Self Improvement

My KMS – Collecting Information

A photo by Aaron Burden.

KMS (Knowledge Management System) has never been a static system. As my workflow changes and more suitable Apps appear, my KMS will change accordingly.

That’s why I decided to elaborate on how I implement knowledge management, which includes my workflows, apps I am using and apps I have ever used, thoughts and questions. It will help me to remember all my efforts on KMS improvement, and, hopefully, help other people who are interested in KMS too.

The whole article will be split into three parts:

  • Part 1: Collecting Information
  • Part 2: Processing and Organizing
  • Part 3: Output
  • Appendix

Difference between Collection and Inbox

I understand that the concept “Inbox” is technically the same as “Collection,” because “Inbox” is a “Collection” of information. But I have made a slight difference between them.

I define “Inbox” as “A Storage in where all information should be processed in a daily basis .”

For example, I am using Scanner Pro as a collecting tool, but it is not an inbox. Because if a scanned document needs to be processed or just save for further reference, I will immediately export it to DTPO (DEVONthink Pro Office) which is one of my inboxes. Other documents just stay in Scanner Pro for temporary storage. By doing so, I only need to process the DTPO inbox daily and never need to clear Scanner Pro.

Clearing the inbox timely is essential. Otherwise, the cumulative information will make me miss important things or just simply let me give up the idea to process my inbox.

It is also imperative to distinguish between ”Inbox” tools and “Collecting” tools. The number of inbox tools should keep as less as possible because too many inboxes will make people difficult for remembering and organizing.

Inbox Apps

Any tool which can gather information is my collecting tool. A real pen and paper are also my collecting tools. However, in this article, I mainly focus on Apps.

My common sources of information are as follows:

  • Social media messages and shares.
  • RSS.
  • Web pages.
  • Articles.
  • e-Books.
  • Emails.
  • Electronic and paper documents.
  • Tasks.
  • Instant notes and ideas.

Accordingly, there are two types of information needs to be collected to inbox: Documents and Todos. After trying bounty of Apps, my current inbox Apps are:

  • DEVONthink Pro Office.
    • For Web Pages, Documents, Pictures, Videos, etc.
    • DTPO is my central storage. Almost all collected information will go there after processing. (Will be elaborated on Part II)
  • Evernote
    • For Extracts, Instant notes and ideas, Business Cards.
  • Instapaper
    • Read Later for Web Pages, RSS articles, WeiChat Official Accounts Articles, etc.
  • Things
    • For Todo Actions.

Workflows for Collecting Information to Inbox

Instant Notes and Ideas

The key point of recording instant notes is “Quick”, so I will use everything I can grab immediately to write down the ideas. For example, I will use Notability for shorthand if I got iPad and Apple Pencil, or use Evernote while I have a Phone. Sometimes pen and paper.

There is a lot of apps can be used for quick notes. It does not matter which one you are using, just need to make sure that there is only one app for quick note purpose on each device. Otherwise, the idea might slip when you were choosing from several similar Apps.

After noting down the ideas, I will transfer the note to my inboxes immediately. If it is a task, I will create a Todo item on Things. Otherwise, it will go to Evernote inbox and wait for the further process.

Several months ago, I was using Drafts for quick notes and using DTPO as a universal Inbox. Now I am using an Android Phone, so Evernote turns to my favorite App for quick notes. I have created a notebook named “@inbox” in Evernote and all my instant notes and ideas come to this notebook while I have my phone on hand. I have to say that there is a little bit trouble while using an Android Phone together with an iPad and a Mac, maybe I would change back to iPhone if I did not need the dual sim card and solid DAC anymore.

Handwriting Notes

After buying almost all top rated note Apps in App Store, I only keep Notability. I knew I have written an article which said that I was using GoodNotes every day. The reason why I changed to Notability is that I decided to keep only one App for each category, and currently, the feature for audio recording is a must for me.

Regardless whichever Apps I am using, I treat it as a real paper. When something I need to note immediately, I write down it and then move it to my Inboxes, such as Things or Evernote. After that, I strike the note or delete this page, just like throw out the paper.

