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For example - one program at work has this annoying popup which requires me to put in my username/password but in a strange format that I can never remember - I have an email from a colleague telling me what that is. Another has quick instructions on how to find something on my health insurance website (because it's really counterintuitive).

I've got about 50 or so emails like this, with instructions for things that range from one line to a page of text or so. I have them in a folder in my email program. This works pretty well (and it's good in the sense that I often remember "oh, I remember getting an email about that" so I know it's there). But I know some people are intent on getting everything out of email and only using it for communication, and more importantly I have many other notes like this that are stored elsewhere (text files, documents, etc.).

What's the best thing to do with all of these notes (email or otherwise) so they're easily accessible and I can quickly find what I need?

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This is too narrow of a recommendation to be a good general answer to your question, but for things like log-on information I store things in 1Password, although there are similar apps for secure storage of log-on information. Most should also allow a free notes field where you could paste unique instructions. –  Adam Wuerl Oct 24 '12 at 6:14
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5 Answers

There are several ways to keep track of such information and I use all of them.

Dedicated Notes Folder In Email Program

Just create a "notes" folder in your email program and put important emails in there. As long as they do not reach > 1000 it should be easy to filter through them.

Pros

  • very easy to maintain
  • always the correct data

Cons

  • Does not scale well. Searches can take 2-3 seconds and return 30+ results if you put a lot of emails in this folder.
  • Not optimal for information accessed by a daily basis.

Personal Wiki

Get or buy or setup your own personal wiki. I recommend Zim as desktop wiki and DokuWiki as online wiki. If you have a lot of serials create a "Serials" page. If you have a lot of accounts and passwords create an "Accounts" page. If your Accounts page gets too big split it into "HomeAccounts" and "OfficeAccounts" etc.

Pros

  • Easy to structure data.
  • Usually includes a global wiki search.
  • You can bookmark important pages.

Cons

  • Setup and hardening / securing the wiki is annoying.
  • Overhead to structure information and attach files.

Synchronized Text Files

For some types of data plain text files in Dropbox or similar products is just fine.

Pros

  • Very intuitive and easy to setup
  • Searching through Ctrl-F
  • Can easily archive/backup information (copy to USB drive)

Cons

  • Quite insecure: no passwords or special protocols (HTTPS or SSL)
  • Using multiple files makes searching more difficult
  • No images or other attachments
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I have recently adopted a super fast and syncing way to keep information like this. Using Notational Velocity as my main note taking tool (nvALT is a great fork for mac), I have it set up so it uses the plaintext format and syncs to a chosen folder in my dropbox. Then on my iPhone and iPad I have chosen an app called Writing Kit (Notesy is also good) that can read and sync notes from that dropbox folder. That way I have immediate access to the notes from wherever I work. They also update seamlessly during working. They support tags as well.

The main benefit with this is that it starts much faster than Evernote, syncs much faster and is super simple to use. The other benefit is that you can do a "Spotlight" or "Everything" search on your desktop and your drop boxed plaintext files are found directly. Not like the hidden Evernotes.

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I also want to add that I use 1Password to store all my super sensitive data, like logins and VISA card info, banking, etc... I love that app as it has an iPhone/iPad app as well. –  Henrik Söderlund Oct 27 '12 at 3:51
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You can do whatever works for you. If the e-mail organization does what you need, why change it?

A couple of other suggesstions:

Another way to manage the e-mails is to tag them. I do this in Mozilla Thunderbird. That way, if you ever find yourself wanting to put an e-mail in two folders, you can apply two tags to it, and search by tag.

Another way is to bring the information into a personal wiki. This requires more startup, but it may pay off later once you get used to working with the tool, because you won't have other places to look for the information.

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If you want these items out of your email (this appears to be at least a secondary motivation), the best way to collect and aggregate useful snippets is something like OneNote, Dropbox, or Evernote.

Each of these applications will have their own strengths and weaknesses, with all of them being very powerful in the accessible and searchable functional areas as you requested.

Which one you pick, will be based off personal preference and not something that I could really determine from the way you phrased your question.

Another good resource when searching for methods and software/services to replace a current system are the website Lifehacker.com and AlternativeTo.net

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Keeping the emails in a reference folder in your email program isn't bad, as long as that's where you know to look for your reference information. The "best" place to store information is where you know you'll look for it when you need it.

I use Evernote for most of my reference information. That lets me get to it on any platform, and fully searchable. There are other tools that do the same kind of thing, if they suit you better.

The thing to be careful about is to be sure you don't build yourself multiple archives of reference data. You want to minimize the number of places you need to look, ideally to one place. Email can work for that, if your email program has a good search feature. Just be sure to get it out of your inbox!

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