Additional tools to keep up with information overload

In my last post, I discussed that as a CIO in today’s fast-paced world it has become increasingly difficult to stay on top of all the relevant news and information I need to be successful in my job. I explained how I use Feedly to process hundreds to headlines per day with ease.

Unfortunately, not all content I need to stay on top of my game comes as a RSS feed or the sources do come as RSS feeds but they are to “spamy” to consume that way. So, I use additional digital tools like Apple’s Newsstand & Podcast apps, and Amazon’s Kindle & Audible apps to augment Feedly.

Newsstand

IMG_0011Every morning I read the daily newspapers like Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post on my iPad before I go thru my Feedly feeds. Why? Because the WSJ is the source for business, the NYT is the national paper of record, and the WP is the source for political and world events. With the digital versions I can scan the entire paper in less than 3 minutes and drill down on any stories that interest me. Now, I have all the relevant information from the analog paper world that matters in less than 10 minutes. No way you could do that with the dead trees versions!

Once a week, I scan the weekly magazines like The Economist, BusinessWeek,Time, Newsweek, The Week, GolfWeek and Sports Illustrated to glean the deeper perspective of the stories and issues of the week. Once again, the digital versions of these magazines lend themselves to quickly scanning the headlines and only drilling down on the relevant articles in a way that would be impossible with the analog versions.

On a monthly basis, I scan the Harvard Business Review, Hollywood Reporter, Inc., Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Wired, PC Magazine, PC World, MacLife, Money, Sound & Vision, Golf Digest, Golf, ESPN, Men’s Fitness, Mens Health. Consumer Reports, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Sunset, I3 and Productive magazines to complete my insights on what is going on in the world.

Podcasts

IMG_1267Some content is only available on podcasts so that is how I consume it. Generally, I listed to podcasts in one of two situations. either I am at the gym doing resistance training and stretching, or I am in the car on my daily commute.

There are some wonderful tech podcasts like A16Z, The Cloudcast, Cloud Computing Weekly, Gigaom Structure Show, and McKinsey on High Tech podcasts.

There are also some great business and management podcasts like Manager Tools, Career Tools, On Leadership from the Washington Post and HBR Ideacast.

I like to listen to Freakonomics Radio just to get the weird and humorous side of things.

And finally, I listen to productivity casts like GTD Connect, GTD Virtual Study Group, The Productive Life, Beyond the To-Do List and This is Your Life with Michael Hyatt.

 

Audible

AudibleAudible audiobooks is another way to keep up with “reading” books by listening to them.

I usually listen to audiobooks in the car and really enjoy it. I can fly thru a book relative to reading it because I have  more built-in “listening time” than I do free “reading time” built into my week. Just commuting to work gives me 5 hours a week to listen.

Audible has a great business model where you buy credits and exchange them for books. The net effect of this is you get books that you want to “read” in such a way as to encourage you to get a new book every month. This encourages you to keep listening to new content at a fairly rapid clip in order to use your credits.

Like you would expect from Amazon, Audible does a great job of data analysis from your wish lists and previous purchases from both your Kindle and Audible accounts to recommend titles on sale that you really want.

Kindle

IMG_0012Some books are not available on Audible and are only available on the Kindle. For these types of books and for pleasure reading, I tend to get the Kindle version.

I like the ability to read them on my Kindle Paperwhite reader when I am lying in bed because it is so light or outside in the sunshine when the glare on my iPad makes it difficult to read.

Amazon bought a web site called GoodReads which is a social network for people who love to read. Amazon has done a good job of integrating Audible, Kindle and GoodReads so GoodReads knows about your purchases and can automatically import them.

When I hear about a new book to read I add it to my “To Read” shelf and then when I am ready to read/listen to a new book I just go to GoodReads to see what my next purchase should be. Because it is social, you tend to follow other readers and get recommendations and reviews that enhance the experience. This is one are where the wisdom of the crowd really helps.

The one common thread between Feedly, Newsstand, Podcasts Audible and Kindle is once the content makes the shift from the analog world to the digital world, it becomes much easier to consume content faster and more efficiently. This is critical for keeping up with today’s fast paced world.

Use Feedly to keep up with information overload

Feedly LogoAs a CIO in today’s fast-paced world it has become increasingly difficult to stay on top of all the relevant news and information I need to be successful in my job.

The days of reading a local newspaper, subscribing to a few trade journals, magazines  and watching the news to keep up are long gone. Similarly, surfing the web to try to keep up with everything is not a viable option as it just takes too much time and it is too easy to get trapped in a rabbit hole of non-productivity.

