Tips & tricks on how to increase your productivity - Part 8 Blog main Page

SpecificFeeds

  • How to Deal with Too Much Information

    by
    Apr 4, 2013

    We at SpecifcFeeds believe with all of our hearts that we are bombarded with too much information all of the time.

    And it’s not just because of all the advertising, the news feeds, or the morning commute. There’s a lot of crap we have to know for our jobs, too, and it’s becoming more difficult to keep all of it under control, even as technology becomes exponentially more advanced.

    Let’s look at some statistics.

    U.S. Statistics on missed information

    Click here for the full graphic

    On a personal level, you probably feel like you’re working harder now than in past years. (Unless you were a corporate slave, which is where many of us start, of course.) Coincidentally, firms worldwide have and are experiencing both record profits and productivity, even (and especially) during the economic downturns. Record productivity you say? Where does that come from?

    Worker productivity has improved dramatically for various reasons, but we’ll just focus on one.

    You. You’re doing more work: specifically, you’re processing more information.

    Let’s look at some more quick stats.

    UK statistics on Information Overload

    Click here for the full graphic

    That’s just an idea of the personal and economic costs the information overload is causing. I’m sure these stats don’t strike a personal chord with you. What do you care if the companies all across the nation loses $650 billion a year? They still pay you, right?

    Well, the information overload has some interesting effects on decision making and emotional control. A look at the picture below will tell you more.

    Temple University Study_Info_overload

    Click here for the full graphic

    If you didn’t get that, what they are saying is that as your brain gets overloaded, you basically go into mental shock, lose your temper, and make stupid choices. It also probably makes you unhappy and less satisfied with your job, and it may have negative effects on your performance reviews.

  • Your Alternative to Google Reader

    by
    Mar 26, 2013

    We of the tech savvy community may have bitched and moaned about Google Reader shutting down, but let’s face it:

    That’s business.

    And as one blogger stated, it’s “the circle of (digital) life.” Services come and go, and old life must die to allow room for new life to blossom. *Le sigh*

    There are articles on other blogs and websites that have given their two cents on the passing of our beloved  Google RSS aggregator, and they’ve also written of possible alternatives for it, listing their pros and cons.

    Frankly, it’s all too much to read in too little time.

    So, without further ado, we at SpecificFeeds have provided you with our very own list of alternatives. Don’t worry, it’s short.


    Feedly

    Widely considered to be the best overall, this web-based RSS feed platform delivers across multiple platforms and devices, offers many social capabilities, and is free. People have said it appeals visually with its newspaper-ish design. Yadda yadda. Look. Here’s a picture.


    Pretty, right?

    Importing is easy and they’re working on their own API to replace Google Reader’s. It’s pretty good.


    Newsblur

    Newsblur has suspended free accounts for the time being, but other than that, this service is considered to be an RSS aggregator for the newsy who wants it fast and right now. You can also train it show more stories you like and, like Feedly, you can share those stories. Here’s a pic.

    It’s still buggy, but they’re working on that actively with an interactive community forum. Overall, I'd say it's on track to do well.

     

    SpecificFeeds

    And then, of course, there’s our service, which won’t overload you with information like other RSS aggregators would. If you want quick, comprehensive, and thorough email summaries of news stories tailored to come only at certain times, I can only recommend our service.

    Of course, it delivers across multiple platforms: it’s email. And it’s as fast as you want it to be. Sharing isn’t quite the same, but that’s not the point.

    Anyway, we’ve now provided our two cents on Google Reader dying. We realize there are a zillion options available to replace it, and that many are quite good. Or unique. Or beautiful.

    But you don’t need to know all of them–just what might be the best for the type of user you are.

    I hope this helps. Good luck, and enjoy!

     

  • How to use Google Alerts effectively

    by
    Feb 24, 2013

    If you are not using Google Alerts you are missing out on a great way to stay on top of the (specific) news you are interested in. It’s a powerful (and free!) tool which screens the web for new content which matches your keywords.

