Time Machines

What comes in must go out. A productivity primer for taking control of your digital life

By Craig Silverman

Today’s worker is awash in a tsunami of information. Basex, a research firm that helped create the first Information Overload Awareness Day, estimates that “by 2012, the typical knowledge worker will receive hundreds of messages each day via email, IM, text, and social networks.” Some of us already do.

Here are five time-saving ways to capture and organize information so you can actually work instead of shuffling around digital paperwork.

Nerdy Merit Badges offers this badge to anyone who empties their 71.4 percent of the time.

Nerdy Merit Badges offers this one to anyone who empties their email 71.4 per cent of the time.

Master Your Inbox
Be ruthless: read, respond (if necessary) and then swiftly file or delete each message. Or “fail faster,” as the folks who publish Inbox Zero put it. The modern packrat who keeps everything in one central inbox is working with a recipe for disaster, as is the one who interrupts himself every time a new message arrives.
Strategy: Set aside time to deal with email instead of dipping in and out of it during the day. Your inbox should be reserved for items that require attention now or soon. Move messages to appropriate project or topic folders (such as travel, personal, expenses etc.). And use the delete key often for unnecessary correspondence. If you do this 71.4 percent of the time you can buy a Nerd Merit Badge for US$3.99.
Toolbox: For a detailed description of inbox management, read Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero.

Track Tasks
The paper-based list has been upgraded. Now you can easily create and maintain a running list of tasks and appointments using free web-based applications.
Strategy: Organize tasks by category (work and personal, for example) and project, and also attach deadlines, priority levels and reminders.
Toolbox: Two of the best web apps for this are Remember the Milk and Todoist. Both let you embed your list of tasks in a Gmail account or as a sidebar on Firefox, keeping your to-dos front and centre.

Take Notes
Ever had a brilliant idea or essential piece of information pop into your head and disappear five minutes later? We all need a way to capture and categorize our ideas and notes, but scattering them in multiple notebooks or computer documents is inefficient and frustrating.
Strategy: Put down the idea right away in one web app you can access anywhere.
Toolbox: Enter Evernote, a free application (they also have an ad-free paid version) that is like an extension of your brain. You can organize thoughts and notes into separate digital notebooks and add photos or clippings of web pages.

Organize Your Bookmarks
What’s the point of bookmarking a website if you can’t easily find that really interesting one, that, you know, the one with the article that you’d read last week?
Strategy: Amass a collection of links organized by relevant keywords.
Toolbox: Delicious is a free and easy way to organize and share your bookmarks, not to mention save and tag them. For example, while researching this article, I tagged bookmarks with the words “productivity” and “unlimited.” Then, while writing, I opened my Delicious page and selected those tags to view my links. I didn’t waste time searching through an endless list of bookmarks in my browser.

Streamline Your e-Reading
It’s important to track the latest developments in your industry and profession, but you need to do so in an efficient way.
Strategy: Use an RSS reader and bring the news right to you.
Toolbox: Google Reader and Netvibes are two of my favourite free applications that let you subscribe to RSS feeds from blogs, news organizations and other sources of information and organize and read them all in one place. New content automatically appears in your reader, so you don’t have to visit the same sites multiple times a day. U

2 Responses to Time Machines

  1. Andrea says:

    For someone that is not always so technology savvy, I enjoyed this article and thought these tips were helpful. Thanks UL

  2. Pingback: Get More Done « Unlimited Magazine

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