A System for Collecting Information

My personal system for collecting, curating, and injecting information into my spaced repetition practice.

part 4

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First, let’s figure out what kind of things we should save. It’s a pretty subjective thing, but I can share what I do and maybe it will get you thinking about what you might be able to do. 

The way I work is that I get really interested in certain things for fairly short periods of time. I’m the kind of person that can drive my friends nuts with my constant gear shifting. One week I’m really into stock options, and the next I’m learning about Magic the gathering. I rely on spaced repetition to keep these learned items in my mind. If I didn’t, I’d probably have very little to show for my time, as these interests lead to a lot of research and then go dormant for weeks or months at a time. 

I almost never blindly get interested in something… I’ve normally got a goal in mind. That makes it easy for me to identify pieces of information that I should save to Anki — which is normally anything that helps me complete that goal. 

If I were learning a programming language I’d try to save any new pieces of vocabulary, language syntax, common pieces of software or commonly used services, and/or general concepts. Presumably I’d be learning a new programming language so that I could make something with it. That makes it easy to identify things that I’m likely to need to know in order to do that. 

Now that I have that intention set, I’m able to go out and begin collecting information. For me, this looks like finding articles, videos, podcasts, books, or presentations to consume. 

You can’t simply save everything or your system would be no better than Google. 

Secondly, as we discussed previously, you absolutely need to understand the concepts before you get them into Anki. There is no shortcut here, but there are some tools to help you take what you need from a large corpus of content. 

I save all web articles to a read-it-later service called Instapaper. It’s kind of like an upgraded bookmark with an optimized reading experience. It’s available as a desktop browser plugin and a mobile or tablet app. I use both. 

This enables me to highlight anything I find interesting and want to flag to put into Anki. 

I do most of my discovery and saving on the desktop, but most of the actual reading on mobile. 

While I’m reading, I’ll use the highlight feature to save pieces of information that I’d like to add to Anki. 

Later, when I’m back at my computer, I’ll pop into my Instapaper notes and just scroll through and put things into my system. 

That’s a good process for known quantities, but what about things that are likely to pop up in the future? 

To keep up and current, I subscribe to tons of RSS feeds. I’ve tried tons of RSS readers over the years, but my favorite of all of them is Feedly. Feedly allows me to filter out certain keywords (like podcast, or sponsor) and follow Google Alerts or Twitter accounts for keywords. 

There’s a lot to the Feedly service and this doesn’t even scratch the surface. I plan to do a much deeper dive on Feedly sometime in the future. 

I’m able to highlight there too, but again, I largely use Feedly on my desktop and save the articles I actually want to read to Instapaper, where I’ll use the same process as before. 

If there’s a book I want to read specific to whatever learning project I’m working on, I’ll pick it up on Kindle. As you might imagine — I do this so I can use the built in highlights feature. Once I’m done reading and highlighting I can go to the kindle cloud site and review all of the highlights and add them into my system. 

As you can see, my system handles everything from discovery of new content, all the way to flagging certain pieces of information for input into my spaced repetition system. Even if you don’t use my system, whatever you do settle on will need to handle these stages as well. 

In the next video we’re going to learn about Anki. I’ll see you there. 

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I'm a developer, marketer, and writer based in Appleton, Wisconsin.