How to manage your information diet

information cloudIt’s beyond a truism that we live in an age of information overload. Email is overwhelming, connection is ubiquitous with most of us tethered to one or more mobile devices, and it feels like a new, must-see social web service emerges every day.

Unless you’re a full-time social media specialist, there’s a lot more to your job than listening and posting on social channels. Apart from email, there are hours of meetings, and one would hope, some time carved out each day for focused work. So, how do you put yourself on an information diet that gives you what you need to survive and grow, but lets you stay productive?

There are smart applications and tip-filled websites that will help you determine your own recipe for success, but here’s mine:

  • Start the day with filtered RSS feeds. Google Reader is a terrific service (although rumors of its demise persist). I keep a short list of feeds that are germane to my role and my interests, and prune the kudzu of sites I feel I ought to read frequently and mercilessly. A small number of recipes in IFTTT surface content to me more aggressively, like a favorite blogger’s posts as text message.
  • Schedule some of your social publishing. Now that you have great feed content, how do you share it? I mostly use Buffer to post; colleagues swear by Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. Scheduling enables sharing of relevant or interesting content throughout the day, but doesn’t replace listening and live interaction.
  • Use old-school Google alerts. Google Alerts is an undersung technology that still delivers a lot of value. Create terms that are tight enough a filter for only the truly relevant to slip through, and prioritize terms by importance (as it happens, daily digest, and weekly digest). Newsle is a great service for following real news about people in your social networks.
  • Select smart people as human filters. As digital moves into the C-suite, a lot of hedgehogs have to become foxes—moving away from an understanding of one big thing to represent a breadth of strategy, content, marketing, and technical knowledge. Topics I am fascinated by but rely on the deep expertise of others on the social web include: data science, information visualization, responsive design, and time management. Learn from others—and use social to connect and thank.
  • Hold 60 minute blocks for working where you don’t check email. Interrupted time is less productive time, but being realistic about small enough chunks to safeguard is what enables some focused work. I leave my phone facing up, and mark only a few folks for the VIP inbox on iPhone and iPad—if there’s a critical message I can see and address it, but no other noise breaks through.
  • Between meetings, read, act on, and delete email. This is easier said than done—but if the approach is to read it and get rid of it, it keeps the 1500+ received a day from overloading the system. When something becomes a task, move it to a productivity tool where it stacks up against your own priorities, not just the inbox-driven ones.
  • Find the right productivity tool. I’ve written about and tried a range of productivity apps supporting granular tasks and life goals, but Evernote, I just can’t quit you.  Task lists, document sharing, web clipper, IFTTT integration, audio, and Skitch make this indispensable. I was slow getting the app on my iPhone, and the recent addition has made even hallway conversations more productive.
  • Perhaps the biggest time saver/information management idea is a surprising one: carve out time every week to listen to colleagues and schedule regular 1:1 meetings, even if they are 15 minutes long. Try to put down the device and really listen. What’s your colleagues’ critical path? How can you help? How might you inadvertently be under-communicating or worse, hindering progress? Scheduling time in-person reduces email follow up, and builds the kind of understanding and connection essential for getting things done.

[tweetable]Every knowledge worker with strategic projects, exploding inboxes, and looming deadlines can relate the the pain of the deluge of information.[/tweetable] These are my ways to wade in without drowning—what are yours?

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