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I use Evernote as a way to record ideas and web clippings that interest me. Some are ideas for projects. Some are collections of ideas that relate to prospective projects. There are quotes, metaphors, models, concepts, photographs, infographics, visualizaitons, tutorials, all kinds of things. Over 3,000 notes with 400+ tags.

The problem is that instead of tool for discovery, organization and action, it has become the digital equivalent of a garbage bag full of paper scraps.

Are there any suggestions about how to give my database some shape and direction so that it can lead to a higher ratio of doing to collecting?

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3 Answers

Now that you have collected all this stuff, you have to organize it.

A very popular method for organizing your stuff is to process each item using the GTD Workflow. Quoting from the book "Getting Things Done" by David Allen, he states that processing is "...identifying each item and deciding what it is, what it means and what you're going to do with it."

Stacks of paper is a great analogy for what you've got. After processing you'll be able to

  • identify some clear goals and aspirations,
  • begin to identify actions to move these goals and aspirations forward
  • create a file system for reference material
  • throw away items that you don't need.
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Do your tags have structure? Start organizing tags into a tag tree to get some structure. Consider all tags that you currently have as level 1 tags. Then organize all of your 400+ level 1 tags into some 30-100 level 2 tags. Do it bottom up, not top down: that is, do not make a list of level 2 tags and then fill them up, but just start grouping level 1 tags together.

Then when you get a list of 30-100 level 2 tags, then repeat the same thing with level 2 tags - organize them and group them in some 10-20 level 3 tags. Than you should have some kind of high level overview of your interests. You should get a better idea about your areas of interests and about the amount of data you collected for each of the areas.

When you have a clear picture of your data, then make a clear picture of your projects. Use your tag tree to figure out which projects you have in prospect. And then define them clearly: give each of them a title, a summary, a short roadmap.

When you exhausted all of your data, when every tag you have is assigned to a project, then just contemplate the list of your projects for a week, then prioritize them, choose a short-list of 3-4 projects and take another week to work them out in detail.

Then choose one and just begin working on it :-)

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+1 ... tag trees work really well in this scenario –  Rory Alsop Feb 15 '13 at 12:06
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There's no general way to answer this question (IMO).

Without curation, any system becomes a pile–being electronic doesn't change that.

I use EN (a bit) as an inbox, and it's becoming (gradually) a means of prioritization.

I do not use EN as a general information repository; I use a wiki and CMS for that, because I want a fair amount of customization, accessibility, etc that I cannot get (as easily, for me) with EN.

Bottom line: the way to start projects is to start projects.

Curate. Prioritize. Pick. Begin.

You may need an EN0 effort first, however, or declare bankruptcy and start over.

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What's EN please? –  AndrewJacksonZA Feb 22 '13 at 8:39
    
@AndrewJacksonZA Evernote. –  Dave Newton Feb 22 '13 at 11:49
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