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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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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

    Reference

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