I'm preparing for an upcoming workshop on Personal Knowledge Management. Both of my desktops, digital and physical, are covered with stacks of papers on various topics. I have digital versions of most of the printed papers, too. If I don't, I scan them in as searchable PDFs. All of these, I organize in a computer folder hierarchy according to an ever-evolving taxonomy.

Over the years, I have used and experimented with a variety of software applications to manage my stuff. I've explore applications from Adobe Acrobat to Zotero (a useful FireFox plug-in) and many in between, including two of my favorites: Lotus Notes and Personal Brain. I've also worked with a number of home-grown systems. Some of these I have scrapped, while others are still around. Every so often, usually when I am doing research or preparing to give a talk, I like to see what new or proven tools and methods are out there for self organization.

At the enterprise level, there are a multitude of content management systems competing for market share. At the personal level there are many tools that solve specific problems but few that appear to approach the problem of personal content management from a wholistic perspective of the knowledge worker. Perhaps one of the closest I've seen is The Brain.

I'm curious to know what tools or methods you use personally to organize your files, specifically, your documents on your computer so that you can organize and retrieve your information quickly.

Do you have a favorite information organization tool or system, or is your file system more organic?

Discussion/Comments (12):

What Are Your Favorite Personal Content Management Tools?

Devonthink is a very brilliant software, which will be worth exploring when you get a Mac! ;o)

Saying that, my organisation is now centered on PersonalBrain. I am really looking forward to more integration between PersonalBrain and MindManager.

Posted at 8/25/2008 1:40:00 AM by Pascal Venier

What Are Your Favorite Personal Content Management Tools?

Right now I'm just using the file system. With most my files as either pure text or html. I really want something better but have been unable to find it so far.

I've tried both PDF and Devonthink. The problem with PDF is that I think it's really hard to edit some types of documents (might be me that don't know how) and that it's a binary format. Devonthink is something I really like. And would probably use if my primary work computer was a MAC. There is one huge draw back with it though, its file format. Where it stores everything in just one file.

What I'm looking at now is actually a combination of zip and html. Since the new Firefox can view webpages (with pictures, css, etc) within zip's. So it kind of becomes its own file format in a way. Only draw back with this solution is the manual work required when saving stuff.

Posted at 8/25/2008 3:55:32 AM by Magnus Westin

What Are Your Favorite Personal Content Management Tools?

I use UltraRecall Pro { Link }

It is actively developed and supported. The reliable and stable Sqlite database is the underlying technology.

Posted at 8/25/2008 5:00:49 AM by Bill

What Are Your Favorite Personal Content Management Tools?

When I was solely a PC user I used Personal Brain (since release 1). I dropped away from this once I started also using a Mac, but now that it exists on both platforms I have refreshed my Brains.

I now use Personal Brain to capture the macro level connections and MindManager the detail at each node.

I have started playing with Evernote as a ubiquituous note taker (PC, Mac, iTouch) but the jury's out at the moment.


Posted at 8/26/2008 3:05:48 AM by Gareth Howell

What Are Your Favorite Personal Content Management Tools?

EverNote - (with 1 big file & lots of tags) to serve as a type of laboratory notebook

Google Notebook - with sections labeled in GTD terms

Cell phone & MS Outlook - contact management

Quicken - finance management

Posted at 8/26/2008 8:42:23 AM by Chuck Jaeger

What Are Your Favorite Personal Content Management Tools?

Windows explorer. Personal Content management filing based on the Roles I play (Covey) and then the structure recommended by the experts in that role. For example, I have a role as "Project Manager." The Project Management Institute lists 9 knowledge areas which could be the folders, but I use their project lifecycle (Initiation, Planning,...) to file things I want to reference, reuse or remember.

Trying to move the same methodology to Microsoft's OneNote, as it will accept voice files, attachments, email and typed documents.

Posted at 8/26/2008 10:34:19 AM by Dave Fletcher

What Are Your Favorite Personal Content Management Tools?

