as a level 1 heading per day and sub headings for things that happened on that day or do I keep a file per day?

On this front I have tried both. If you are a subscriber of the Zettelkasten method and you find that maintaining links between notes for a hyperlinked graph structure then you should have atomic small notes and a lot of them. DEVONthink unfortunately doesn't let you link to a header withing a note so multiple files are your only option. I'm not a fan of hyperlinking but I use links to containers of notes so I have easy access to the full text of notes so I prefer to keep large files with more notes. An example is I have a journal note file with entries for all journals instead of a file per day.

Extras

I choose DEVONthink to manage my data because of the features it provides on macOS and iOS. The replication feature is a must for this system to work. Here is a list of the stuff I use the most:

Definitely worth the 100USD for the mac + 15USD for iOS they ask for it.


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First published on 2024-04-07

Generated on May 29, 2024, 10:02 PM

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