Organizing with tags

My friend Christine posted that she was having a hard time using tags instead of folders for organization.

I mean, I get the idea that if you give everything relevant tags, you can search and cross-reference. But I’m a “file-cabinet” kind of girl… I mean let’s say I have tags called “bugs” “fish” and “green”. I could look up “green” and get green bugs and fish, “green bugs” or “green fish.” OK, fine. But it’s so… See More… so… murky. I keep wanting to put all the fish in one folder and all the bugs in another… And then what about my “pen” collection? Is it mixed up with my bugs and fish?

I’ve loved tags since I started using them in I’ve not given much deliberate thought to Web 2.0 semantics, metadata, etc., but I can at least explain how I use tags in productivity. I thought a blog post would work better than replying to a status update, so here goes.

There’s an idea for a gaming article that’s been bubbling around in my head for a long time: how to adapt Zorro to tabletop roleplaying. The character is around a century old and the story been adapted for film and television dozens of times. There’s a nice mix of civilization and wild frontier mentality, built-in villains, and a premise that adapts well to large gaming groups (Zorro’s Fighting Legion) or to a GM and one or two players (Zorro and a sidekick). So how to take this notion from a vague, nebulous idea to a written article? I look for online references and found the original short story. That link gets saved with a few tags: “gaming, Zorro, fiction”. I like to use context tags as well. I don’t have a printout of the story, so I’ll be reading it online during slack time at work; I add the tag “@Work”. I want to read the original first, so I tag it “nextaction”–reading the original story is the very next thing I have to do to make this article a reality.

My work’s been a lot more streamlined since I started following the Getting Things Done strategy from David Allen. “Writing a Zorro article” is way more than one task, so I create a project with that title on my list. (I use Remember the Milk to keep track of tasks and projects.) There are lots of other things that will have to happen besides reading that one story, but at first I’ll content myself with a few: watch the famous movie versions from 1920, 1940, and 1998; find out what’s available of the Guy Williams TV series from the 1950s; look for a nonfiction history of California in the 1800s; and see if I can get copies of Johnston McCulley’s other Zorro stories. ALL of these go on the Zorro project, so there’s some folder-like hierarchy going on here. Some of these tasks get tagged “@Web”; I can do online research anywhere with a broadband connection and time on my hands. Watching the movies gets the tags “@Home, film” in addition to “gaming, Zorro.”

Here’s how this process works to my advantage. If I decide I want to work on that Zorro article, I can look at the project list and see everything I’ve thought of so far that needs to be done. If I’m at home and feel like watching something, I can look at everything tagged “film” for a list of things I’ve noted to watch. If I have some free time at a computer I can look under everything “@Web”–research projects, silly videos, interesting new blogs, whatever. If I need a break from projects at work, I’ve created a smartlist that shows everything tagged “@Work” (to be done at near my workplace) that’s not also tagged “work” (related to my job). I have other gaming ideas, too. If I’m just in a gaming mood I can look up the tag “gaming” and see what I’d most like to do at that moment. If I feel like reading a good story, I can search “fiction.” Finally, if I’m just feeling like I need to be more productive, I can search “nextaction.”

This kind of tagging doesn’t work for everybody, but I’ve found a lot of advantages to it. If I’m looking to organize a Cthulhu caroling group (and I am), where do I save the links, documents, music, and other info in a folder–Humor? Music? Books? What if I save it under Humor -> Cthulhucarols, then forget I created that folder and create a Music -> Cthulhucarols folder when I find the sheet music three months later? Christine, I hope you read this and find it helpful–maybe others will as well! Comment if you have any questions.


One thought on “Organizing with tags

  1. christine says:

    Ok, this helps. I was thinking of using Evernote, because I wanted something with Microsoft OneNote functionality but on multiple devices. I used One Note for a lot of teaching applications, but it still is sort of “tabby” while Evernote isn’t so much. I also have noticed that most new productivity applications use tags, which made me think that perhaps somehow they are more productive than other methods. That made me sad because I always feel I’m not using them efficiently…

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