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How do you manage information?

The most critical skill that individuals need to master today is how to manage information. All other so called “21st century skills” converge on this skill. Critical thinking, detecting erroneous information, growing a personal learning network, and other skills and mindsets are reflected in how we manage information. Ideally, we want to be able to readily access important information when we need it. Search alone won’t do. How we’ve filed/categorized/captured information that we’ve previously encountered is important. Frequently, I know *what* I’m looking for (because I remember a report or study that I read previously), but my system of information management fails to yield the resource I need. I’ve posted a few thoughts on how I manage information here. Slashdot has a growing discussion on the topic as well – one comment in particular resonates with me “Not a good idea. Your past starts to grow on you, and can slow you down on your way to new pastures. So remember to build in mechanisms for forgetting all but the most essential stuff. Use Facebook and Linkedin to keep track of people, keep some nice pictures, but learn to delete and forget.”


  1. I think blogging (with tags and a tag cloud)is one way to store and remember. Pictures, links, thoughts, videos,even paper letters and bills if you scan them, everything goes there. I have one private blog and two professional blogs. The only ting I miss is a way to label the archives from each month. You know, “October- PLENK,seminiars at work, started to twitter”, like the labels on photoalbums..

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  2. Chris Lott wrote:

    Figuring out and sharing and/or teaching tools is easy. Sharing and/or teaching how those tools can interact with one another is harder. The most difficult part, though, is coming to an understanding of how one must pay attention to one’s own way of working to figure out how to integrate these tools into our daily life and work. There are core elements that I think are necessary in any “system:” trusted collection, for instance, but all of them take attention and behavior modification to really “take.”

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  3. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Chris – the “behaviour changes” you mention are important…I *know* what I should do with information, but often I’m in too much of a hurry to file/organize/categorize in a way that allows for future use. I guess that’s like most “healthy habits”…most evenings I’d likely benefit from going for a run or heading to the gym. But…that bowl of ice cream and that hockey game on TV are just too tempting.

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  4. Chris Lott wrote:

    Well, I can’t help you with the sickness of wanting to watch hockey…

    But, seriously, attention to fundamental aspects of our behavior online, things like attention, focus, and intentionally thinking about our meta-cognitive behaviors are important and mostly overlooked (in the sense that not much is directed toward enhancing these capabilities even as much attention is paid toward how the world around us affects them). We can improve our attention skills, we can learn to more intensely focus, we can improve our memories, we can change our habits to make information management tools more useful, but so little attention is paid to doing those things while so much is paid to which tools and how the tools work. What about how WE work? How can these aspects be addressed more productively?

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  5. gsiemens wrote:

    Chris, some of the points you are part of information management…but I would place them further along the process – something more along the lines of sensemaking. While this influences information management, sensemaking is a separate process with distinct skills (many of which you mention).

    btw – good distinction between asking about tools vs asking about how we work…

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  6. Chris Lott wrote:

    Or at both ends of the process… to my mind, attention, focus, and meta-cognition (which is fundamental to bringing the tools into the way we work and the pattern in which we work) is fundamental to the beginning of the process. At least as much so as it is further along…

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  7. gsiemens wrote:

    Good point. The human/tool interaction is more iterative and symbiotic (look, I get to use two buzzwords!) than my comment reflects.

    While critics of social media and attention fragmentation get ridiculed for their luddite views, I’m seeing a shift in my reading and interacting habits online: I want more substance, I want time for greater focus, I want depth and not only breadth. Is this a function of having eaten junk food long enough to begin craving salad again? Reading a well-written book is a more satisfying experience for me than a day spent on blogs/twitter. News is nice and all…but knowing what’s going on in the world is a temporary satisfaction. Information management habits need to reflect this aspect of both information and ourselves.

    Monday, October 25, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  8. I echoed Alan November’s sentiment that empathy is the most important skill of the 21st Century.

    How does empathy converge on information management?

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Permalink
  9. Chris Lott wrote:

    Darren: my initial thought is that it’s a nice soundbite, but I have no idea what it *means*. By that, I mean that arguably empathy is one of the most important skills of any century. Not sure how the 21st Century places a premium, so extrapolation to information management is difficult for me. Can you elaborate?

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink
  10. Chris Lott wrote:

    George: I’d like to think that your experience of shifting habits and desires back to more intensity and attention and richer sustenance is typical, but I fear that it’s precisely because you are aware of these issues in deep ways and cognizant of the need to change habits– that these aren’t automatic skills– that you are seeing that change. What about the vast majority who pay no attention to those things whatsoever except, in some cases, only the topmost messages of writers like Carr?

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  11. Chris: I guess I can’t really elaborate further. However, when George wrote that “all other so called ’21st century skills’ converge on information management,” I’m not sure he was really considering all other skills. Still, I might be wrong (and therefore wonder how empathy converges on information management).

    While new information technologies amplify our need for empathy (and extend our need for empathy toward those beyond our local borders), it still feels to me that the skills of empathy and information management remain largely separate in their acquisition and development.

    If you’re interested, I wrote more on this subject back in July:

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Permalink
  12. Cindy Meyer wrote:

    Great thread.

    I’m currently studying Instructional Design. My current course is Learning Theory. This week we’ve been studying about the brain and how it stores information. This thread and what I have learned this week about the brain triggered a thought – that is the importance of the process used to filter through so much information. Personally, I think success in accessing the information we need will be largely due to the processes we contruct to get to that information. When you really think about it, this is a radical change from how we have dealt with information in the past. You have me thinking about how I sort through information, and like a formal IT project, you now have me thinking about how to my own storage system, not just for the present, but for the future and the continual addition of more information over time.

    Friday, November 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  13. Christina Roeser wrote:

    I am currently in a learning theory course and this weeks topic is cognitive learning theory. My question is how can you teach students how to filter all of the information, or search for erroneous information when they have no prior knowledge to base a fact off of? Modern students believe that all of the information presented to them are facts. What techniques can one use to help them “filter” and retain the important information that they are being inundated with? I know how I process information and how I store it, but I learned these skills by what some would consider “conventional educational techniques.” Are there effective methods to get the “21st century learner” to be able to store and retrieve information in a more technological learning environment? At least something different than bookmarks, or saving a file.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Permalink
  14. Karsten Ehms wrote:

    Hi George,
    maybe you are interested in a similar model/conceptualization, purely process/activity oriented though.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 1:22 am | Permalink