Mottek: 2007-11-15

Pile of Notes

I'll be changing my job soon (funnily enough, most of the things I do now will stay with me), and I need to plan quite a few things like scope, cooperation with others, team setup and so on. Early stages like this are quite interesting from the way they are organized: They look much fuzzier than day-to-day work, and there is a component which does not fit in very well with an approach like GTD, at least from my perspective. That component is brainstorming and information gathering.

I have used mind maps in earlier projects, and they did help, but also had a tended to have a more temporary character. The challenge with information gathering is that the brain does not like to be controlled in that area, and good ideas or important thoughts just pop up at any time - regardless whether they are connected to a current project or not. This is a constant process, and ideally dealt with at all times.

Recently I came across one method which was puzzling first, but does seem to make quite a lot of sense now to me: The Pile Of Index Cards. You really have to adopt the mindset fully, read the whole Wiki, look at the Flickr pages and let it sink in for a while - but then I got it:

  • Categorizing thoughts is difficult, so why not skip that step and just write down whatever comes up, and concentrate just on the thought, not the potential context
  • The context can vary, and it is established during the Task Force phase where all thoughts are gathered and evaluated
  • Thoughts come up all the time, and an index card seems just like the right size to gather one idea
  • Instead of trying to form and document a clear picture and set of thoughts, the focus is on non-discriminating information gathering. Maintaining a clear picture (revisiting, updating, categorizing, tagging, sorting) at all times is very difficult and time consuming.

The original POIC method uses index cards, but I think the Newton is actually equally usable, and maybe even better: You can carry all your thoughts with you at all the time, the POIC Dock is a bit to bulky for that. One drawback is however that you cannot spread out all the notes, look at them from a bird's eye perspective, and cluster them. The Newton allows searching, and it would be possible to handle the Task Force phase by putting Notes which are connected into different folders, but it maybe still a bit cumbersome. There is nothing preventing us from printing all the Notes though, and handle this part not on the Newton but using plain old paper.

I will give this method a try, in the end it is pretty interesting to say "good bye order, welcome chaos" :)