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How to Consume Your Digital Information More Efficiently

How to Consume Your Digital Information More Efficiently

    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.

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    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.

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    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:

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    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.

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    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)

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on September 16, 2019

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

    We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

    The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

    Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

    1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

    Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

    For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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    • (1) Research
    • (2) Deciding the topic
    • (3) Creating the outline
    • (4) Drafting the content
    • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
    • (6) Revision
    • (7) etc.

    Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

    2. Change Your Environment

    Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

    One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

    3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

    Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

    Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

    My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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    Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

    If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

    Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

    I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

    5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

    I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

    Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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    As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

    6. Get a Buddy

    Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

    I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

    7. Tell Others About Your Goals

    This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

    For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

    8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

    What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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    9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

    If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

    Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

    10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

    Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

    Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

    11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

    At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

    Reality check:

    I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

    More About Procrastination

    Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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