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My Personal Pensieve

Have you ever been jealous of a wizard? Well, I was jealous of Albus Dumbledore, the wise and mighty headmaster of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series. But my jealousy was not for his wisdom or power, but for a certain gadget he owned: The Pensieve.

Ever since I read about the Pensieve in the Harry Potter novels, I have been fascinated. The Pensieve allowed Albus Dumbledore to take an important thought that was going through his mind and physically place it in the Pensieve. Later, he could return to the Pensieve and revisit all of his stored thoughts. What a tremendous relief! No more lost thoughts, no more fear of forgetting something important!
From the moment I learned about pensieves, I knew I wanted one. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to make them anymore…

Every day, during my work day and in my personal projects, I feel the need to store my thoughts. Many thoughts arise whether I am working on a project, talking on the phone, or sitting in a meeting. I often feel that an important thought might slip through the net in the course of a normal working day.

I have been a practitioner of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) method for many years. It has been a tremendous boost to my productivity and has given me peace of mind by helping me to work on all my ongoing projects in parallel, knowing that nothing will fall through the cracks.
Over the years, I have adapted the method to my personal needs, tweaking it and experimenting with various ideas and tools to find the ideal workflow for me.

One of my recent tweaks was to find a way to have something similar to a Pensieve for my own personal use.
And I found it in the combination of the idea of the In Basket from GTD and the note-taking application Joplin.

David Allen’s idea of the In Basket is that every piece of incoming information should end up in the In Basket. From there, you review it and decide what to do with it: Is it something you don’t need? Throw it away. Is it something you need to do? If so, either do it now if it is a quick task, or save it to your to-do list for later. And if you just need it for reference, put it in a place where you can find it when you need it.
For me, this system works very well with Microsoft Outlook, where every email goes into my Inbox first. Several times a day I go through my In Basket and decide for each email whether to make it a todo (I can make it a todo in Outlook), save it for later in an Outlook folder system, or just throw it away.
As well as email, there is a lot of other information and tasks that come in every day, such as ideas that pop up when I chat with a coworker or notes from a meeting.

This is where Joplin comes in. It is a free note-taking application that runs on all major platforms and can sync between them. It features a Markdown editor as well as the ability to import and export Markdown files.

Combining Joplin and the In Basket idea, I finally found my personal Pensieve.
In my Joplin notebook, I have a folder at the top of my folder structure that I call “Pensieve”. This is where I put every piece of information that pops up throughout the day.
If I am in a meeting, I quickly open a new note in the Pensieve folder and put my personal meeting minutes there.
Later, a colleague stops by and we chat about this and that. But something my colleague said rings a bell somewhere in the back of my head. I quickly pop up a note in my pensieve and put the thought there. Who knows what it might be good for.
Then I dive into a new task that just came up, like an important bug fix. I fire up another note and start jotting down everything I need to do. With Markdown, this is easy because I can create bulleted lists and even little checkboxes by just typing a few characters. As I work on the bug, I gather more information, links to other issues, snippets of code that are relevant. I just put it all in my note and leave it there.

Just by putting everything that comes up in a working day into my personal Pensieve, I feel a great sense of relief that my thoughts and ideas are captured in a place where they will not get lost.
But this is only part of the process. Following the ideas of Getting Things Done, I must also empty my Pensieve on a regular basis. If I do not, it will overflow. This creates its own kind of stress because it looks like a deep pile of clutter that I am afraid to touch.
Once a day, usually in the morning, I sit down and go through the notes in my Pensieve to see what to do with them.
I go through all the notes. Sometimes they are just meeting minutes, which I keep in a special meeting minutes folder in Joplin. Sorted by date, I can easily retrieve them when I need them.
Some meeting minutes are related to an ongoing project of mine. I then add the minutes to my notes for that project.
From time to time, I find thoughts that I need to act on. Maybe I was assigned a to-do in a meeting. I find it in the meeting minutes and add it to my to-do list in Outlook.
Other thoughts may not be immediate todos, but they could spark a new project. I then create a new note for the project and jot down some thoughts. In another article I describe how I manage these projects using Getting Things Done and Joplin.
Finally, some thoughts that seemed important at the moment are not important at all in the light of the new day. I just delete them.

Since I have adopted the idea of a “personal Pensieve”, my productivity has taken another leap forward. At the same time, I experience even less stress knowing that all my thoughts are stored in a place where I will never lose them or miss a todo. If you are not a Getting Things Done practitioner, I encourage you to give it a try. And if you are already a practitioner of GTD, I hope my ideas for a personal Pensieve will help you further improve your productivity, as it has for me.

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