How To Deal With Daily Information Overload

It's nice to be in the know right? Having an idea of what's going on in the world and what's new in your industry is interesting, exciting, and sometimes essential to progressing in your business and personal life. With such easy access to so many sources of information each day, it's pretty easy to become overwhelmed and lose track. These are the tools I use and the  steps I take to read over 1000 blog posts each day and act on the ones that are actually important to me. Part of this is about psychology, realizing that you can't possibly give attention to everything and that you need to develop the ability to pick out the items that you really need to know about and eventually be able to do something about them. Also realize that information, especially the kind you find on blogs, has a very limited shelf life so if you miss something, there's no point in keeping it unread and hoping to get to it eventually because odds are, if that information isn't relevant to the world at large after a day or so, you don't need to spend your time on it.

Google Reader - In my opinion the most straightforward feed reader there is. When you visit sites that have RSS feeds you can usually click the little orange feed button and instantly add the feed to Google Reader. It's important of course to organize your feeds into two folders, essential and optional that way you can always be sure you don't miss the truly important information and if you have time you can get through the optional. This offers incredible peace of mind because if the day is simply too busy you can make all of the optional items as read with one click and move on. There are a couple essential keyboard commands you need to know in order to blast through hundreds of items in minutes. J and K move to the next and previous item respectively, M marks items unread, and S will star on item so you know it's important. E allows you to quickly email a blog post to someone. The way I do it is I make "filtering" passes. So the first time I open my reader and there are three or four hundred items, I just start hitting J like it's an automatic machine gun, basically skimming headlines as quick as I can. If something sort of catches my eye I make it unread by pressing M. Then I'm left with maybe 50 items, then I go through those a little slower but still quickly until I get down to around 20. Now is when I can the time to actually "process" items meaning read them in-depth, share them with people, or archive them for further use. This process takes some practice but you will get better at it each time you do it.

Reeder - This is my mobile feed reader of choice. It's an app for iPad and iPhone that syncs with your Google Reader account so you are always on the same page no matter what device you use. That means I can read essential items on my iPhone as I'm walking my dog in the morning, come back to my computer and continue where I left off, and then finish up at the end of the night with my iPad before going to bed. Reeder plays nicely with several web services so in addition to the ability to star items as in Google Reader you can send them directly to apps like Evernote or Zootool.

IFTTT - If This Than That is one of my favorite websites. It basically allows you to create automations between popular web services like Evernote, Twitter, Youtube, Google Reader and dozens more. Integrating IFTTT into your feed reading experience is where things really get taken to the next level and you become a true power use. I basically have several actions setup to occur in the event that I star on item in Google Reader. The simplicity of this action is why it's so brilliant. It literally take about a half second to star an item in Google Reader, Reeder or any other compatible feed reader. Once you get good at working through your items quickly, rather than marking an item unread and coming back to it later you can just start it and then let IFTTT work it's magic. When I star a blog item, the following things happen courtesy of IFTTT:

  • The item is tweeted out via Buffer (a web app that spreads out your tweets throughout the day) and my #LessDoing hashtag is added
  • The item is saved to an Evernote notebook which I then refer to at the end of the week to write my "Interesting Things of the Week" posts
  • It gets bookmarked on Delicious
  • It gets bookmarked on Zootool
  • It gets added to Storify
So five things happen that actually help spread my word and increase my exposure all from an action that takes me less than a half a second. Incidentally I have the same actions set up if I mark a Youtube video for "Watch Later"  - Whether or not you believe in speed reading, I can personally attest to the effectiveness of this free web app. Whenever you are reading an article, you simply click the bookmarklet and suddenly you will only be able to see about 10 words at a time as a looking-glass moves along the text at ever-increasing speed. I don't know why it works so well but in one session I increase my words per minute read from 220 to 250 without losing comprehension. It's all in the training.

And that is how I am able to effectively read and process over 1000 blog items per day.