So, what is the modern way to keep up?

I have found using Feedly is the best way to keep on top of all the news and developments I need to be successful in today’s business and technical world. With Feedly I can scan hundreds or thousands of articles from dozens of different sources quickly and efficiently.

Feedly dramatically reduces the friction in information consumption.

With Feedly I can quickly scan RSS (Really Simple Syndication) headlines to determine which ones I want to click on to get more information. Once I click on a particular item of interest, I get a short synopsis of the article and any accompanying pictures. 9 out of 10 times, this snippet/picture combination is enough to convey the relevant information so I do not have to click on the link to actually read the original article. This is the key to the massive time savings I get by using Feedly to process incoming information.

Feedly is free and it is very powerful. A paid version, Feedly Pro has the features you really need to fully experience the full productivity boost. A subscription to Pro costs $5/month or $45/year and it is worth every penny. It is available on the web, Android, Blackberry, Chrome, iOS, Kindle, OS-X, Windows 8 and Windows Phone. That pretty much covers it from a devices perspective.

Choosing feeds is easy. Just search Feedly for your profession/career, your favorite people, your interests, your hobbbies, your passions, your favorite brands, magazines and newspapers, etc. and it will list the feeds available on the subject. When choosing be sure to notice the number of subscribers and the number of posts per week. The more subscribers the better. More posts is not always a good thing. Some feeds are “spamy” and post too many articles relative to the overall value.

My feeds or sources are handled in a very Darwinian way. If a particular feed is not providing relevant information I delete it. If a feed produces too many posts per day that are not relevant, I delete it. Frequently I subscribe to a feed to try it out only to decide it does not make the cut and is delete in a week or so. This results in a very fluid list of sources that is constantly changing.

I currently subscribe to 81 feeds, which result in over 600 posts per day and I am able to process them in less than a half hour.  This allows me to keep up on all the news and events from sources I consider relevant to my career and life.

Here is an example of the list view in Feedly:

Feedly List View
If I want to keep the article for reference or for some kind of follow up, then I just select the “ Evernote” button and it send it directly to Evernote to process later. This is one of the most important aspects of my overall GTD system. feedly-evernote-awardProcessing in Feedly and sending to Evernote is a huge time saver.

As I process, if  the article is something I want to share with others I use the “Buffer” button which will tweet it on Twitter and post it to LinkedIn on a specified schedule. Sometimes, I want to email someone directly and all I have to do is select the email button. Simple. Efficient. Friction-free.

Here is an example of an item that was clicked on to reveal more detail showing the Evernote, Email and Buffer icons:

Feedly Detail

The key to long-term success with Feedly is incorporating it into your daily habits. I usually process my feeds the first thing in the morning when I am at the gym on the elliptical trainer. It works out great because it has a reading stand for the iPad so I can easily use my hands to process my incoming queue of headlines while listening to an up-beat playlist of music. I also use Feedly on my iPhone and Nexus phones regularly.

I consider this a critical part of my overall continual learning experience, so I take it very seriously. So, I treat my incoming RSS Feeds just like my email inbox and try to process all my feeds to zero every day. “Feedly Zero”

I pride myself on knowing information before others and daily processing of RSS feeds is the key to making this a reality. It gives me a competitive advantage in work and life. I am extremely impressed when a colleague tells me something relevant that I do not already know about.  If it happens once in a while then it is just luck or timing but if they consistently know relevant information before I do, then it shows me they have an effective system for processing information and I try to learn how they do it.

With Feedly, I can subscribe to a wide variety of sources and quickly scan what is going on in the world. How do you process information in today’s fast-paced world?

How to decrease the stress in your life

StressThere is a reason David Allen’s first book is called “Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress Free Productivity.” The reason is because practicing GTD provides the most systematic and effective way to manage all the commitments you have to yourself and others. GTD’s key benefit is freedom – freedom from the sources of distraction and stress in your life.

Not sure you believe me? Well there is scientific proof. Check out Getting Things Done: The Science behind Stress-Free Productivity by Francis Heylighen and Clément Vidal which goes into great detail on the science behind GTD and why it works.

Many people confuse GTD with time management but David argues that what is required is not time management but really self management – what we do with ourselves in any situation or context.  It involves dealing effectively with all of the things we have to do and want to do, both personally and professionally.

GTD is about capturing things we collect and create, deciding what – if anything – we want to do about them, organizing the results of that knowledge work into a trusted system we can review appropriately and making intuitive strategic and tactical choices about what to do at any point in time from our options.

