As the amount of information that is potentially important to us continues to grow, it’s now more vital than ever to be able to process and consume it more efficiently. Here are some tactics to help you become more efficient with your time and information processing.

RSS and keeping up with headlines

If you aren’t an RSS user, you should be. It’s an excellent way to become efficient with your time and a good way to get through a bunch of information to find the important stuff quickly. Only subscribe to sites that inform you directly or entertain you.

According to Clay Johnson in his book “The Information Diet”, we should be consuming information that is as close to the source as possible, then researching if it is something that we need to know.

This is a good way to approach the RSS feeds that you follow. For instance, the tech/gadget sites I follow are The Verge, Engadget, and CNET’s main feed. This gives me a nice pool of headlines to scan during the day. I spend about 15 minutes every 2 – 3 hours scanning the new headlines. If I see something I want to follow up on I star it. If it is something that is a longer piece that I want to read, I send it to Instapaper to read later.

When following up with a starred headline, I will do a search for the topic and see what some pundits and other outlets are saying about it. Then if I see something that is worth reading, I will throw it in Instapaper for later. Also, if I come across some sort of reference article that I will want to consult later, I send it to Evernote and archive it.

Later in the evening I spend no more than 30 minutes consuming my Instapaper queue. This whole process takes up about 1.25 – 1.5 hours per day.

Clearing out your inbox

Some people think that clearing out your inbox is all about doing everything that is in your inbox. This isn’t the case at all. You clear out your inbox to find the work that needs to be done and then put it in a place that you can do later, throughout your day.

My process is what David Allen suggests:

  1. Read the first email in your inbox and ask yourself, “is this actionable?”
  2. If it is and it will take 2 minutes or less (replying to a simple question, setting up a quick meeting, etc.) then do it. If there is followup to the email, put the sent email in an “@waiting” folder.
  3. If it is actionable and will take more than 2 minutes, put it in an “@action” folder and track the task in your task application.
  4. If it is reference, archive it away.

This process keeps you up on what you need to do and helps you identify any action you need to take that has come through in the form of email. I get a lot of email between work, Lifehack, and personal stuff (about 100 emails a day). Even with that load it still only takes me about 15 – 30 minutes a day to keep up with it.

Social networks, forums, and groups

Keeping up with all of your hundreds of “friends” can be daunting and even annoying. This is one of the reasons that I still don’t have a Facebook account and am still apprehensive of using things like Google+ to their full extent. I feel that social networking can sometimes be a bit of a time-suck. But, you can still be efficient with it.

Only friend and follow people that matter to you. While using Twitter, one can get pretty carried away with their number of followers. It’s important to keep them down to a minimum. Only follow people that bring you important information and that keep you entertained. Oh, and of course follow your friends.

Try to treat social networks and groups the same way you would email and RSS:

  1. Go through the information quickly.
  2. Anything that you can quickly share or comment on, do it while you are scanning your feeds.
  3. Anything that will take some time to comment on or create, track it in your task list and set discrete time during the day to take care of it.

You don’t have to be like a robot with social networks though. There is nothing at all wrong with trolling forums, Twitter, and Facebook every so often. Just don’t make a habit of it. You’ve got more important things to do, right?

Conclusion

Information “overload” is here to stay. There is no stopping it. So, rather than be a luddite and unplug completely, use these tips to keep up with what is important to you and the things that you need to get done in a more efficient way. If you follow a routine of combing the information that has made its way to your life’s inbox, you can keep up with it and handle it effectively.

(Photo credit: A technology man has images around his head via Shutterstock)

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