If you’ve been using GTD or any other sort of task management system, on occasion you end up with an item in your inbox that makes you go “well… uh… what am I supposed to do with this?”
They kind of look like this:
Item 1 is obviously an action that needs to be scheduled with a start and due date. Item 2 is a calendar item, which should go straight in your schedule. Item 3 is… well, it’s information. It’s something that may have value down the road, but isn’t immediately actionable. What you need to do is file it in a repository of information – what we’re going to call your “personal wiki”.
What Goes in There
Before we get into the how-to of a personal wiki, let’s take a look at what you put in there. The most obvious are the bits of information like the wine recommendations from above. Essentially, your personal wiki is supposed to hold any information you may need for future reference – it’s what Gina Trapani calls your “personal wikipedia”.
Beyond the not-so-descriptive “information”, here are some other things that I’ve found fit inside of a personal wiki:
These are things like the procedure your building manager requires you to go through to file a maintenance request, or which mechanic to call when you need to have your car repaired. These are simple step-by-step procedures that you have to do every now and then but that you don’t need to commit to memory. This can also be things like cooking recipes.
Life Scripts and Processes
These are the internal versions of procedures – they are “life scripts” for things like how to go get out of an overly emotional state (e.g., go for a walk with earphones and some calming music), how to get into a productive state (e.g., count back from 30). These are little shortcuts or sets of steps that you’ve found that help you run and govern you life and emotional state, that you can come back to when you need them.
I’m an avid note taker – whenever I watch something or read something, I find myself taking notes. These notes go into my personal wiki.
General Life Information
Everyone has general life information related to their finances, their health, their relationships. These can also go into your personal wiki (though it may be better to lock away sensitive information in a program like 1password).
What Doesn’t Go In There
- Your journal.
- Your to-do list.
- Your calendar or schedule.
- Files and attachments (I’ll outline the exceptions below).
The Asian Efficiency application of choice for a simple personal wiki is VoodooPad. It’s essentially a simple application for the Mac that creates a .vpdoc file, which is a collection of interlinked rich text files. An equivalent application for Windows would be ZuluPad.
Some people recommend using more complex applications for a wiki, such as setting up your own MediaWiki install on a server (what Wikipedia runs on), but we don’t recommend it for most people. The simple reason is that 1) web-based wikis are usually fairly complicated to set up, and 2) having your personal data online somewhere makes it instantly less secure. With VoodooPad, you can be up and running in a matter of minutes and have all your data stored locally.
Note: Voodoopad is not a true database with the ability to store files and rich media – it’s simply a structured text documents. You can drag and drop in text and images without too many problems, and you can link to external files too (as aliases), but we wouldn’t recommend it. If you need something for storing lots of files, we would recommend Evernote or DevonThink as alternatives (to be covered in a future AE article!)
Update: Gus (the developer of VoodooPad) has pointed out that you can option-drag items into VoodooPad and they’ll be saved as individual pages. So there you go – you can use VoodooPad as a full-fledged database after all!
Here’s what a new VoodooPad document looks like.
To start our personal wikis, we should add some basic sections to the Index page (think of this as the homepage for your wiki):
Notes for these areas of life should sit under each respective section. The way that VoodooPad works is through page linking. So you simply select a word (“anchor”), and click Link and it creates a new page that links from the old one. As you go through and add information to your wiki, VoodooPad will automatically create links to pages that already exist in your document.
What you want to do is add information to your personal wiki slowly over time. There is no need to rush ahead and put everything in there – you want your document to slowly evolve and change as bits and pieces of information enter your everyday life and you feel that they need to be stored.
- Grab a copy of Voodoopad or ZuluPad.
- Start a new document as your personal wiki.
- Fill it in over time, as you need it.
- Sync it to your smartphone and take it everywhere with you.
- Use a voodoopad/zulupad document as more than just a personal wiki – use it for any sort of structured documentation.
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I’m fairly sure I will learn a lot of new stuff proper right here!
Best of luck for the following!
Been wondering about your agile workflow for a bit now. Sorry to split hairs but could you go through explicitly why you use VoodooPad for this and not Evernote?
Aren’t you tempted to just represent your wiki sections as individual notebooks in an Evernote stack since you’re already in Evernote for your journal? Maybe I’m oversimplifying but adding this stack to the shortcut panel would give a similar situation without having to manage another application.
Do you really benefit that much from having a hyperlinked wiki? Don’t you still have to search for things in VoodooPad once it gets big enough?
I’m trying VoodooPad a little bit now to see if I’m missing something but thought I’d get in touch to see what you had to say about it.
Hi, im looking for a tool like voodoopad but that you manage online. Any idea?
Something like Confluence could work.
I like the theory behind a personal wiki but would like some help applying it to my home filing system? I’m still trying to conquer paper whilst things slowly go digital.
I use Bento to store all of my reference information. It is a personal database system built for Macs and has a lot of great templates that give great topic-specific UIs to the database. Highly recommend it for a “personal wiki” option. Am curious why you suggested VoodooPad over it.
Because of simplicity. VoodooPad is great for creating simple structured text files consisting of multiple documents. If the majority of your wiki contents are text, then it’s awesome.
If not, we usually recommend DevonThink or Evernote. I’ve never used Bento personally but I suppose that could work too.
A question here: Why shouldn’t we include Journal in personal wiki since it can be a part of our reference?
You technically can but from our experience it gets really messy within VoodooPad. With all the interlinking going on and such, it’s best to do journaling elsewhere.
Also, creating pages with dates is not a neat solution.
I just started using Evernote, but I didn’t really have a solid idea about what I was going to use it for — basically, I’ve been using it as my personal wiki in a kind of blind, groping way, without really intending to do so. This post just crystallized in my mind how I can use it in a very productive way. Thanks!
No problem Rob, glad our stuff is useful to you.
Thanks for this post, it helped get me thinking & convinced me to start using the system you mentioned. Keep more good posts coming!
Not that I tried Voodopad, but for those kinds of things I handle with Evernote. Made it my personal knowledge dashboard:
I am glad that there are alternatives though.
Thanks for the review! (I’m the guy who wrote VoodooPad). I’m curious about this part though:”Note: Voodoopad is not a true database with the ability to store files and rich media – it’s simply a structured text documents. You can drag and drop in text and images without too many problems, and you can link to external files too, but we wouldn’t recommend it.”Why not? VoodooPad can store images, movies, and even other applications as separate pages (hold down the option key when dragging + dropping them in). And it does use a database to store all the linking (sqlite). I’ve got test documents with thousands of pages in them as well. I can’t think of any reason why you couldn’t store lots of files in it.
I didn’t realise that you could option-drag items into VoodooPad! I was referring more to creating aliases to external files sitting on your hard drive – tried that in the past and it got really messy when I started moving files (on the drive) around, and had to recreate aliases in VoodooPad. I’ve updated the article with your suggestion =)