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Published on 25 September 2008

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Murphy’s Law

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The most important (and hardest) part of writing a blog is to be up to date and provide some insight on a topical and critical issue.

Easier said than done. However, some years ago I learnt a little trick which helps.

Before I let you in on the secret, let me tell you a story I remember from my childhood.

It concerns a traveller who trudged through the villages of Poland in the early 16th century. The villages were pretty isolated and usually separated by large tracts of forest. The hero came to a village that he had never visited before, and as he was leaving the uninhabited forest, approaching civilization, he noticed a range of trees, each with a target painted onto the bark. In the dead centre of each target was an arrow.

Wondering who the fancy marksman was, he inquired at the first inn that he came to. He was amazed to learn that the marksman was none other than the village idiot! How did he do it? Simple, they told him, first he shoots the arrows and then he paints the target around them!

That’s how the storyteller works. On reflection, maybe the marksman was the prototype of our modern-day politicians!

So, I collect facts and stories and wait for the appropriate issue to pin it to!  Just in case you think that I am one of those geniuses who remember everything I have read, I am sorry to disappoint you. To this too there is a secret.

Once upon a time, when a pharmacist needed to look into a certain issue, we would go to a university library and perform a literature search. It cost money and took days.

Today, everybody uses the Internet. I find Internet research less than satisfactory; you can never seem to locate something you stumbled across last month completely by accident and desperately need right now. Filing cards and scrap books are, however, a bit out of date and cumbersome, so I have developed a system to enable storage and fast recall of information on my personal computer.

It’s really quite simple, and one of the many good ideas I have picked up from pharmaceutical conferences.

In 2000, I was invited by the AphA to speak in Washington DC at cherry blossom time. As a bonus, I got to fly in via New York and spend some time in the Big Apple. I had forgotten that NY is famous for unexpected spring snowstorms, one of which delayed my flight till 3am.

I arrived at my hotel at 5am, scheduled to speak at 9am. But that little hiccup didn’t spoil the fun.

After my speech, my biggest problem was deciding which lecture to listen to amongst all the parallel sessions, each one more attractive than the next.

One workshop that I determined not to miss at any cost was about the Internet. It concentrated on maximising the benefit derived from this all-important tool, and I picked up oodles of tips. From my point of view, the most significant was how to store information logically, utilising folders. In retrospect, what I learnt is, like all good ideas, simple and obvious. It’s just that I never thought of doing it! It appears, from what I have seen on my travels, that a lot of other people never thought about it either.

We were taught that it is unproductive to pile loads of sites on to your list of favourites. The material just has to be organised. So I started to do exactly that. I use key words for each and every subject under the sun, and then arrange it into major folders, separated into minor folders, making sure to cross-reference between presentations, papers, internet sites and so on, never allowing a folder to fill the screen. If you have to start to move the screen up and down or sideways, then your folder is too large.

All you need to do is name your folders wisely and know how to sub-divide them, and remember to save everything.

It is important to be logical and consistent. Review all your material regularly and any time you come across an interesting item, store it.

Of course, you need to know when its time to get rid of the old junk, but do keep in mind Murphy’s Law: whatever you discard today, you will need tomorrow.



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