    In order to get maximum use out of the tool it’s required to know how to use google alerts effectively. In this post I’d like to share the different techniques I use, and for which purposes.

    A quick primer: How to set up a google alert

    After going on the Google Alerts page, you see this:

    Google Alerts - How to use it effectively.png

    Most of it is self-explanatory, here are some additional tips:
     

    • Search term: You can use all operators as with a regular google search. Quick recap on the most important ones: Most important google search operators
      Have a look at a full overview for more of google’s search operators
    • Result type: Limit your search to certain areas (News, Blogs, Video, Discussions, Books)
    • How often: This feature is similar to the “Personal Newspaper” delivery option on SpecificFeeds: instead of receiving messages instantly (which may bother you) you can choose to get all your search results once a day or once a week in a consolidated form (one email only)
    • How many: If your search query returns too many results you can limit them to “only the best results”; however: I’ve found that this returns only very few results. Instead of google making the selection for you, it’s better to think more about better keywords & phrases which don’t return that many results.
       

    What you can use Google Alerts for
     

    • Track what people are saying about you
      The challenge in google news alerts is similar as using google: you need to find the keywords which only give you the information you are interested in, and not irrelevant stuff (otherwise you will be bombarded with emails).This works very well for keywords which are unique to what you are looking for, such as your name. By setting up a google news alert with your name in quotation marks (“your name”) you stay on top of what people are saying about you on the web, which is a.) interesting in itself and b.) allows you to respond quickly to negative mentions. This is actually a no-brainer and I cannot see why somebody would not want to have this tracked.If your name happens not to be very unique, you can do the following: find out in what context your namesake’s names are mentioned. For example, if you discover that one of them is a Punk rock player you can exclude those hits by adding a -“punk rock” to the keyword phrase.
    • Track what people are saying about other people who are important to you (relatives, your boss etc.) – if they didn't set up a google alert (most don’t) you can tell them what people are saying about them before they find out themselves.
    • Track identity and content theft: if you set up a google alert with your name as mentioned above, you also track possible identity theft. However, google also allows you to track content theft; for that enter a unique string of your articles/content in google so that you get alerted if it appears somewhere on the web without your approval. Not as good as copyscape but it’s free.
    • Prevent spam: enter your email address into google alerts so that you know on which sites your email is listed – which is a guarantee for spam as robots will find it and send you annoying emails.
    • Track what people say about your product (similar to name above, if your product name is unique). You can respond to negative reviews in a timely fashion.
    • SEO: Google Alerts can also be great for SEO purposes, building your reputation and building links

    o Keep track who is linking to your site: “link:www.yourdomain.com”; Not only is it interesting to know who is linking to your site, but it may also give you link building ideas you have not thought about yet (i.e. if you see what type of site is linking to yours)

    o Check who is newly linking to your competitors site so that you can ask those sites to link to you as well: “link: www.competitorslink.com”

    o Turn citations into links: Track who is mentioning your name (“your name”) so that you can check if those sites only mention your name or link to you; if they don’t, ask them to do that, most will be happy to

    o Set up alerts which notify you if other bloggers talk about your subject of expertise – great way to introduce you; Enter your subject area as keywords and select to only get alerts for blogs (and maybe discussions)

    o Also keep in mind: Other bloggers, esp. top-bloggers, also have set up google alerts for their name. If you mention their full name in your blog post, it is possible that they find out about your post – a great and non-offensive way to get in touch with top bloggers (provided you talk about them in a nice way ;-))
     

    • You can also find your customers directly by using keywords which they use. For example, as SpecificFeeds is an alternative to email newsletters, I set up alerts such as “how to set up a newsletter” “what is the best newsletter software” etc. to join the discussion and make smart suggestions 🙂
    • Don’t be scared to set up many of those alerts – google allows you to set up up to 1000 – as long as they are specific enough. It’s worth the effort to come up with good search phrases once and then have a perfect tracking tool going forward.
    • Check if your site is hacked or if users post naughty stuff on your site: I found this interesting tip here. If you enter a string such as…

    o “Viagra OR Levitra OR Cialis OR Xanax site:www.yoursite.com” or

    o “Poker OR hold-em OR Casino site:www.yoursite.com” or

    o “Nude OR naked OR porn OR sex site:www.yoursite.com”

    …you will get alerted if somebody has posted stuff on your site which shouldn’t be there (useful if you are running a site where other users can contribute).

