The Value of Tagging (part 2)

Last week I introduced you to the concept of tagging things as it relates to getting the bigger picture of your life. Tagging is an old, but recently rediscovered, way of categorizing your thoughts, goals, website links, into organized clusters for ease of retrieval. Many websites now offer tagging as a way to quickly make personal relationships to the things you gather in a computer. And if you think about it, tagging is something you've been doing your whole life-- to make meaning out of those facts and cds and links. Now it's time to give you some tips and suggestions for incorporating tags into your favorite organizational methodology. For those of you interested in rediscovering how tags can help you online and off, here's some tips.

Implement the KISS method. Start out small. Agree to limit the amount of tags you use repeatedly to a minimum. I'm not going to suggest any numbers here but I tend to keep 10-20 categories of items to track. If I go over that amount I either start duplicating or forgetting what I wanted to save items under. It's also easier to recall those 10-20 items than it is to keep a list of 100 or more unique ones. Of course, you CAN have single unique tags, but I find that the ones I get most benefit and use out of are the categories I've set up to track multiple items and have lots of items inside those tags.

Broad over specific. I found that using sweeping generic categories like productivity, writing, art, music, etc. tend to be better than being really specific. Again, for me, I prefer to reuse my tags to get a better picture of what becomes more important to me at any given time and when you create new tags willynilly this view can get lost in the hundreds of tags. However, on the sites that allow me to use subcategories, that's when I'll break up some of the more noteworthy sites or thoughts down. For example, my music tag corrals all items for music, but I may have industrial and goth and synth links as subcategories to differentiate all the items that I want to see that have those relationships.

Get creative and personal.Tags aren't just for online use anymore. As we started to discuss in the comments of my last article, a lot of people (even me) are beginning to tag their paper based systems. Use symbols, colors or other creative ways to "tag" your thoughts on paper. Give yourself to use different colors to denote different tags of thoughts you write down. Planners reflect your life--I seriously doubt your life is boring and black and white or blue, so spice it up, use those colored pens I know you all have to spice up the page. Personally, for me, it was the use of symbolism that got me into tagging my paper based cards. I use the following symbols to tag my thoughts daily:

Circle. A simple circle lets me track my daily buzz thoughts. Anything relating to appointments, or simple journal entries get written down on this card.

Light Bulb. This is the AH-HA! icon. When ever I get a unique idea or come up with a new plot-line for a story, this is the icon I use to tag my index card. Even the idea for this article came from one of these iconic cards. Anything that makes your brain turn on it's bright light can be tagged with this icon.

Checkbox. This is where the To-Do and GTD philosophies live. Every week I tend to pull out one card and start listing all the things I need to do. I make a square at the top of the corner, and after all the items on the card have been completed, I check the main square off and file the card along with the others in a box.

Open Book. Next to the light bulb, the open book card is my favorite. These cards represent any quotes or web site links or comments that I've found or overheard daily that I wanted to keep as mementos. I tend to collect a lot of fun and interesting quotes over the years and now I can have a special card to put them onto that fits into the rest of the thoughts in my head.

I also mark a section of the top of each index card with a line that corresponds to one of the symbols. This way, when I store my index cards in a box, I can easily see the patterns of where my mind focuses on things over time. Sadly, I cannot call this methodology my own, I discovered it at I will say that its been one of the best additions to my productivity toolbox.

Websites or Programs that Use Tags.
It seems like almost every site these days includes some sort of tag tracker. Personally I think this is great as it gives me even more ways to track all the things I write online. Here's just a quick rundown of the sites I use to tag ideas with and some new applications to watch if you're interested in seeing the power of tagging and what it can do to show you what you find important. Be warned, most of my penchant for applications are mostly on the Macintosh side, as that's my platform of choice. However, barring that... I also love web applications so I can keep track of things at home AND at work.

43Things: 43Things is a fun social project that allows you to publicly share your goals. You create an account, list all your goals, both frivolous and life-changing and then track the process using blog postings. Anything goes on this site, post your desire of buying a house or how you want to level a world of warcraft toon to 70 level. It also allows you to help cheer on others on their own goals. One of the first sites to use tagging, bills itself as a social bookmarking site. This site allows you to store all your website bookmarks in one easy to access online place. I recently just started getting back into this habit and it's become one of my favorite tagging sites. Instead of emailing myself a link and commentary on a site I want to maybe keep for later, I can quickly press a button that opens up a window that contains the page name, URL and then gives me the option to write that note to myself, give tags and denote whether or not I want to share it with the world or horde the link to myself.

