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Simplifying Your Information Intake

Simplifying Your Information Intake
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    Productivity. We spend more time reading about it, talking about it, writing about it, thinking about it than actually making it happen. We complicate it with a disjointed system of hacks that don’t really work well together, then we decide to simplify it; every year, every month, it’s a vicious cycle for those of us addicted to the cool-aid of productivity and lifehacking that streams forth from the feed reader.

    But both processes are important, the process of growing, advancing, experiment, complicating your system, and the process of cutting it back, simplifying it, minimalizing it. Experimentation and exploration is when you discover which systems, hacks, tips and tricks work for you. Then, the process of elimination retains what did work and clears out the clutter you picked up along the way.

    One way we can continue to experiment with this ‘productivity’ thing while minimizing the amount of decluttering that needs to occur later on. We do this by simplifying our information intake.

    I focus on email and my feed reader, since these are my main sources of information. Chances are, if you’re the type of person who regularly reads Lifehack, that you get your information the same way.

    Email

    The Empty Inbox: the obvious one. The one you’re probably already doing. Keep your inbox empty by processing emails as follows:

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    1. Responding and archiving,
    2. Reading and archiving,
    3. Reading and deleting,
    4. Ignoring and deleting,
    5. Creating actions and deleting

    The delete and archive buttons are your friends, as is a judicious use of labelling to organize those emails you’ll need later.

    There really is no sense archiving everything. Some people are archive purists. I know at least two people who archive junk mail. Don’t do that.

    If you can create an action (using a to-do list or task manager), take any notes from the email you might need and put them in your task manager or to-do list. Delete the email. You shouldn’t need it, unless it’s mixed with information that’ll be relevant for the future (and only then).

    Here’s another one where people get caught up: responding to every message. If you have nothing to say but “Thanks, I received it,” don’t bother. If there isn’t any really important reason to reply there isn’t any reason to reply at all.

    “Just in case” is a terrible phrase. Eliminate it from your speech, when it comes to email at least. If you think you might need it “just in case” you don’t need it.

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    Learning to process email is one way to cut down your time at the computer immensely.

    Feed Readers

    I use NetNewsWire as my feed reader, and it’s perfect for what I want. It allows me to get through feeds quite quickly.

    I wouldn’t use a web-based feed reader—I don’t know how well they perform on internet connections in other countries, but in Australia, and in my experience, you can expect at a minimum about two to four seconds waiting time between each item. If you take that as an average of three seconds and multiply by the number of unread posts you get in the morning, there’s how many seconds you’ve wasted. For me it would apparently be 7,500 seconds, or 125 minutes – two hours just waiting for feeds to show up.

    I doubt Americans will have this problem, and with ADSL2+ rolling out here it’s probably less of a problem. In any case, it’s a personal preference thing.

    Posting Frequency

    I love Boing Boing, but seriously, read it from your browser.

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    Keep a careful eye on the posting frequency of your feeds and automatically unsubscribe after a certain threshold. Sure, you might find the information useful, but if you’re serious about simplifying your information intake this is the only way to go.

    Subscribe to feeds that have no more than ten posts in a day, but preferably two or three, as a rule of thumb.

    10 Day Trials

    Have a folder in your feed reader called Trials and subscribe new feeds to that folder. Review the feed for ten days, and if you feel you could live without the feed after ten days, unsubscribe.

    The point is not whether the feed is useful, or the content is great. The point is whether you must have that feed as a feed, rather than a site you visit when you want to.

    This is different if you’re a writer, journalist, blogger or some kind of new media professional. Depending on how much you need to write and for how many varying areas, you may not have a choice but to keep saturated in information from those areas and a feed reader is a fantastic way to keep informed about breaking news in your field(s). This is why I have so many feeds.

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    Use the Space Bar

    In many feed readers, the space bar marks a post as read and skips to the next unread post. Let headlines do the talking, and skip those that don’t appeal. That’s what the purpose of a headline is: to inform you of the nature and content of a post.

    Note to bloggers: don’t use clever or cute headlines. Don’t try to be a smart-ass with them. Use keywords and clarity, and if you can tie in a pun, a joke, or some sarcasm without losing that clarity, go ahead. But keyword-based clear headlines are not only going to do well for you in the search engines, but will help you stay in feed readers longer.

    Flags

    My final feed reader tip is the judicious use of flags. Use it sparingly, use it carefully. Reserve it for only the best content that needs to be absorbed later when you have more time, and for content that is going to inform your next actions throughout the day—such as writing a news article.

    Don’t overdo it, try to keep it well below ten flagged items. That said, writers, journalists, bloggers and new media professionals may need to flag more than ten to get all their content research ready.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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