The problem is, I don't know how to manage and store these kinds of information. Should I just have folders with a little manual for each project type? Or sort my knowledge base based on some arbitrary categories and then browse through all the stuff?
It sounds like you're trying to solve a couple of related problems:
- A method for creating a set of templates for projects of a given type
- A way to organize a repository of reference information
Based on your question I can see how these problems are complementary, but I see different solutions.
Let's start here:
What I have a problem with, is creating some kind of checklist that I could go through every time I start a project of a specific type.
It sounds like you believe there is a finite list of clearly definable project archetypes. I'd create a simple text file for each type to serve as a template of tasks specific to each flavor of project. Then when you were starting on that kind of project you could open your template and use it as the basis for defining the next and future actions.
To generate you first cut at tasks I'd go about it from two perspectives:
- List all the things you think need to be done off the top of your head.
- Make a list of the previous projects of this type that you're working on and that you've completed. This will help remind you of things you forgot.
But also re-visit the template periodically as you execute and just after you've finished to hone your process. Now instead of static steps you have a constantly evolving task list that is keeping up with your tools, workflow, and skill set. I'd also append that the list of previous projects to the task a list. It will help remind you of places to look for artifacts and inspiration, and just seeing a list of your past accomplishments is probably boosting for self-esteem as well.
On the other hand if I do a design work, I might need to look for some inspiration, which means I need to have some kind of a database of good looking stuff (sorry for oversimplifying this).
Now for the database problem your answer implies that a hybrid solution is going to work best. You're going to have project repositories for the things you've completed. Some of those are going to be electronic, say source code, or specifications, or whatever, but you also mentioned you have physical references and inspiration as well. Regardless of how you file or store your physical objects, it's the templates that are going to remind you to access these resources.
Perhaps you finished a project with an electronic and physical file. That project name will be in your template file, and you can annotate it to remind you to look at both types of background data. Filing things by theme or category would work just as well--as long as there's a link in your templates reminding you to references them.
So ultimately, easily updated electronic templates for your project types that include references or reminders to a database of knowledge (both electronic and physical) that is flexible to whatever taxonomy you set up and/or evolves.