Punakea: I just discovered this one while writing this article. It's a Mac OS X only application that allows you to tag everything on your computer. This is from their website "Punakea is a little app trying to help you cope with the day-to-day struggle of managing your files. Designed to complement Spotlight, it allows you to tag your files and bookmarks, freeing you of the strict hierarchy of the Finder's folder structure." I plan on installing this soon so I can see just how well it corrals my files on my Macbook to give me an idea of what things I find interesting.

And there you have it, a short and helpful guide to using tags and getting more out of your need to manage and break down thoughts so you can retrieve it later. Tagging is such a interesting aspect of our online culture now that I felt it was an important idea to discuss. It's my hope that you all got something out of this series and understood what I was trying to communicate. If you have any additional questions, tag tips or comments, feel free to include them below. I know I'd love to know what everyone else is doing to tag and track their lives-- online and off.

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Another (Windoze) Program...

For those who use note taking software, a great choice for Windows is Evernote. The free version does all you should need. It allows tagging and is a great way to collate all those miscellaneous notes, website snippets, etc, that you want to save for posterity. There are numerous templates available to let you incorporate your GTD lists, phone messages, and many, many other things nice and neatly. Definately worth a look if you spend time at the computer and aren't totally paper-based.

FYI - A similar program for Mac is Notetaker - not free though.

[Edited 2/01/07 to fix Evernote link. --JE]



Tiddlywiki is also awesome for keeping snippets of info. I actually have started using GTDTiddlyWikiPlus for a project at work because it's got tagging, hyperlinking, printing, and basic formatting in a really easy package. The GTD variant was set up to specifically handle a GTD methodology, but you can use it for anything that involves disparate bits of info searchable and cross-referenced. Very handy for brainstorming.

I love the fact that you can tell it something you want to link to in the future, and it's got a separate display style for those things you haven't created yet. That is, if I know I want to write a page about "BrainStorming" I just put the word in wherever it logically fits (example: list of idea-gathering techniques tiddler) and it will display in Italic font until I create the "BrainStorming" page with real data. It's a reminder--"Hey, you haven't finished this thought yet!" I love that!

Like Evernote, TiddlyWiki is an everything-in-one-file solution. Just keep good backups. :) Unlike Evernote, if you send someone your file, they can read it with a browser instead of having to download and install something.


Yes, but can it...

I'll admit very little tiddly experience - I've looked but don't quite "get it" yet. :-)

My impression was that tiddlywikis were text only, is that correct? Evernote does let you store pics right inline if you have the need/desire. Many don't, I suppose.

Also, if you don't share you notes, then the browser hing isn't an issue either.


More Tiddlywiki Info

I use Tiddly wiki on my thumbnail drive to carry information to and from work. It allows me to write down articles, stories and other snippets throughout the day when I need to writer more than an index card's worth of information. Just before I got my fulltime job, I spend a few days fiddling with the settings and learning how to customize it. It's a nifty little application but I know it doesn't replace my pen and paper capture methods.

However, this all-in-one web page, while somewhat customizable, can only store text. Which is fine for me as I do more with text than images in a day. I do wonder... if you were to link an image in via HTML, if that would work for keeping images? of course, the image you want to add to it, needs to stay on the thumb drive or in the same folder as your tiddlywiki.


Tiddly and Images


Yes, Tiddlywiki will accept images. But they're separate files, not included in the HTM page itself. That is, if there's a pic on your hard drive or the internet you like, you can put a link into a tiddler that allows the image to be displayed in the tiddler. But if you emailed the tiddly file to someone else and the image was on your hard drive, the link would be broken when it got to the other person.

Putting the image in the same directory with the tiddly file, then carrying the entire directory on your thumb drive would allow you to bring images with you.

But if you link to an image on the internet, the link will still work from place to place as long as you have connectivity.

Always caveats.


Tiddlywiki, Evernote, and

Tiddlywiki, Evernote, and Punakea eh?

These 'programs' are all foreign to me... I will have to do a little research one of these days. Is there a good place to find a tutorial or the like? (I use windoze too ;P)

PS. I've discovered a plethora of online list managers ... and I mean tons. Seems like getting organized is the new "IN" thing.

