Leverage digital tools to become a digital leader

Lifelong LearningAs a CIO in today’s fast-paced world it has become increasingly difficult to stay on top of all the relevant information, knowledge and ideas that I need to provide the level of digital leadership I aspire to. And, because there are only 24 hours in a day, I need to become more efficient in consuming information. Digital tools can make learning more efficient.

Digital leaders are life-long learners with a thirst for knowledge, insight, and wisdom.

With the accelerating pace of change and the abundance of information in today’s workplace, it is critical to leverage digital tools to keep up. It also requires curiosity and a willingness to venture outside of your own echo chamber of ideas and beliefs to include a wider range of inputs to your information diet. You need to be open to opposing points of view and have a willingness to challenge your beliefs.

EinsteinDigital leaders build a culture of ongoing learning in the organization. Leaders not only learn themselves but also advocate a culture of learning and provide many different ways for employees to gain knowledge and insight. There is no one-size-fits-all tool that will work for everyone. Each employee is different and learns in different ways so digital leaders will provide a vast array of learning opportunities. Here are some that I recommend:

Online learning sites like lynda.com, Coursera or Kahn Academy allow people to learn at their own pace in their own time. You can learn interactively at your own pace and in the comfort of your own home. It’s hard to imagine how much easier it can possibly be. Often these courses can lead to certifications of accomplishment that demonstrate mastery of the subject matter.

Podcasts are a great way to learn while you are in the car or at the gym. The recent popularity of podcasts has created a plethora of excellent content. I highly recommend anyone in management listen to Manager Tools and individual contributors should listen to Career Tools. I regularly listen to the following podcasts: A16Z, Beyond the To-Do List, Cloud Cast, Getting Things Done, Re:code decode,Tech.pinions, Tailgating Security, Tim Ferris Show, What to Think: Innovation Engines.

RSS Feeds and readers like Feedly allow you to cover more news and information in less time. 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. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Every morning I read the daily newspapers like Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post on my iPad on the Elliptical machine at the gym. Why? Because the WSJ is the definitive source for business news, the NYT because it is the national paper of record, and the WP because it is the source for political and world events. With the digital versions of these newspapers I can scan the entire newspaper in less than 3 minutes and then drill down on any stories that interest me. Now, I have all of the relevant information that matters in less than 10 minutes.

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.

There is nothing like a good book. Books have always been one of the best ways to gain knowledge and digital tools like Kindle and Audible make consuming them more efficient. I use Kindle on my iPad and Kindle Paperwhite. I like the ability to read them on my Kindle Paperwhite reader when I am lying in bed because it is so light and easy to hold or when I am outside in the sunshine when the glare on my iPad makes it difficult to read.

In addition to Kindle, Amazon owns Audible and Goodreads. Audible 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.

GoodReads is a social network for people who love to read. Over time, Amazon has done a good job of integrating Audible, Kindle and GoodReads such that GoodReads knows about your purchases and can automatically sync 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.

If you were going to recommend three books to your colleagues as a “must read or listen to” what would they be? I asked this to my direct reports and here they are in alphabetical order:

  • Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Taleb
  • Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
  • First Break All The Rules, By Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham
  • Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen
  • House by Tracy Kidder
  • It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd
  • Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
  • Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
  • Management by Peter Drucker
  • Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
  • Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
  • The Essential Wooden by John Wooden
  • The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt
  • The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz
  • The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
  • The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
  • The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell
  • Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday
  • What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School by Mark McCormack

The one common thread between Online Learning Sites, Feedly, Newsstand, Podcasts, Audible, Kindle and Goodreads 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 and leveraging digital tools will help make you a better digital leader.

Why I still use RSS

Feedly Logo

A colleague of mine just got turned on to the power of Feedly and it got me thinking about RSS and it’s evolving role in my information diet.

I have always been a reader and voracious consumer of information. I subscribe to numerous magazines and newspapers via Apple’s Newstand on my iPad.  I love to read a good book via Kindle on either my iPad or my Kindle Paperwhite. I also listen to books on Audible on my commute and podcasts when I’m working out at the gym.

But, it has become increasingly difficult to stay on top of all the relevant breaking news in today’s fast-paced world. Surfing the web to try to keep up is not a viable option as it just takes too much time and it is easy to get trapped in a rabbit hole of non-productivity. I have found using RSS feeds is the best way to keep on top of all the news and developments in order to be successful in today’s business and technical world.