In this way, GTD provides a comprehensive approach for increasing productivity while decreasing stress. GTD is a process that accelerates productivity without requiring more effort. In fact, most people experience a great decrease in stress while increasing the amount they get done.

Why? Simply put, it’s because our brains are optimized for fast decision-making, not for storage. Trying to juggle too many things in your head at the same time is a major reason we get stressed out when there’s a lot going on.

The best way to stop mentally thrashing and start being productive is to get all your “stuff” into your trusted system. Once the information is out of your head, it’s far easier to figure out what to do with it. Once you get all your stuff out of your head and into your trusted system you experience a profound sense of relief.

Fall off the GTD Bandwagon? Here’s how to get back on!

Brain ThoughtsEveryone who tries to practice GTD at one time or another “falls off the bandwagon” and this is usually do to not doing a Weekly Review for a few weeks in a row. Subconsciously, your brain knows you do not have a complete list of your commitments in your trusted system so it not longer trusts your system. So, your brain starts trying to remember your commitments and as a result, it all comes off the rails.

In GTD the vital first stage is Collection. Whenever we lose steam in our GTD flow, I feel like the most powerful collection exercise is what David Allen calls “the mind-sweep.” Whenever I feel “out of control” with everything going on in my life and I have fallen off the GTD bandwagon, I try to step back and do a mind-sweep to regain control. It works every time.

The idea behind the mind-sweep is to identify and gather everything that is making claims on your attention or is likely to affect the larger areas of responsibility in your life – everything that’s quietly burning cycles, stealing focus, and whittling away at your attention – so that you can then decide what (if anything) must be done about each of those things. David says “put your attention on what has your attention.”

If it’s not being directly managed in a trusted external system, then it’s resident somewhere in your psyche and that is a bad thing. The point is you need to make sure that everything you need is collected somewhere other than in your head. So, just as you learned Collection as the first step in implementing GTD (and to subsequently maintain your system), it’s precisely the place to start when you’re trying to properly get back into it.

By doing a mind-sweep you’ll discover your head is flooded with stuff that you aren’t or haven’t been doing anything about. Not coincidentally, this is almost always stuff that represents some kind of incompletion, functional fuzziness, or procrastination on your part.

The Mind-Sweep

What you need to do to get your GTD mojo back is to do a mind-sweep. It is really simple. Start with a single sheet of printer paper and a pencil, set a timer for 15 minutes, and just begin scraping every conceivable commitment, anxiety and “open loop” from the corners of your brain. Review this list of “triggers” to help you identify all your stuff. Try it, it works!

  • Anything that’s on your mind now?
  • What do you have to do today?
  • What happened yesterday or the last couple of days, voicemails, emails?
  • Glance at your calendar back 1-2 weeks, events, presentation, family events
  • Glance at calendar next 2 weeks
  • Need to do anything to prepare for the season (vacation, planning, family, social events)
  • Anything for work projects or things that should be project that you haven’t identified as such?
  • Any “problems” that you may need to turn into a project
  • Do a sight walk around in your mind’s eye (look around your office, home, etc)
  • Meetings, people, projects, opportunities
  • All the people in your life right now
  • Conversations you need to have/want to have
  • Are your job responsibilities clear?
  • Fun/things to do with the family
  • Personal/professional development…anything you want to get better at
  • Personal/direct family relationships, good friends, network, pets
  • Anything around creativity or creative expression?
  • All my gear/tools okay?
  • Any medical open loops?

Begin with the hopelessly-behind project that’s making you insane right now, then proceed methodically through every thought that makes you cringe, groan, pause, ponder, or exclaim; these are the runaway background processes that are responsible for subconscious stress and you need them out of your head.

Think about it like brainstorming. Don’t judge the items or think about them in any way, just get them on paper. Remember, this is your opportunity to convert the fuel for subconscious stress into items that can later be made actionable (or deferred or delegated or killed etc). But you can’t do anything about it until it’s been captured and evaluated in your trusted system.

For the sweep to really do its best work, you must call upon extraordinary willpower to stay in collection mode. Remember the day you finally “got” how GTD worked by firewalling your planning time (Weekly Review) from your doing (Processing) time? Same idea here. No straying or switching back and forth between the two. Remember, your brain is smarter than you, and it can’t be tricked into thinking that things are taken care of when they actually aren’t. I would even suggest eliminating use of the two-minute rule during your mid-sweep.

