For a while now I’ve been figuring out the best way to save useful things that I find online so that I can go back to them later. We all come across many things every day, whether browsing on LinkedIn, Facebook, twitter or articles emailed into our inboxes. We may find something that we’re interested in and want to file away the link – but it’s not enough just to save the link, it needs to be saved in a way that is logical so we can find it later. And this is the key, it may not be something we return to later that day, or week, so part of the challenge is a filing or retrieval system that is logical.
The knowledge economy
We’re in the era of the knowledge economy. Information abounds on the web and assaults us every time we look at any device. However, content is no longer king, it’s ease and accessibility to finding content. We can all suffer from information overload and being able to categorise and compartmentalise what we find is a useful way to keep a clear head. When checking my LinkedIn feed I may see multiple articles that are of interest. Each could take me off in a different direction, not necessarily what is the priority for me at the time. To produce more ‘deep work’ my aim is to limit distraction and diversion. Easy tagging or bookmarking can help so I don’t a) forget what I’ve seen or b) have to spend forever trying to ‘re’-find what I have already found.
Curate your content
In the learning and development field, we talk about ‘curation’, a term normally used in association with libraries. Curated content is information that has been pulled together in a useful and meaningful way. For anyone working in an organisation big enough to have a Learning & Development team – this is their challenge, to ‘curate’ content so it is relevant to their employees. I suggest however that we need to develop our own curation skills, otherwise we risk being limited to what our organisations serve up to us, and what we happen to stumble across. Being more deliberate and structured in our approach to finding and saving can help us immeasurably.
Learning is the Work
When I started thinking about this topic it was from a learning and development point of view –where to put links and information that was of interest to me. These days, running my own business, ‘learning is the work and work is the learning’*. There is no separation. What I need to curate and collect to get the job done needs the same approach as curating and collecting for my personal learning goals. And I suspect the same is true for most.
Collecting information you need for a work project, or to further your next career goal, is a first step into what can otherwise seem insurmountable. The amount of material that is freely available on the web is amazing – but only if you are purposeful in your approach. Take some time to reflect and think on what you need to have as your ‘learning inputs’. This could be achieved by doing your own personal SWOT analysis (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), or by having a conversation with a coach or mentor to pull out your learning goals.
Work out your System
I’ve used a few different systems over the last few years to ‘curate’ things of interest to me, from my simple Word folder called ‘Blog ideas’, containing word documents each with a different title or theme idea, where I dump any links or thoughts as and when I have them, and when I’m ready to write something I already have lots of reference material to get me started. That’s as basic as it gets. Periodically I review my list, deleting what I don’t need any more. For a time I was an avid OneNote user, until my iPad died and I couldn’t adapt to using it on my iPhone. These days there are more custom apps and tools for curating content, designed to work on any smartphone that can enable us to save and categorise with a couple of swipes. A general point is to use what works for you – if you already use Trello for managing your work projects then using it to capture your reading list or learning plan its more straightforward than setting up a new platform.
Here’s a run-down of a few tools I have come across:
I only recently discovered that LinkedIn had a bookmarking tool! Really easy to use – you just click the 3 dots at the top right of the post or article you want to save, it brings up a menu that has ‘save’ as an option. Below your picture on the top left it displays ‘saved items’ for you to review when you have time.
In Twitter you can curate accounts that may be of interest to you via the list feature. You create a list of accounts you want to follow, so rather than scrolling through your entire twitter feed you can go to your list and scan themed content. A helpful hack is to follow other people’s lists. To do this you go to their profile, click the 3 dots in the top right corner, click view list and follow. The downside with this is that you have to remember to periodically check your lists to see what is there.
I love the concept of Pocket – a generic place where you can save anything you find online with a click or two, however its set-up eluded me for a while despite several attempts. I’m happy to say it’s working now, but time will tell if it was worth the hassle to set up. The three steps are:
- Set up a Pocket account
- Download the app to your phone
- Install onto your desktop – including the small task of enabling pocket in your extensions folder so it appears in your share menu.
Once that is all done, you should be able to save to Pocket anything of interest that you come across, via the share button. Once content is in the app it can be organised via tags.
So, while the desktop set-up can take a bit more time depending on what browser you’re using, once it’s there it works well as somewhere to save things easily to. I’ve had both the desktop Pocket and the app in place for a couple of weeks now and have built up a nice collection of articles to go back to that I probably would have not bothered to save otherwise.
Wakelet & Padlet
I really like these. Once you have come across something online that you know you want to come back to, you can put it into your own collection of themed items. These are easy to set up, are visually appealing and have the advantage that they can be shared or kept private. A tip is that you can also include links to other people’s Wakelets. I found that having an explore in Wakelet to see what other curated collections people had made led to some interesting finds (I’ve found more content there than in Padlet). Both Wakelet and Padlet are also excellent collaborative tools, you can invite contributors and make it a group effort.
Evernote and OneNote
Evernote and OneNote are known as note-taking apps. They both work across all the major desktop and mobile OSes, and can each sync your notes to all of your devices and the web. As curation tools, both have tagging functionality making it easy to find items across notebooks. Evernote however, is set up to help you easily capture, organize and find content from the web, and is described as the ‘best web clipping tool you can find’ with a range of ways you can clip content from the web. This article gives a good overview on both, the author stating: ‘OneNote is my go-to tool for organizing and taking notes for projects such as books and articles. I use Evernote for research. Given that they’re both free (at least for the basic version of Evernote), it gives me the best of both worlds.’
For those that want to go to ‘next level’ curation – moving into a fully-blown Learning Plan, Trello and Microsoft Planner are easily customizable.
Trello is well known as a productivity/planning tool, with its highly visual customizable boards, lists and cards. This can allow you to create a Learning Plan with different sections and dates to complete things by – allowing you to build in accountability. You create your board, add in your list headings, then you can create individual cards or actions. Also the benefit here is collaboration – you can assign tasks to others so if you want to capture learning from a project this is the perfect set up – check out this blog on project based learning.
Microsoft Planner is a less well-known tool, but anyone that has the MS Office 365 suite will have access to this. I have set up a board called My Learning Plan, my list of headings include:
- Books to read
- Blogs/articles to read
- Things to try out
- People to connect with/follow
- To do
There is also a phone app, meaning you can save direct to Planner via the share button (the same as Wakelet/Padlet/Pocket).
* Quote from Harold Jarche