Nov 24, 2012
While technology has been a main catalyst for information overload it may also provide a cure, or at least help to reduce it. There are quite a few useful tools in this respect and here are three of my favorites:
1. Google Alerts
The simplest tools are often the best and this is certainly the case for Google Alerts. It monitors the web for fresh content on topics you are interested in, and notifies you if there is a match with the keywords you’ve picked. You can limit the search to different types of websites (discussions, blogs, video etc.) and also choose how often you would want to be alerted (i.e. either immediately or in a daily or weekly digest).
In order to help to reduce information overload, however, it’s important to use unique keywords which don’t appear too often (i.e. only appear in content you’re really interested in). This usually works well with unique words and expressions such as your website name or your own personal name (e.g. to see who’s talking about you).
If your topic of interest cannot be tracked by unique keywords it’s getting a bit more challenging, however there are ways how to go about it. One strategy is to pick long strings of text (e.g. keywords in a defined order, starting and ending with “s). As those are typically very specific it does not hurt to set up quite a few of them. I’ve developed a system how to identify those strings and will elaborate on it in a future post. (By the way this concept of more alerts, but more specific ones, is similar to the idea behind SpecificFeeds)
2. IFTTT (If This Then That)
I discovered this nifty little tool only recently. It’s a smart approach to saving you time by automating various processes online. You just define the trigger (the “If this”, in “IFTTT”), i.e. what needs to happens at online services such as Dropbox, Evernote or YouTube, as well as what should happen as a result (the “then that”). Users can create various combinations, defined as “recipes”, and also share them with others.
For example, the tool allows you to:
- Receive a notification if it's going to rain (Recipe No. 48)
- Save email attachments automatically to a Dropbox account (Recipe No. 39)
- Send starred Google Reader items to Instapaper (Recipe No. 178)
IFTTT’s potential to prevent information overload comes especially from the tailored alert services you can create. For example, the first Recipe above allows you to ignore the weather information (i.e. reduce your information intake) as you know that if something happens you’re interested in (in this case rain, but you can set other triggers as well) you’ll get alerted.
IFTTT also prevents information overload in another way: its website interface is as much “down to the point” as you can get. No unnecessary information, only very little text with big letters leading the user through the process of setting up a recipe which everybody can understand, be it IT expert or Blogger mom. For me it’s a model example for how to make an interface user friendly.
Nov 17, 2012
Subject of this post is the Pomodoro Technique which I came across about a year ago. Since then it has helped me a lot to stay focused and get more tasks completed (this article being one of the outcomes, took me 3 pomodoros). Why don’t you try it too?
The concept behind the Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo during his university days in the 1980's. Faced with a crippling productivity slump after his exams, he began to take a long hard look at his work habits and tried to figure out what was wrong. He came to the conclusion that the real issue was that it’s getting harder to fully focus intensively on a task, even if it is just for a short period of time.
And that's how the Pomodoro Technique was born. Armed with a tomato-shaped timer (“Pomodoro” means tomato in Italian), Cirillo set off to create one of the most simple yet innovative productivity methods that has helped thousands (millions?) of people around the globe manage their time better.
In a Nutshell: The Pomodoro Technique
Here's how it works; first off, you need a timer (any timer will do, though most followers stay true to the concept and get themselves those tomato-shaped kitchen timers), a pen or pencil, and a notebook where you can record your progress.
A Pomodoro consists of 25 minutes of intense concentration on a single task, followed by a 5-minute break. After four Pomodoros have elapsed, you can then take a longer break (a fifteen or thirty minute interval works fine) and then the whole cycle can be repeated again.
A typical Pomodoro cycle looks like this:
- Tasks to be accomplished for the day are listed down. You can use this To Do Today sheet provided by Pomodoro Technique website. It includes an area for pending tasks and a section labeled "Unplanned and Urgent Activities" where unexpected yet necessary tasks that pop up during the day are filed.
- The timer is set for 25 minutes and the tasks are worked on one by one. The breaks (both short and long ones) are to be used for activities that are NOT related to work. Once a Pomodoro is used up, a corresponding mark should be written down on your recording sheet or notebook. You can rest, eat, stretch or do any other activity that can help to refresh your mind.
- At the end of the day, observations regarding your performance need to be recorded. This part usually includes recording the number of Pomodoros that were spent on each task and the number of interruptions (if any). Writing these down will often help you predict the number of Pomodoros to be assigned for future activities.
The whole process is simple enough to comprehend, but there are two key rules to be followed if the system is to be used to its maximum potential.
Rule Number One: A Pomodoro is Indivisible
An ongoing Pomodoro cannot be disrupted. If it is to be interrupted by an urgent matter, that particular Pomodoro needs to be crossed out and voided. Upon returning to work, you need to start on a fresh Pomodoro.
Rule Number Two: If a Pomodoro Begins, It Has to Ring
Every Pomodoro should be worked on from start to finish. If a task is finished before the timer runs out, you could use this time to review your work and make improvements, if necessary. This process is called "overlearning."
Nov 7, 2012
After launching SpecificFeeds.com we finally got to launch the blog as well, yippee!
The blog will accompany SpecificFeeds on its mission to reduce information overload and provide some “background theory” in addition to other useful tips & tricks on managing information & becoming more productive.
If you don’t know SpecicFeeds yet, then check it out! It’s a new messaging platform with the purpose to:
- Send only relevant news to subscribers and to
- Get more subscribers for publishers
So who are we?
We’re three former students who believe that today’s feeds (by that we mean any form of push communication such as email newsletters, RSS, Twitter-Feeds etc.) are too broad, i.e. they send too much information. By making them more specific (hence the name SpecificFeeds), i.e. sending messages only in clearly defined cases, we believe the value for subscribers increases tremendously because they can pick those feeds which specifically match their interests.
And this is good for publishers as well: as more people subscribe they get their message out to more people – which is ultimately their goal.
If you have any suggestions on SpecificFeeds.com in general, new feeds to get offered on the platform, or the blog, then we’re very happy to hear about them. Get in touch with us on our contact form or by using the Feedback-button in the bottom right corner below. Thank you!!