In my KM class, I asked the students to tell me about their personal knowledge (or information) management approach:
What does your personal knowledge management space look like? How do you organize your e-mail, contacts, files, internet favorites/bookmarks, paper filing? Do you organize it at all? Do you have a goal from which you frequently stray?
In reading through their responses, the variety of styles and approaches was interesting. There were people who keep everything, and people who throw it away as soon as possible. There were people with almost no paper records and people who print almost everything. A few people described formative experiences that still impact how their personal style. What follows are some of my thoughts as I read through the responses.
A few people discussed the "purge" process, or the process of getting rid of stuff they no longer need. Particularly in the electronic world, this is becoming more difficult as the amount of stuff that can pile up is staggering. At least in the physical world, when your filing cabinet (or box) fills up, you either purge or buy a new one. Record retention is a big topic in the corporate world because you need to keep information to prove how you've conducted business. But those same records, particularly email, have increasingly been used against companies.
A few people made the connection from their electronic "stuff" to the physical world of books, CD's, clothing, etc. One can imagine parallel processes for acquiring, sorting, categorizing, finding and purging in the physical world as in the electronic.
For those of us who are very structured, or those who keep "everything" electronically, what would happen if your computer / PDA died on you? Is that a thought that strikes fear? This leads down the path of how you do backups of your personal space, just as corporations must do regular backups of their business records. It also leads me to wonder how I might start over, if I had a blank slate.
Few people talked about retrieving stuff from their "systems." Rather, it was implicit that the folder structures are geared around building structure that is easy to restore when you need to find something. Typically this is a structure based on projects or classes (context), so that you can think "KM2," find that folder under "LOC" and then the item. Several people admitted to the problem of changing contexts, such as when they are looking for that HBR article but can't remember in which class it was discussed or the specific title.
One student did talk about using Google's Desktop Search. They've also stopped adding quite as much structure because they rely on the search tool to find the information for them. Several tools have come out recently in this category that are either free or less than $100. Here is one comparison of these tools from the Goebel Group.
Some students discussed how they use their systems to aid internal processes: transferring handwritten notes into electronic form; filing email as soon as it is processed; etc. Someone made the useful comment that the process of translating from handwritten to electronic has been very helpful for them. This is something that I do as well.