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How to Consume Your Digital Information More Efficiently

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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.

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    (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 November 25, 2021

    Protecting Your Online Life With Secure Passwords

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    Protecting Your Online Life With Secure Passwords

    With all of the recent online services and companies falling under attack to hackers in the past few months, it seems only fitting to talk about password creation and management. There are a lot of resources out there discussing this, but it never hurts to revisit this topic time and again because of its importance.

    Password management isn’t necessarily a difficult thing to do, yet it does seem like a bit of an annoyance to most people. When it comes to password management, you will hear the famous line, “I don’t really care about changing my passwords regularly. I have nothing important online anyways.” Let’s see if you have nothing important online when your PayPal account gets taken over because you thought the password “password” was good enough.

    In my opinion, it is an “internet user’s” responsibility to make sure that they keep secure passwords and update them on a regular basis. In this article we will discuss how to make your online presence more secure and keep it secure.

    The easy fundamentals

    First thing is first; creating a strong password.

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    A strong password is a mixture of alpha-numeric characters and symbols, has a good length (hopefully 15 characters or longer), and doesn’t necessarily represent some word or phrase. If the service you are signing up for doesn’t allow passwords over a certain length, like 8 characters, always use the maximum length.

    Here are some examples of strong passwords:
    * i1?,2,2\1′(:-%Y
    * ZQ5t0466VC44PmJ
    * mp]K{ dCFKVplGe]PBm1mKdinLSOoa (30 characters)

    And not so good examples
    * sammy1234
    * password123
    * christopher

    You can check out PC Tools Password Generator here. This is a great way to make up some very strong passwords. Of course the more random passwords are harder to remember, but that is where password management comes into play.

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    Managing your passwords

    I know some people that keep their passwords in an unencrypted text file. That’s not a good idea. I suppose that if you aren’t doing much online and are decent at avoiding viruses and such, it could be OK, but I would never recommend it.

    So, where do you keep your strong passwords for all the services that you visit on a daily basis?

    There are a ton of password safes out there including KeePass, RoboForm, Passpack, Password Safe, LastPass, and 1Password. If and when I recommend any of these I always count on LastPass and 1Password.

    Both LastPass and 1Password offer different entry types for online services logins (PayPal, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, etc.), credit cards and bank accounts, online identities, and other types of sensitive information. Both have excellent reviews and only differ in a few subtle ways. One of the ways that is more notable is that LastPass keeps your encrypted password Vault online where 1Password allows you to keep it locally or shared through Dropbox. Either way, you are the holder of the encryption keys and both ways are very secure.

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    LastPass and 1Password both offer cross-platform support as well as support for Android and iOS (LastPass even has BlackBerry support). 1Password is a little pricey ($39.99 for either Windows or Mac) where LastPass has free options as well as premium upgrades that allow for mobile syncing.

    Upkeep

    You should probably change your passwords for your “important” accounts at least every 6 weeks. When I say “important” accounts I am referring to ones that you just couldn’t imagine losing access to. For me that would be Gmail, PayPal, eBay, Amazon, all my FTP accounts and hosting accounts, Namecheap, etc. Basically these include any account where financial information could be lost or accessed as well as accounts that could be totally screwed up (like my webserver).

    There is no hard and fast rule to how often you should change your passwords, but 6 to 8 weeks should be pretty good.

    Alternatives

    You may think that all of this is just too much to manage on a daily basis. I will admit it is kind of annoying to have to change your passwords and use a password manager on a daily basis. For those people out there that don’t want to go through all of the hub-bub of super-secure, encrypted, password management, here are a few tips to keep you safe:

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    1. Create a unique and hard to guess “base password” and then a pattern to use for each site you logon onto. For instance a base password could be “Ih2BaSwAa” (this stands for “I have two brothers and sisters who are annoying”). Then you would add something “site specific” to the end of it. For Twitter Ih2BaSwAaTWTTR, Facebook Ih2BaSwAaFCBK, etc. This is sort of unsecure, but probably more secure than 99% of the passwords out there.
    2. Don’t write your passwords down in public places. If you want to keep track of passwords on something written, keep it on you at least. The problem is that if you get your wallet stolen you are still out of luck.
    3. Don’t use the same passwords for every service. I’m not even going to explain this; just don’t do it.

    These are just a few things that can be done rather than keeping your passwords in a management system. Personally, with over 100 entries in my password management system, I couldn’t even dream of doing any other way. But those out there with only a few passwords, having a simpler system may be beneficial.

    So, if you want to be a “responsible internet citizen” or you just don’t want to lose your precious account data, then creating and maintaining strong passwords for your online accounts is a must.

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