Many people have given up on RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds and it is definitely on the decline since Google dropped Reader. However, I still use RSS because I can subscribe to a wide variety of sources and quickly scan what is going on in the world. I consider this a critical part of my overall continual learning experience. I treat my incoming RSS Feeds just like my email inbox and try to process all my feeds to zero every day.

I have tried many RSS readers and since the demise of Google Reader, and now I use Feedly on all of my devices to consume RSS content. I do not use any of the “pretty” feed aggregators that try to make a custom magazine because it is just too inefficient for the volume of feeds I process every day. With Feedly I can quickly scan the headlines to determine which ones I want to click on to get more information. Once I click on a particular item I get a short synopsis of the article or post and then if I want to actually read it I click on the link and it takes me to the web site where I can read the original article.  If I want to keep the article to read later or for some kind of follow up, I just select the “Send to Evernote” option to process later.  If the article is something I want to share with others I use the “Send to Buffer” option to tweet it and post it to LinkedIn. I usually process my feeds the first thing in the morning when I am at the gym on the Precor elliptical trainer.

I currently subscribe to 60 feeds which result in over 500 posts per day and I am able to process them in approximately 20 minutes.  This allows me to keep up on all the news and events from sources I consider relevant to my career and life.  I treat my feeds very Darwinian way in that if a particular feed is not providing relevant information I delete it.  This results in a very fluid OPML file (OPML files are the list of RSS feeds a reader program uses) that is constantly changing.  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.  I also remove feeds that have dedicated iOS apps like Techcrunch, CNet News, The Verge, Boy Genius Report, Engadget, etc. because I prefer to view that content in the native app due to its optimized formatting.

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 someone on my staff 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 me it shows me they have an effective system for processing information and I try to learn how they do it.

How do you process information in today’s fast-paced world?

Use the 2 Minute Rule to get more stuff done

2 minute ruleOne of the easiest and most productive parts of GTD is called the “2 minute rule”. If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then because it’ll take longer to organize it and review it than it would be to actually finish it the first time you notice it.

So, when you are processing tasks and the task is actionable, then decide if you can complete the task in less than two minutes and if the answer is “yes” then just do it. This is called the “2 Minute Rule” because there is no need to categorize or do any further thinking about the item if you can accomplish the task in less than two minutes – just do it!

Writing down every little thing you have to do takes more time than it’s worth – if you need to send a 30-second reminder e-mail to someone, there’s no sense in taking 60 seconds to write it down and another 30 seconds to put in your trusted system when you could just get it done. Your goal is to get things done, not to flawlessly capture each and every little thing in your perfectly designed system.

Thinking of your time in two-minute increments will allow you to get a lot of things done. When you simply do something, you eliminate all of the prioritizing, scheduling and thinking about tasks. This applies to all aspects of processing your incoming “stuff” no matter if it is calls, email, social media, or any other task that comes your way.

It’s easy to get caught in the trap of adding absolutely everything to your system, including things that can be done in two minutes or less. With enough small and insignificant tasks, you can clog your system and lose considerable time and focus. And, if you overwhelm your system enough, you might even paralyze your productivity completely.

So use the 2 minute rule to get stuff done.

How to achieve Inbox Zero every day

emailAs a manager I continually hear people complain how email is taking more of their time and that they don’t have enough time left for the important stuff.  It is kind of like complaining about the number of meetings they have to attend and then not having enough time for the important stuff.

If email is taking up a disproportionate amount of your time, then you need to do something about it. Take charge of your situation. Don’t let the constant stream of incoming emails take control of your priorities and time.

I assert that it’s actually less effort to maintain your email inbox at zero rather than to keep any amount of mail that has been read in your inbox. I know this sounds counterintuitive to most people.  Ideally, you should check your email inbox three times a day and process it to zero.

It is interesting to see when people give demos or presentations with their own machines how many people have read and unread email sitting in their inboxes.  Some people I know have hundreds or thousands of unread emails sitting in their inbox. Even worse, many have thousands or tens of thousands of read emails still in their inboxes.

That is what you get when you check it too often, and don’t have the appropriate amount of time to adequately respond or deal with the email. You tend to just leave it there in your inbox. When you leave a lot of old and outdated items laying around in your inbox, your subconscious knows there is still something to be done and it won’t let go of that until it is dealt with. Additionally, now you have to read the email again at a later time to deal with it.

This is totally inefficient. There is a better way – Inbox Zero.

