My Personal Information Funnel Solution
Trying to keep up-to-date on all the news and developments going around, while still trying to actually do work and be with my family, is a struggle I think a lot of us share. For me, it has led to experimentation with tool after tool. Frustratingly, all those early trials had been failures for me. But now, after several weeks of using my new mini-system I can say that, for me at least, I have found the solution!
First the Failures
I can honestly say this has been an annoyance for me for several years. I've read about and attempted Getting Things Done (GTD). For those unfamiliar, it's a list-based system and I love to-do lists. (Well I like checking things off to-do lists). For every action you have you assign it a project or task to track what it's for, and then you assign it a 'context', such as phone call or research, to track the 'how' of the task. The idea of having both projects and contexts for a given action seems elegant. It's a powerful system and everything sounds perfect, but I found it just had more structure in it's process for me to keep up with it. I tried several pieces of software such as Omni Focus to try and help me stick with it, but alas no joy.
Next I tried to jump on the Evernote bandwagon. Again, millions of people love this and seemingly use Evernote for everything from keeping track of their favorite wines to running their businesses. You can clip virtually any digital content, things from the web, email or pictures, and then save it and tag it with whatever information you want to be able to find it again later. Sadly, once again I just didn't get it. Maybe I am too literal, or not literal enough, but keeping all kinds of *things* in one system confused me more than helped. I ended up with more data to wade through and spending more time rather than less trying to get through it.
These are just 2 of the many examples I tried. I am certain that these systems work, because millions of people are using them effectively every day. However I'm equally certain that they don't work for me. My mind thinks in waves...
- Things that interest me
- Things that interest me that I want to understand a bit more
- Things that interest me that I need to take action on
When I came to this realization I began crafting my own solution with tools I could find.
My Information Funnel
It Starts With Twitter
First thing is, I should admit that I use Twitter as my primary conduit for "things that interest me". It is not exclusive, but I really do try to go through my feed and look for interesting things on a daily basis. I follow a mix of tech, business, research, 'thought leaders' and then of course my sports teams and more fun stuff. What results is a pretty hefty stream of tweets. And if any of you use twitter you know that you can easily find a good article link, click on it, and then go into a productivity black hole reading about fairly random stuff. That was frustrating, but I wanted a way to capture these interesting links without going down a rat hole. Enter tool #1...
Pocket Saved Me From Twitter
If you use twitter and haven't tried Pocket I strongly recommend you do! Pocket is a great read-it-later app for your smart phone, tablet or PC. When you find something of interest, instead of getting totally diverted, you just send it to pocket by clicking a button or sending and email. Then move on with your life. It stays there for you waiting. I schedule regular 'pocket time' on my calendar to go through what is there and breeze through the backlog. Often times I see things and think "why did I want to save this?", and then just hit the archive button on pocket and they go away. You can file things, and tag things in Pocket too, but I don't use that. I pretty much read through things and either archive (delete) them or star them if I want to follow up or research something more.
Wunderlist Is Wonderful
OK, slight exaggeration, but Wunderlist is a truly awesome to-do list system. I use it for work and home and it is just elegantly simple. The fact that it lives on all my devices and syncs is key. So it is natural that I use it to follow up on any items that I star in Pocket. This might be an article I want to research more into, use as a subject of my own personal or work blog post, or something I want to discuss with someone else. It's a great task list manager and you can have subtasks and different lists to help you stay organized.
The only awkward part of my process was manually copying the information from starred articles in Pocket to my to-do lists. But after knowing this system was working for me it didn't take long for me to realize that the great team at If This Then That (IFTTT) had already created the ability to automatically forward any of my starred Pocket items to my Wunderlist. IFTTT is a really powerful automation engine that anyone can use without any programming, and it does exactly what it says - if something happens you can automatically have it do something else.
The End, So Far
I hope this might give you some ideas of your own on how to manage your personal data deluge. If nothing else, know that there is hope and if you keep persisting you'll find something that works for you. In my case, I finally found the tools, technology and process that is keeping me a little more sane every day.