It is important to transfer the handwriting notes to related Inbox, for instance, creating to-do items on Things and organize others notes on Evernote or DTPO. This is because handwriting notes are difficult to search even some Apps support handwriting to text conversion. If I did not process these notes timely, I would forget which note has useful information after several days.


Email Client is not one of my inboxes because I process incoming emails instantly after each Pomodoro. Always keeping email inbox empty is important to me. I will quickly read new emails and decide whether to archive it, delete it, create a todo item or drop to DTPO.

Web Pages from Web Sites, Social Media, RSS Feeds, and so on

After scanning these Web Pages, there are two destinations for them:

  • Read Later – Send to InstapaperI have used OneNote for some days to capture and read Web Pages. Comparing with Instapaper, OneNote has an extension for WeChat, the most popular social media App in China, which makes it is very easy to capture an article from WeChat to OneNote. Beside this, OneNote support annotating a captured Page, handwriting notes and export the Page as PDF.Although OneNote is a powerful App, I finally go to Instapaper for following reasons:

    – Better clutter-free style and read experience.

    – iOS Instapaper supports exporting notes as HTML, Plain Text and Markdown. This is perfect for organizing excerpts.

    – A reading center will simplify my workflow.

    – It’s easy to create a workflow for transferring archived articles to DTPO through Pinboard.

  • Related to My Current Projects – Send to DTPOFor research projects, I need to collect various materials including Web Pages, Documents, Papers, and Pictures. DTPO is a perfect App for managing a variety of files.There are following situations while capturing web pages to DTPO:
    • On Mac
      • It is easy, just clip the page to DTPO as PDF or Web Archive.
    • On iOS Device
      • Thanks to iOS 11, web pages opened by Safari can convert to PDF and annotate instantly. After that, the PDF can be imported to DEVONthink To Go. (DTTG). Also, the Web Page can share to DTTG directly as Web Archive.
    • On Windows or Linux
      • I will convert the document to PDF such as “Print to PDF” and save them to a Cloud storage, for example, Onedrive://tempfolder. On my Mac, There is a folder action which attached to Onedrive://tempfolder for automatically importing files to the DTPO inbox.
    • On Android Device
      • There is not an easy way for clipping web pages to DTPO on Android. So I just simply consider them as “reading later” and send them to Instapaper. It is OK for me because I seldom do research on a Cell Phone.

Regarding Reading Later

I have used Instapaper as a read later App for several months until I found that Instapaper became a “Read Never” App. Unread articles keep accumulative in Instapaper. Now I define Instapaper as my Inbox App, which means that processing all articles and making the home screen of Instapaper empty become one of my daily goals.

Paper Documents

  • Scanner Pro
    • I am using Scanner Pro for scanning books and documents which need to edit, annotate and archive.
    • Set Scanner Pro Sync to iCloud.
    • On my Mac, I have attached a Folder action which can auto import new documents on Scanner Pro folder in iCloud Drive to DTPO. So the scanned documents can enter into my DTPO inbox automatically.
    • After importing, the scanned documents are still kept on my iPad or iPhone. I do not remove them because it makes me easier modify them, such as changing them to Color Documents or Photos.
  • Evernote.
    • I am using Evernote because it supports Android devices, and it also supports business card recognition.


  • For brief Reading, Kindle is the perfect device. After reading a book, I will export Notes to HTML from the Kindle App and save these notes to Workflowy. In this scenario, Workflowy is not an inbox but the storage for all my reading notes.
    • The reason why I use Kindle App instead of Kindle Device to export notes is that only the Kindle App can export notes to HTML format.
  • For intensive Reading, I use MaginNote Pro and export notes to both Workflowy and DTPO.


All todos can simply add to Things by Share extension or “eMail to Things”.

Above is my major workflows for collecting information. Clearing inboxes daily will greatly help me to reduce anxiety in this era of information explosion. If someday I found I cannot finish processing all these information, it would be a signal that I spend insufficient time on processing or I have too many information sources, which means I need to make some changes on my workflows.

Collecting is the first and easiest step for knowledge management. Next time I will describe how to processing and organizing this information in order not to turn my hard drive into a landfill.