    Those are useful applications of Google Alerts which I use – do you know of any others?

  • How to Avoid Distractions And How to Stay Focused At Work With These Nifty Software Tools

    by
    Feb 2, 2013

    Staying focused is more important but also more challenging than ever. Between email pop-up notifications, social networks, and blogs and news articles to read, there is a constant temptation pulling us away from our work. So how to avoid distractions? Fortunately, a few software programmers have taken distractions into their own hands by creating software programs that can help to make us more productive and staying focused.

    There are two ways to approach being productive.  On the one side, staying focused is important while eliminating and/or avoiding distractions.  This is the one area where most people struggle, however it is not the only area.  On the flip side, tracking the way we spend time online is just as important as avoiding distractions.  Just because we are not spending time on Facebook does not mean we are being productive.

    Below you will find a list of software applications that have been developed to address both of these situations.  Thanks to these software programs, avoiding distractions while tracking time spent online can now be done with a few clicks of your mouse.

    #1 – Self Control App (for Mac)

    Self Control is a beautiful and extremely simple app to use.  In short, you plug in the list of websites you want to avoid while working.  The list is saved permanently and can be adjusted at any time.  When you’re ready to start work, you simply hit start.

    Until the timer runs out, there is absolutely no way you can visit the websites on your ‘blacklist.’  By using your computer’s firewall, Self Control prevents any and all access to the sites you have listed.  Further, their timer ranges from 15 minutes to a full 24 hours.  Meaning, if you know you have a ton of work to do, you can hop on your computer, set the timer for 12 hours, and not have to worry about getting distracted.

    The coolest part about Self Control is that it cannot be turned off until the timer runs out.  Neither restarting the computer nor uninstalling the app will turn the prevention features off until the time counts down.  In 99% of situations this will prevent you from becoming distracted, forcing you to either work, find new distractions (which is harder than you think), or go offline.

    Admittedly, this tool is quite a radical answer to the question of how to avoid distractions, so there are some cases where you better think twice before using this tool, for example if you use Facebook to communicate with your boss or children.  With that said, finding other ways to communicate is a much better option than leaving social networks available during work hours.  Self Control is a free app that can be accessed here.

    #2 – Rescue Time

    Rescue Time is both an installable software and cloud-based solution to tracking your online activity.  When installed on your computer, it runs in the background without you ever having to do anything.  If using the cloud-based browser interface, you will have to log in prior to each day for the system to be able to track your activity.

    In short, Rescue Time monitors everything you do on your computer and categorizes it.  The categories fall along the lines of word processing, email, entertainment, social networks, etc.  At the end of each week, the program sends you an email highlighting how much time you spent in each category and how productive you were.  It also shows you a comparison of how productive you were relative to all of Rescue Time users.

    The cool thing about this program is that it quantifies everything you are doing on your computer, both by time spent and using a numerical based productivity formula.  Further, you can adjust how productive or unproductive a task is.  For example, it sets YouTube and Facebook to a “-2” on the productivity scale, which ranges from 2 to -2.  If, however, you are a social media marketer, spending time on those sites could in fact be productive.  Given this, you would want to adjust time spent on those sites from a -2 to a +1 or +2.  It does take some time to accurately adjust all the sites you spend time on, but once they have been set it is completely automated.  Overall, it's a great tool which gives you perfect transprancy on your past activities so that you can learn how to stay focused at work. You can learn more about Rescue Time here.

