The things every high-achiever should know
As I was sitting here eating leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner, I got the sudden urge to write about the recent flushing of my productivity system using Web 2.0 technologies. I’m a big fan of addressing the bottlenecks in any system, so I took advantage of a five day break from school to address some of the constraints in my productivity system. For those of you who are curious, I’ve been putting a lot of focus on productivity lately simply because my schedule for the Spring semester is going to be brutal, so I need to be at the top of my game if I’m going to survive it intact.
I broke down the components of a successful productivity system in an earlier post. In this post, I am going to discuss how the proper use of certain Web 2.0 technologies (social bookmarking, RSS feeds, and wikis in particular) can help you process massive amounts of information with ease, thereby giving a super charge to your productivity. Relating to my earlier post, this post addresses the Reviewing and Cleaning Out of your productivity system. As you will see, the two ways that Web 2.0 will help you with you productivity is through greater organization and delivering relevant content right to your screen.
My Experience With Poor Utilization of Web 2.0 Technologies
I’ll be the first to admit that the overwhelming and infinite amounts of information available on the web got the best of me for the past year and a half. I kept discovering more and more high quality blogs that I would like to read, more and more websites I wanted to keep up with, and I was receiving more and more e-mails as every organization, company, club, and teacher I was connected to began relying on e-mail for communication. In addition to everything that was bombarding me from the digital realm, I had three books I was reading at once (two for class, one for career development) and I read the Wall Street Journal every day. Then I would have to try and fit all of this into my hectic schedule of classes, meetings, and events. Talk about overload.
I had dabbled with Web 2.0 in the past. I used Delicious.com to bookmark my favorites. I used Google Reader to keep track of my blogs using RSS feeds, and I took advantage of Gmail’s features to sort my e-mail with labels. However, because I constantly had so much information being thrown my way, I rarely ever checked my Delicious account to review things I wanted to save for later. Rather, I just kept dumping new links into delicious with little probability of ever getting back to it. This was issue #1. Furthermore, my Google Reader kept piling up with unread blog posts as I never had time to read it and when I finally had a few minutes free, the overwhelming number of unread posts turned me off completely. This was issue #2.
Dealing With the Bottlenecks
The first problem I addressed was my cluttered Delicious account. I found that my tagging structure on Delicious was vague and nonspecific, which resulted in poor organization of content. Furthermore, a lot of the content was outdated or no longer useful to me. The organization factor of Web 2.0 was not there because I had failed to keep everything well-organized and up to date.
Social bookmarking can be a great tool for organizing and discovering new things. It can also be a huge time drain. Delicious allows you to access your favorites from any computer, and shows you the top bookmarks of the day, which usually allows you to discover something new and interesting that others have been bookmarking. This is the precision aspect for Web 2.0. Relevant links that you may benefit from or find interesting are placed directly on the home page of Delicious for you to check out. However, if you get too caught up in constantly going through new links (as many do after installing the StumbleUpon toolbar, for example) you can find yourself even more caught up in information overload than ever before. The key is to use social bookmarking primarily as an organizer and then explore new websites and links in your spare time.
So, how did I address a poorly organized list of links? Unfortunately, there is no easy way out of this one. I decided to go through each and every link and decide whether to retain it or delete it. Thankfully, I had recently discovered a new social bookmarking service called Pearltrees.com. It offered an easier-to-navigate structure (at least in my opinion) for all of your favorites. I got to work going through every link on my Delicious and adding the still-relevant sites to Pearltrees. Two and a half hours later, my bookmarks were cleaner, lighter, easier to navigate, better organized, and more relevant. Now I can begin using this as an effective storage system for retrieval in the future. Lesson learned: Use tags effectively and make sure to review your content on a somewhat regular basis to keep it up to date.
With that out of the way, I was free to deal with my second issue: information overload via RSS feeds. RSS feeds allow you to aggregate all of your favorite blogs onto a reader such as Google Reader. From there all you need to do is check your reader for new blog posts, as they are sent directly to the reader. This saves you time by not having to go to each individual blog website to check for new content. This RSS technology is a great Web 2.0 feature that makes it very easy to organize your favorite blogs and have them deliver the relevant information (all new blog posts) right to your screen. However, just like the Web 2.0 technologies mentioned above, it can be easy to overdo it. In my case, there were a few blogs I felt were very important to keep up with, yet these were blended in with the supplementary blogs I had added to my Google Reader for whenever I had free time. All of these blogs blended together and had me looking at 10+ new items a day. Most of which took anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes to read. Who has time to read through all of that on a daily basis? Pretty quickly my Google Reader had about 120 unread blog posts. Yikes.
Further refinement of how I used this technology had to be done. Once I realized that 70% of the blogs I had on my Google Reader were simply there to check out every so often, I realized I had to sub-divide my blogs into “Every Day Reading” and “Non-Every Day Reading.” Thankfully, Google Reader has a folder feature to organize your blogs. As you can see in the image below, I have 4 blogs that I read on a daily basis. I removed a few of the blogs I don’t read anymore, but left 4 blogs under Occasional Viewing. And finally, I made a folder for all of my RSS feeds for when a search result comes up for any particular items I want that people are giving away for free in my area on Craigslist (any readers throwing away any good workout equipment?). My Google Reader now looks a lot less intimidating and now I keep up to date on my favorite blogs and check out the rest if I am ever in the mood.
Other Web 2.0 Technologies That Are Immensely Useful
1) Wikis – Wikis are web pages that anyone can edit (think Wikipedia). The value in wikis is that they contain the aggregated knowledge of all of the contributors involved. Nowadays, there are wikis for just about anything. Wikipedia is obviously the largest of its kind, but there are smaller wikis for more specific subjects. I’ve even found wikis that extensively discuss strategies for different video games. By finding a wiki in a subject you are interested in, you are reading the end result of all of the reading, learning, and applying of the concepts that contributors have undergone before writing on the wiki. Having access to this knowledge can save you many hours by not having to research many of the ideas that are discussed on the wiki, simply because the contributors have done so already.
Note: As a word of caution, wikis are not always 100% accurate, so take the information written on wikis (even Wikipedia) with a grain of salt.
2) E-Mail 2.0 – With more and more communication being dealt with through e-mail rather than snail mail, our inboxes are more crowded than ever before. Thankfully, many e-mail providers and e-mail clients (like Outlook) come with handy plug-ins and features that help you deal with e-mail overload. My personal favorite is Xobni, a free plug-in for Microsoft Outlook. It allows you to search for any person you’ve ever had e-mail contact with and pull up a complete list of every e-mail sent to, received from, and every attachment contained in these e-mails. It is very handy for retrieving archived messages. For those of you who swear by Gmail and hate Outlook, there are a lot of cool features in the Google Labs section of Gmail. You can customize different labels, add integration with Google Calendar and Google Docs, and so on. The little beaker icon on the top right of your Gmail screen is where you can access these features.
Using Web 2.0 to sort through all of the information on the Internet can be a double-edged sword. On one end, it is an excellent tool for organizing and delivering content of value straight to your computer without you having to scour the internet for it. On the other end, if you don’t limit and control what Web 2.0 gives you access to, you can find yourself constantly nose-deep in new websites, blogs, videos, galleries, and more.
My hope is that you begin to use any or all of these technologies to your benefit with the end result being a richer experience on the web with less stress.
I'm Jon Guerrera, a life hacker at heart, and the man behind the scenes here at Living For Improvement. This blog documents all of my successes, failures, experiments and lessons learned as I hack my way to happiness, fulfillment and success.
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