Sunday, August 22, 2010
Want to know how the former Chief Information Officer of Google organizes information? That would be a good reason to read Getting Organized in the Google Era: How to get stuff out of your head, find it when you need it, and get it done right.
While I generally agreed with author Douglas Merrill's organizing principles, I didn't see much new here. "Get stuff out of your head as quickly as possible" is good advice - and something David Allen has been saying for years. "Multitasking can make you less efficient" - sure, but that's old news.
What I found most interesting was this one principle: "Don't organize your information; search for it." Again, this isn't exactly a new idea - and you may or may not choose to rely on search as much as Merrill does. Will you be more efficient if you give up filing computer documents and e-mail messages into folders? It's your call.
But those of us who grew up filing need to heed Merrill's words: "Just because something's always been done a certain way doesn't mean it should be." We have much better search tools than we used to have - and if we learn to use them well, moving away from filing is certainly a viable option. I haven't given up my computer file folders yet, but it's something I'm continually evaluating as a possible change to make.
Merrill encourages us to "try to make search a forethought, not an afterthought." In part, this means following this principle: "Add relevant keywords to your digital information so you can easily find it later." It also means selecting tools that support the use of search.
And one such tool is Gmail - one of Merrill's primary tools for getting organized. That's not surprising, since its use of labels rather than file folders fits Merrill perfectly. As he notes, you can add multiple labels to a message - which is better than having to file it in a single folder. Another advantage, from Merrill's standpoint, is that the messages are all stored "in the cloud." As he raves on, he makes me wish I liked the Gmail interface; sadly, I don't. (The "conversation view" drives me crazy.)
Merrill also uses Gmail in ways that might surprise you. I haven't used Evernote, or Microsoft's OneNote, but I know people who use these programs for storing all sorts of information, and rave about them. Merrill uses Gmail in much the same way; it serves as his content management system. He mails himself "scraps of digital information," including information found online, because "web pages can be ephemeral." If he gets or creates a PDF of an important document, he mails it to himself with a reminder as to where he filed the original paper document.
While this book presents Merrill's ideas, he did have a co-author: James A. Martin. (We aren't told what tools Martin uses to get organized.)