    #3 – Toggl Time

    Toggl Time is an installable software program for Mac and PC that allows you to track time spent on a per project basis.  In short, when you are starting your work, you start the app, designate the project you are working on, and the stopwatch begins.  When you’re done, click ‘Stop’ and it stops.  In doing this, you are able to see how much time it really takes to get a project done.

    In addition to seeing how much time you spend doing virtually every task imaginable, you can log in to the Toggl Time website and look at the data on a daily weekly, or monthly basis.  While knowing how much time you spend on email any given day is interesting, seeing how much time you spend on it over the course of a month may lead you to realizing you need to hire a virtual assistant.

    Further, once you set a task in Toggl Time you don’t need to type it in again.  As long as you have done it in the past 7 days, you can simply scroll down the list and click the task’s arrow to begin the stopwatch again.  Very easy, and gives you great insight into how much time you spend working on projects for clients.  You can learn more about Toggl Time here.

    Conclusion

    As you can see from the list above, avoiding distractions while tracking your every minute spent online is easier than ever before.  Unfortunately, having the numbers does not mean an automatic increase in productivity.  To truly become more productive, we must combine the tools at our disposal with a willingness and focus to become as productive and efficient as possible.  And becoming productive does not necessarily mean working more.

    By eliminating distractions and understanding how we spend our time, we are able to adjust our daily habits and learn how to stay focused.  That could mean hiring someone to take pressure off or adjusting your habits so that you can get home to see the family earlier.  Whatever you decide to do with your time, enjoy it!

  • Get Alerted if your PageRank Changes with SpecificFeed’s New Free Rank Checker

    by
    Jan 19, 2013

    As mentioned in a previous post alert services can be a great tool to save time and avoid information overload (if they are reliable!). For that reason SpecificFeeds recently put a new feed live which is basically a page rank tracker, i.e. this feed alerts users if there is a change in the PageRank of the website specified. There don’t seem to be any free services out there which do this so this should fill the gap.

    What is my page rank?

    PageRank is a ranking by Google of how important a website is. It’s crucial for getting ranked in search engines. Google’s PageRank is their proprietary measurement of the importance of a web page (there are also other metrics from other organizations, see below).

    PageRank is the result of your link profile, i.e. the quantity and quality of incoming and outgoing links and all SEO strategies that you employ to get traffic to your website. Google awards PageRank on a scale of 0 to 10 with 10 being the most desirable yet hardest to get.

    How to increase page rank

    This number is the result of optimizing your website, page by page. There is no quick fix to this – provide high-quality content over a longer period of time (most give up too early!) and you will see the number of incoming links increase and your PageRank rise accordingly.

    Any time the number changes you should either celebrate or if you are unexpectedly notified that the PageRank went down then this is a time to do an audit on your website numbers and statistics, compare and contrast, determine what went wrong with a specific online marketing campaign.

    What you should track with SpecificFeeds’ free rank checker

    So what pages should you track? Here are some ideas:

    • Your homepage, obviously 🙂
    • Key inner pages – not only the homepage is important; if you want to promote key inner pages of your website then set up tracking feeds for those as well
    • Your competitors’ homepages – if they increase their rank, but you don’t, revisit your SEO strategy

    Is page rank the only key measure to track?

    No, it’s certainly not. You should also keep an eye on the following:

    • Domain Authority: A combination of various factors (e.g. backlinks, linking root domains, mozRank, mozTrust and many others) domain authority is a concept that tries to determine the “power” of your website and its ranking potential in search engines. You can check it here
    • mozRank: A link popularity score that ranks a website based on the quality and quantity of the links from other websites. The higher the quality of links the higher the rating. Check it here
    • mozTrust: Similar to MozRank, however instead of measuring link popularity, it measures link trust. So if you want to receive your MozTrust you should aim to get links from “trustworthy” sites such as government or university pages (.gov or .edu domains respectively). Check it here   

    Having said this, PageRank is still one of the most important KPIs (it’s google after all!), so set up your page rank tracking now.