Let’s face it, it will be difficult to go from checking email continuously all day to every three hours or so. It will take effort to change your habits but once you get in an inbox zero habit you will realize it is dramatically superior to your old email processing routines and that will have ripple effects across your productivity, workflow, energy and motivation.

I can hear some you as I write this… “What about emergencies, what about my boss, people need me, what about the important project…” The reality is, over time, people will adjust to your way of processing email. They will learn to call, text or stop by if it is truly time sensitive.

The reason it’s actually less effort to maintain it at zero than to maintain it at 1,000 is that you don’t waste energy dealing with any particular email more than once. The decision about the next action is still unmade for much of what lies in your inbox. In GTD terms it is still “stuff” – something in your world for which the action is still unclear. Every time you consciously or unconsciously notice that email again and don’t deal with it, it wastes energy.

Every single item in your inbox needs to be processed only once. If you need more than two minutes to process a specific email, you process it to your trusted system. In my case that is Evernote. When I am processing email and I run across an actionable email that takes more then two minutes to deal with, I just forward it to my default Evernote address.  That way it is waiting for me in my “Unprocessed” Notebook ready to be processed the next time I am processing.

This way I ensure that my inbox is always down to zero and that at least for a few hours I have that inbox zero peace of mind. Every day, my goal is to complete everything on my “today” list that came from my Daily Review and to process my inbox to zero. Then I can go home with the piece of mind of knowing that I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish and my inbox is completely processed and nothing is going to slip thru the cracks.

How do you maintain your inbox zero?

How I use Evernote to run my life (part 2)

Evernote LogoA few weeks ago I outlined how I set up Evernote to be the basis of my Trusted System that I use to run my life.  Now, I am going to share how I use this system in my daily life.

The beauty of Evernote is it’s friction-free ability to get “stuff” into Evernote so you can process it later and ensure you never forget anything that is actionable.  This is critical to having a Trusted System and the stress-free productivity that goes with it.  Almost every morning during the week I go to the gym and alternate between Pilates, cardio  and strength training workouts.

On the cardio days, I use the elliptical trainer and my iPad to read while listening to a up-beat playlist to motivate me to keep my heart rate up.  I start out reading the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and LA Times to catch up on what is going on in the world.  If I find an article that I want to keep, I use the “share” function to email it and I send it to my Evernote email address.

Keeping up with information

RSSThen I go on to process my RSS Feeds via Feedly. I love Feedly as my replacement for Google Reader and Feedler Pro. It works across the web on Mac or PC, iOS and Android so no matter what device I am using, I can process my feeds and it will sync across devices.

Sharing information with the world

BufferIf I find an article that I want to share with the world, I use Buffer to tweet it and post it to LinkedIn.  I highly recommend Buffer because it allows you to schedule your tweets and posts so they don’t all come at the same time. This allows your followers to consume your tweets and posts easier.

Leveraging audio content

PodcastsOn strength training  days, I listen to podcasts on my iPhone with the Apple Podcasts player. I use Fast Ever to add the location of the bookmarks that I place in the podcasts to follow-up on them later in Evernote.

Processing email to zero

When I am processing email and I come across an action that is more than two minutes, I forward it to Evernote and drag the email to my Archived folder in case I ever need to original email.

  Processing web sites

web clipperIf I am on the web or I click thru to a web site and see something actionable or a reference item I want to save for future use, I use the Evernote Web Clipper to clip the article to Evernote.

Processing physical paper

scansnapIf I have a physical piece of paper that needs to get into my trusted system I use my ScanSnap to scan it to Evernote. One button is all it takes!

Capturing ideas or actionable items on the go

Fast EverIf I come up with an idea or someone tells me something actionable, I use Fast Ever to input it via text or use Sound Ever to record it as a voice memo.

Capturing ideas or actionable items while driving

Siri

Similarly, If I am driving, I use Siri to do a voice to text conversion to send it to Evernote.  Try it. It works surprisingly well.

All of these processes end up with new actionable items waiting for me in my -Unprocessed folder in Evernote ready to process into the appropriate action and context for that item.  I can’t think of a better way to have a friction-free way to getting stuff into my trusted system than using Evernote.  And for this reason, Evernote has become the most important application I have on all my devices.