RSS feeds: SharpReader

Desktop Search: X1 and Copernic

Bookmark manager and PIM: Compass

Posted at 9/1/2008 7:08:50 AM by Mike Sivertsen

What Are Your Favorite Personal Content Management Tools?

For those who are tired of this whole computer thing and long for the days of hard copy memos and to-do lists and wire cage in and out bins on your desk - here's your how-to:

Thinking and Paper

{ Link }

Posted at 9/1/2008 7:46:11 AM by Mike Sivertsen

What Are Your Favorite Personal Content Management Tools?


When I get a Mac, I'll definitely have a look at Devonthink. I too like Personal Brain and Mind Manager - I wish I could use Lotus Notes as the back-end as that is where so much of my rich information resides.


I too, use the file system for my PDF files. I am mixed in my decision whether or not to simply import the directory into Notes where I can do more with it 0( e.g. add metadata). At the same time, there's something to be said for the simple elegance of the file system.

I do save everything I touch on the web or elsewhere as a PDF


Thanks for the link to UltraRecall Pro. It looks very interesting, particularly in the area of meta data capture. I wonder, is it easy to sync between machines? (I'm spoiled with Notes)


Yes, Personal Brain is an amazing tool. I like it for tracking relationships. I use MindManager, as you do, for planning around a specific topic. I have not looked at EverNote lately, but will. Key for me is sync across machines.


Chuck, do you sync your Evernote to more than one computer? How does that work for you. Are your Google docs only in the cloud?


I like OneNote, but admit I have not used it much (mostly because it was hard to keep multiple machines seamlessly in sync). Still, I think it is a powerful product and I like the note-taking features. If you search my blog you will find many posts and podcasts on OneNote. I do not file my file-based items by role as I have a lot of overlap where I may want to retrieve the content. Ideally, I may do something like a periodic import into Brain (leaving the files on disk) so I can search and find yet keep files in traditional format. thanks for the post.


You and I are big fans of RSS, and for good reason - it's a productive way to stay informed and the knowledge comes to us. Thanks for the link to SharpReader. I've used both X1 and Copernic over the years. Both do a great job at helping me find my content. Both do a great job of slowing down my system. Still, they are great products. You've mentioned Compass before as your Bookmark manager and PIM. I'll have another look.

I actually use a lot of paper in my work and, like one of the comments on Tufte's blog, I love to use 11x17 paper and colored pens to sketch ideas. While I do have a tablet PC and a 6' digital whiteboard, sometimes, I find the tactile process of pen and paper hard to beat.

Posted at 9/19/2008 4:11:46 PM by Eric Mack

What Are Your Favorite Personal Content Management Tools?

Personal Brain is very appealing, but if you want to share full-functionality "Brains," your readers need to have Personal Brain. I wish they had a read-only version.

Have any Mac users tried Mark Bernstein's Tinderbox? Mark is a pre-web hypertext original, and his stuff always seems highly imaginative and on-target. But, alas, I am Mac-deficient.

See { Link }

I like EverNote a lot (I use the free [older] desktop version.), but it still doesn't get me where I want to go. Nor does anything else, at any price. The fundamental problem is that personal knowledge management challenges can't be met by simple desktop applications. Powerful tools are needed.

Phil Murray

Senior Research Fellow

The Center for Semantic Excellence

Posted at 10/27/2008 1:08:02 PM by Phil Murray

What Are Your Favorite Personal Content Management Tools?

Hi Phill! Thanks for the kind words. I'm happy to answer questions about Tinderbox -- and couldn't agree more that powerful tools are needed.

Posted at 10/28/2008 8:26:19 AM by Mark Bernstein

What Are Your Favorite Personal Content Management Tools?

I use myxpl.com It is a web based personal content manager. I can access stuff from any where.

Posted at 3/19/2009 11:13:58 AM by Tufoin Peng

Discussion for this entry is now closed.