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I know Tiddly and Evernote both include tutorials within the file/program itself. So when you grab a copy/install it, you've got instructions.

Not sure about Punakea, never used that one.


What exactly do you use

What exactly do you use Tiddy and Evernote for? Lists? Brainstorm? or pretty much every aspect of GTD?

I guess I am slow this morning. >.<

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I use tiddlywiki to keep track of appointments, journal entries, diy planner article drafts, tarot insights, spells and rituals (i'm pagan so please don't hold this against the site. it doesn't share my view), etc.

Anything that i cannot fit onto a index card and cannot write it down in 2 minutes but want to save it, I put it here. If it's from a website, i also copy the link. (These days, however, i seem to just skip the copy paste. i use to save the page and annotate why i saved the link and what i need to do to it).

I haven't really used tiddlywiki consistently. It was a life saver last summer when my beloved Macbook went into the shop for motherboard replacement (2x) and I went around day to day without my system.



I see... its for people who are busier than I am... I guess I have a pretty simply life now that I have been "De-Corporate-ized." A couple years ago that would probably have come in VERY handy.

Thank you for the clarifications and the great articles~!

((and I have the view "to each his/her own" ... ♥))

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Right now I'm using Tiddlywiki to brainstorm what will be needed for a new piece of software. When I get a thought about what it needs to do, I create a tiddler. Each one thought tends to lead to five or six others. Example: To do action A, you need to have rights level B, and you need to navigate to screen C and press button D. So I'm writing Tiddler A to define action A, but I'm also going to write Tiddler B, C, and D to define those other things too. In index card language, A, B, C, and D would be separate index cards that would refer to one another for more information.

So, that's a use--a project that has multiple parts. I might use it to project-manage the sale of my house and the purchase of a new house. I have a bunch of actions that I need to complete--some of them are prerequisites for one another, but not all. So I might brainstorm a Tiddler called "Clean Up Old House" that has all the misc actions we need to do--patching holes, touching up paint, etc. And I'd have another Tiddler called "Buy New House" that has stuff in it like Get a Realtor, Look at Houses, Pick One, Negotiate Price, Get Inspection, Close, etc.

Since GTDTiddlyWikiPlus is easy to print to 3x5 cards, I can use this to generate ideas that get printed and incorporated into my planner.

I might keep a file just for my Christmas planning next year--the people I have to buy for, what they like, if they've said anything about what they wanted through the year, what I gave them last year..

You don't necessarily have to be busy to use it, you just have to have a need that maybe isn't suited as well to a straight up list. Someday-Maybe would fit into something like this pretty well.


Sara, I don't see it for


I don't see it for "its for people who are busier than I am" per se. Cos no matter what I do in my life, my brain is constantly kicking ideas out so I need to constantly get it out or feel "overwhelmed" by it all.

I guess it's an ancillary tool to use when you need a page to capture thoughts down and do not want to be caught perusing the web on company time or just want a portable thought box to go with you no matter where you go.



I guess I do more than I gave myself credit for.

I tend to use paper... at work I keep a 5 subject notebook for my task list. We have work order forms that I fill out for every job... so that is my "project" catcher... I'm a doodler and a jotter... paper is my best friend. :D

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Punekea is a brand new Mac OS X application that I uncovered the DAY I was posting my Part 1 article. It basically allows you to tag your files. That's it. It doesn't have a In-box like Evernote or even let you make entries like Tiddlywiki. All it does is mark your items with tags so that you can see which things you have preference over. I like this idea as I don't want to limit my in-box to one single application, even though my account is FILLED with Personal Information Managers (PIMs) that I'd love to try.

I'm sure that Punekea has a manual, or help files either online or in the application itself. Thing is, I haven't had the time to install it and play with it yet. I guess I should do this this week.


A few more tools

Two programs which I use, which may or may not fit this category: Notebook (by Circus Ponies) - very much like Notetaker; and Sticky Brain, which is sort of a "stickies on steroids". Notebook does keep track of tags; don't think Sticky Brain does. But both are great at collecting notes, clippings, images, etc.
And both are Mac (only?) programs.


Just a correction on the last entry - Stickybrain has been changed to SOHO Notes, and was created by Chronos (