The reasonable man standard, tagging edition


You and I have things to keep track of: information, ideas, tasks, projects, reference material, and more. No matter where we keep this information, we need a system that allows us to find it when we need it.

We might use tags, notebooks, folders or labels. We might keep paper lists or use apps and rely on search. No matter what system we use, it’s a good idea to periodically review and update that system.

And that’s what this reasonable man is doing.

If you’d like to join me for a little spring cleaning of your tags, here are some thoughts that might help.

First, tagging isn’t something we can set and forget. It will always be a work in progress. Right now, you may have too many tags (folders, notebooks, etc.) and need to cut them down to size. Too many tags and things get messy and hard to use. You’re not sure if you found what you want because you’re not sure you clicked or searched the right tag(s).

But there’s also the danger of under-tagging. This can keep you from finding things in a reasonable amount of time.

We’re looking for balance. Not too hot, not too cold.

Start by making a list of tags you want to continue using, or start using, in the following categories:

  • Class (task, project, reference, archival)
  • Context (people, places, tools, time, conditions–calls, emails, agendas, waiting for)
  • Dates (start, review, due)
  • Status (investigation, open, filed, settled, closed, active, in progress)
  • Actions (to do, to read, to write, to decide, to review, to buy, to contact)

You could have more categories. Or fewer. But this list should get you started.

Set up some “rules” for yourself, that keep you from over- or under-tagging, and to make your tags more useful.

I don’t tag every name, for example, just the people I know personally and am likely to connect with again.

Decide what your tags will look like. Will you use small letters or upper-and-lower? One word, hyphens or underscores, or spaces? Once you choose, be consistent.

Eliminate duplicates, consolidate plurals and variants (spelling, aliases). Write a style sheet and keep it handy.

Experiment. Try different words, different ways. Look at what other people do for ideas. Keep track of your changes so you can easily change back if you want to.

Finally, prune your garden often. Doing it every few months instead of every few years will be easier and keep your system running smoothly.

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