Now that your 15 minutes is up, look at the list and process it. Most of the items on it will be projects of some sort. Get them into your trusted system and you will immediately feel the joy of getting them out of your head – guaranteed.

Do you have a “Stop Doing List?”

Stop Doing ListThe bestselling author Jim Collins gave the keynote address this morning at BoxWorks 2014 and he did a fantastic job of motivating and inspiring me.

While he gave many worthwhile stories and concepts that are very relevant to CIOs and GTD practitioners, he ended with a simple question that I am going to incorporate into my trusted system.

He asked the crowd how many people had to-do lists and everyone’s hands went up. Then he asked who had a “stop doing list” and very few hands went up.

I am going to incorporate this into my Weekly Review because the “stop doing list” will become a mechanism for disciplined thought about how to allocate the most precious of all resources: time.

At the top of my “stop doing list” is going to be agreeing to low-value commitments. Many times I regret saying “yes” to a request of a colleague, friend, family member, salesperson, vendor, charity, conference, etc.

Deciding that I’m not going to do something is one of the most challenging aspects of self-management. Most of us hate to say “no” — to ourselves and to others. But there are practical things we can do to make that process more positive and dynamic.

This dovetails perfectly with GTD because if you do have a complete and trusted inventory of your current commitments, at every level, your ability to decline potential new ones will automatically be enhanced. Knowing when to say yes or no is a big part of stress-free productivity.

State Of Oregon vs Oracle: A Reminder To Software Practicioners That You Can’t Outsource Solution Design, Validation Or Accountability

Michael Keithley:

Excellent analysis and advice for any CIO.

Originally posted on Expert SaaS:

MalletI just finished reading the State of Oregon’s complaint against Oracle in it’s entirety.  I encourage every one of you to read it as well.  In the meantime, I’ll paraphrase:

“We the State of Oregon were not staffed properly to design an insurance exchange.  In 2011 we allocated $240 million toward a vendor who convinced us they could design and deliver it.  When they showed up 2-3 years later with the solution, it did not work and all that money was wasted.  We provided 450 requirements to their presales team on which basis they promised that their combination of products would cover 95% of our needs without modification.  We found out things were going poorly 2+ years into the project and we collectively cut scope.  Then it failed anyway.  We found out through that failure that the promises the sales guys made weren’t true and that Oracle had a bunch of…

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CIOs continue to resist Bezos Law at their own peril

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at a news conference during the launch of Amazon's new tablets in New YorkI just returned from CIO Magazine’s CIO 100 Symposium and Awards where the “Top 100 CIO’s” were recognized for their achievements. I was shocked to find that even among this elite group of CIOs there were still a significant amount of CIOs who were resisting the cloud. They had a multitude of reasons or rationalizations as to why they were not embracing the cloud.

When asked what I was most proud of I said “getting out of the datacenter business” and returning the on-premise square footage to the business. Many heads nodded in agreement but there were also many CIOs who thought I was crazy. In discussing why they felt this way I came to the conclusion that many CIOs rose up thru the technical ranks and they derive their sense of self esteem and job security around their historical success of owning and understanding the technology. The cloud was perceived as just too risky for them to give up control.

Many CIOs rationalized they were in the cloud by stating they had a “private cloud” and when I pressed them on what they meant by that  they told me about how virtualized their datacenter was as if VMs somehow equaled cloud. I asked them what the attributes of a cloud was to them and they kept coming back to VMs. Virtual Machines are rapidly becoming yesterday’s news as Containers like Docker are becoming the most efficient way to run workloads. But even this misses the point entirely as I pointed out in a previous post “What does Bezos’ Law mean for CIOs?”

Then, today I read this article by Greg O’Connor, “Bezos’s law signals it’s time to ditch the data center” and it further laid out the case for embracing the public cloud and getting out of the datacenter business. In it Greg points out:

“Previously, I posited that the future of cloud computing is the availability of more computing power at a much lower cost. I termed this “Bezos’s law,” and defined it as the observation that, over the history of cloud, a unit of computing power price is reduced by 50 percent approximately every three years.”

“Now comes new cloud computing data based on Total Cost of Infrastructure (TCOI), proving cloud providers are innovating and reducing costs in areas beyond hardware. The result is a more compelling case for cloud as a far cheaper platform than a build-your-own data center. Further, the economic gap that favors the cloud provider platform will only widen over time.”

This seems so obvious to me but clearly many CIOs don’t get it. I stand by my statement that “Bezos Law is today’s version of Moore’s Law and CIOs who do not recognize this will be rapidly replaced.”

 

 

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