Layering and consuming audio content with Audible and Podcasts

Podcasts2Recently Apple has hit a milestone of one billion Podcast subscriptions. This made me reflect how much information I am able to consume via Audible books and iTunes Podcasts. The spoken word can be a powerful addition to your information consumption portfolio. I use Apple’s Podcast app to consume podcasts and Audible’s app to consume books. I listen to Audible books in the car on my daily commute and podcasts on my iPhone in the gym when I am doing strength training or stretching.

Listening to content connects with your brain in a different way than reading does. I can tell you from experience that I can, for example, work out on the Precor elliptical machine at the gym and read RSS feeds in Feedly on my iPad while listening to an upbeat “Cardio Workout” playlist on my phone at the same time. But, it is impossible for me to listen to a podcast and read at the same time. Our brains must process both of these content sources with the same part of the brain and therefore they short-circuit each other.

Similarly, I can easily listen to music or a podcast while driving but I could never read while driving. There are two primary use cases where I consume spoken word content – while I am working out (resistance training and stretching as opposed to cardio) and when I am in the car during my commute.

Multitasking has scientifically been proven to be a myth over and over. What we are actually doing is context switching and it is a sub-optimal way to process information. How then can I read RSS feeds, listen to music and use the elliptical trainer at the same time? It sounds like multitasking but it is not. It is called Layering.

Layering, is simultaneously performing several tasks that require different “channels” of mental functioning such as visual, auditory, mental or language. The only time “multitasking” does work efficiently is when you are layering different channels. This is why you can listen to music while driving a car with no discernible loss of effectiveness but you can not text while driving (even if you are using Siri to dictate your texts) and not lose effectiveness.

I also find listening to an Audible book that I have read previously enhances my comprehension over just re-reading it. Once again, this is because of the layering effect of listening to an audio source is processed by your brain in a different region than reading does. By matching the optimal information source to the optimal “layer” you can be more productive. This practice allows me to be productive in what would otherwise be “dead time” from a continual improvement point of view.

What activities do you “layer” effectively?

Quick! Save your Google Reader data before it’s gone for good

Google Reader RIPBy now I’m sure you have heard about Google’s decision to kill Google Reader.  If you have a Google Reader account you only have until Monday the 15th to save your feeds!  You can download a copy of your Google Reader data via Google Takeout until 12PM PST July 15, 2013.

I have found using RSS feeds is the best way to keep on top of all the news and developments in order to be successful in today’s business and technical world. By using RSS feeds I can subscribe to a wide variety of sources and quickly scan what is going on in the world.  I consider this a critical part of my overall continual learning experience.

I treat my incoming RSS Feeds just like my email inbox and try to process all my feeds to zero every day.  Now that Google Reader is dead I use Feedly in a browser or on my iPhone or iPad to process my feeds.  I do not use any of the “pretty” feed aggregators that try to make a custom magazine because it is just too inefficient for the volume of feeds I process every day.

With Feedly I can quickly scan the headlines to determine which ones I want to click on to get more information.  Once I click on a particular item I get a short synopsis of the article or post and then if I want to actually read it I click on the link and it takes me to the web site where I can read the original article.  If I want to keep the article to read later or for some kind of follow up, I just select the email option and send it to my Evernote email address to process later.  If the article is something I want to share with others I use the “Send to Twitter” option to tweet it.

I currently subscribe to 70 RSS feeds which result in hundreds posts per day and I am able to process them in about 15 minutes.  This allows me to keep up on all the news and events from sources I consider relevant to my interests, career and life.  I treat my feeds very darwinian in that if a particular feed is not providing relevant information I delete it so my RSS feeds are constantly changing.  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.  I also remove feeds that have dedicated iOS apps like CNet News, Boy Genius Report, Engadget, Tech Crunch, The Verge etc. because I prefer to view that content in the native app due to its optimized formatting.

Every morning I spend about 30 minutes scanning the new headlines. If I see something I want to follow-up on I use the “send to Evernote” feature to see it to my “unprocessed” notebook in Evernote. This allows me to review it later in the course of my normal processing to determine what, if anything, I want to do with that specific piece of information.

I pride myself on knowing information before others and daily processing of RSS feeds in the morning at the gym is the key to this.  It gives me a competitive advantage in work and life.  Only subscribe to sites that inform you directly or entertain you.  Try to get a cross section of opinion and analysis.  Don’t just consume information that is an echo chamber for your point of view!

Information “overload” is here to stay. There is no stopping it. So, rather than be a luddite and unplug completely, use RSS to keep up with what is important to you and the things that you need to get done in a more efficient way.

How do you process your feeds now that Google Reader is gone?