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.

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.

How I use Evernote to run my life

Evernote LogoEvernote serves as the foundation for my trusted system.  It is always available and I can easily access it from whatever device I am using. It syncs across all my devices so it doesn’t matter if I am on my laptop, my smartphone or my tablet because I can easily get information in and out of Evernote.

This is how my trusted system is set up.

Notebooks

I have 16 “Notebooks” which are the collections of individual notes. I also have two “Stacks” (Next Actions and Reference) which are collections of Notebooks.

  1. -Unprocessed
  2. Agendas
  3. Areas of Focus
  4. Next Actions:  Anywhere, Errands, Home, Office
  5. Projects
  6. Reference:  Bay Area, Education, GTD, Information Technology, Receipts, Reference
  7. Waiting For
  8. Someday/Maybe

Tags

I use “Tags” sparingly and really only use two tags – Today and Weekend. Tags are attributes that you can apply to any individual note. You can then view all notes with a specific tag, regardless of which notebook it resides in. This provides for the ultimate in filing flexibility and many people prefer to use tags as the basis for their system instead of notebooks.

Evernote email address

Each Evernote account is assigned a unique email address. You can find this in the desktop version of Evernote under Evernote – Account Info. Your email address will look like this “username.c12345@m.evernote.com” and you should add this address to your contacts. I created a new contact called, “Evernote” and assigned this email address to it. Now when I want to send a message to Evernote, I simply send it to my new Evernote contact.

Default Notebook

Set your default notebook in Evernote so when you email something to Evernote, it is automatically filed in your default notebook. Mine goes to a notebook named “-Unprocessed.” (I start it with a dash, so that it appears at the top of the sorted list of notebooks.) However, you can set this to anything you want. You can do this in the desktop version of Evernote under Preferences – Clipping.

That’s it. My Trusted System that runs my entire life is in this simple yet powerful tool called Evernote. Next, I show how I use this system to manage everything.

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?

Evernote adds reminders!

Evernote LogoAwesome update to Evernote for Mac and iOS with the ability to “tag” things with a reminder time and receive an email to remind you. The update also creates a “checklist” with all the reminders for the day that can be checked off. Significant enhancement for my  use of Evernote for GTD.

I have been waiting for reminders in Evernote to close the loop on many items of my GTD system. This is especially true for the “Waiting For” and the “Projects Delegated” Notebooks.

Thank you Evernote!

It’s Not The Tool, It’s How You Use It – Visible Priorities (Part 2)

Part 2 of David Freedman’s excellent guest posts on how to use tools for GTD.

Fundamentally, GTD is simply a method for choosing how to spend ones time. And for us GTDer, we’ve got a trusted system full of projects, next actions and someday/maybes to choose from. Add to that a whole set of inbound phone calls, emails and coworker drive-bys and we literally have hundreds of options at each moment of choice. In the face of all this, we want to organize our next actions in such a way that we are proactive about our priorities. Here’s the problem: proactivity in humans is a myth. We can only react. We can only respond to stimulus. In the moment of choice, we must have the right stimulus, our priorities, come into our attention so that we react to them by doing rather than reacting to something else. I use my Outlook calendar and Evernote for Android to keep my priorities in my face

Schedule Your Priorities

Yes, that’s plagiarized from Steven Covey.  As part of my weekly or morning review, I block time in my calendar to complete my highest priority next actions.  My particular convention is “WT – [name of the next action].”  “WT” stands for “Work Time.”  My calendar is a sure-fire way to get these priorities into my attention because my assistant reviews it with me every morning, I do quick scans of it all day on my Android and my assistant always alerts me of my next meeting, even if it is with myself:

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Use the Evernote Widget to Keep “Today” Context In Front of Your Face

Unfortunately, this one is only going to work for Android users as the iPhone does not support Widgets at the time of writing.  Most GTDer I know have some sort of “Today” context or items that they’ve picked out of their next actions as priorities.  There is a bunch of debate on various GTD forums as to whether “Today” is a context at all, but I would make the argument that context or not, it’s a pragmatic method for putting one’s attention on one’s priorities.  Here’s the step by step:

1) If you haven’t already. configure a “_Today” notebook or tag in Evernote.  I use the underscore to make it sort to the top of lists.

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2) Add the 4×2 Evernote Widget Large to your phone’s home screen.

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3) Select your “Today” context to show your note list.

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Now, every time you look at your phone, your priorities will be begging you to give them your attention!