One of the essential questions we need to ask in getting to better systems for our notes, thoughts and references is why we have systems in the first place. We live in a constantly connected world; wouldn’t we be better off just Googling for what we need when we need it? The reality is that this is an answer that not only doesn’t satisfy our inner hoarder; it also ignores the very personal and unique forms that our systems take. This isn’t just about capturing materials we get from elsewhere and making sense of them. It is relating to how those materials—and those notes we generate ourselves—define and shape the work that we do.
Many of us strive to get organized. A similar number of us struggle with how to actually do that. For me, it has been the on-going focus of more decades than I care to count, as I try to make sense of the reference materials in my life and organize them in ways that are meaningful, useful and above all accessible. The problem with all systems is that they are subject to entropy; they will decline into disorder over time unless they receive proper care and feeding. Exploring what that looks like is an interesting challenge.
That we are in a collective and unprecedented liminal experience is pretty much beyond debate. We are also now at a point where we can see the return to something like normalcy being dangled tantalizingly before us, somewhere in the near-distant future. The question is where we want to go from here. The pandemic is a universally experienced imposition of reality where none of us had control. Emerging from the pandemic, however, is an entirely different proposition. We have choice. We have opportunity. We have agency. But what do we do with it?
Getting clear about what you are are doing and where you are going is incredibly valuable and important. It’s also very challenging to do. The greater your ambition, the longer the list of things that you dream of getting done. The more that you care about delivering quality results, the more essential it is to get focused about where you invest your effort and attention. That involves difficult choices that most of us very` often don’t like acknowledging, let alone actually making.
As is no doubt true for many of us, I started off last year with the best of intentions. While I am proud of what I accomplished (despite 2020 being, well, 2020) it was not without its challenges. My first post last year outlined my plans to revisit how I plan, how I organize and how I manage. A check-in on how that went—spoiler alert: inconsistently—and what I’m doing differently this year.
The future is a big, scary and uncertain place. It’s difficult to think about how things may play out. It’s even more difficult at times to define how we want things to play out. There are few scarier questions to be asked than, “Where do you want to be in five years?” Finding an answer to that is complicated and elusive. It’s also an unfair question, and one that begins at the wrong starting place.