My information work flow, January 2010

by ttucker23 on January 26, 2010

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on how I manage my information workflow for some time. Now that we find ourselves on the eve of an announcement from Apple that could change the goal posts once again (the much rumoured Apple Tablet computer), I thought now would be a good time to get this post written. Then I can compare my workflow in six months’ time and see if there are any major changes brought about changes in technology.

First some context on my requirements: I’m an independent digital consultant, working with various organisations (in the past year I’ve worked with the APA, EconsultancyTelegraph Media, IPC Media, The National Trust, TheFilter.com and more). As part of my job, it’s vitally important that I keep up to date with relevant information as and when it happens. This is not easy, as the amount of information out there is huge and growing, while the channels through which it’s delivered are proliferating too.

Here are the tools I use right now to keep on top of the tsunami of information that confronts us in the golden age of digital, in order of importance for me.

Startup folder

I got this tip from Darren Rowse at Problogger. Basically, I have a folder in my bookmarks toolbar on Firefox (and now Chrome, which is rapidly becoming my favourite browser). Over coffee first thing in the morning, I use the ‘Open All in Tabs’ command at the bottom of the folder. I then check out each tab to give me a snapshot of what’s going on.
Firefox startup folder

My Firefox startup folder.

My current list of startup tabs include the following content aggregators and social networks:

RSS Feeds

Despite the claim by some digital gurus that RSS is being replaced by Twitter, I personally still find this my best source of information, as I can categorise my feeds for easy reference. Currently I have the following folders set up in Google Reader:

I use  Google Reader as my feed reader as it has the following benefits (many but not all of which are also possible on other feed readers):

  • You can search back through all your feeds’ history. This is extremely useful for finding stuff you’ve missed, or re-finding information you read in the past. As Steve Rubel says you can treat Google Reader as a database.
  • It’s got a social element – you can see what other Google Reader users like, you can add notes, share with others and tag posts, all from within the reader itself.
  • You can bookmark in Delicious straight from the reader. This is invaluable when I want to save a post for future reference (see below for more on Delicious).
  • On Firefox, Google Reader supports the Read It Later plugin. When I find a post that is too long to read right away, or that I want to refer back to in the short term future, I can save it to Read It Later (see more about Read It Later below) by just clicking on the ‘chevron’ icon at the top of each post. This allows me to carry on browsing feeds in Google Reader and go back to longer posts when it’s more convenient. Note – this functionality isn’t possible in Google Chrome at the moment, which is a shame, as I’m starting to use Chrome for Mac more frequently as my primary browser.
Google Reader screen shot.

The Read It Later icon in the top left of every post on Google Reader makes filing for later viewing simple.

Twitter

Many digital folks have talked about how they’ve ditched Google Reader and now use Twitter to follow news and information in real time. While it’s still second to Google Reader for me (see above), I do often use it to keep track of breaking developments, and to discover links to longer content.I follow nearly 500 people on Twitter, for many different reasons, so the recently added List functionality was a blessing as it means I can group Twitterers into different categories. I follow lists from others, including:

I’ve also set up my own lists, including:
I occasionally visit Listorious to keep up with other Twitter lists that are out there.

My favourite way of accessing Twitter from my Mac laptop is through TweetDeck, because I can arrange each list into separate columns, and it now integrates Facebook and LinkedIn updates in there too.

Screen shot of Tweet Deck.

TweetDeck makes managing lots of followers on Twitter a lot easier.

Read It Later

As mentioned above, I often find that when I’m browsing feeds or looking at articles online I haven’t got time to read the piece in full. Read It Later is a great (free) service with which you can save articles in one place for checking out when you’ve got more time. You can sign up at the website, and keep track of your articles there or through a handy Firefox plugin. It’s also got a fabulous iPhone app (see below).

I experimented with Instapaper, a very similar service, but I found that Read It Later offers more options, especially through the iPhone app. The most useful of these is that I can save an article from Read It Later straight to Delicious if I want to bookmark it for the long term.

Delicious

I use Delicious, the social bookmarking tool, to keep all articles and web pages that I want to save for future reference. Unlike Read It Later, which is just a short-term holding area so that I can catch up, delicious.com/ttucker is the home of all my bookmarks, which I can tag to ensure that they’re easy to find. I also use Delicious for finding stuff I’ve missed, by regularly catching up with the Popular page, which logs the most popular bookmarks on Delicious.

iPhone

Since getting my iPhone 3GS I’ve noticed that I’m using this device to access information at least as much, if not more, than I use my laptop. According to research, 40% of iPhone users are doing the same, and this looks likely to increase.

For instance, I log onto Google Reader through the Safari browser on iPhone about 2-3 times a day. I can check my feeds on the bus, train, and any ‘dead’ time during the day. I’d love a Google Reader app for iPhone, but the mobile version of the site works fine, so long as I’m online.

The other great app for iPhone is Read It Later. The best feature is that you can download all pages to the iPhone and read them when you’re out of 3G and wi-fi range, on the tube, etc. I also like the fact that forwarding an article to Delicious after you’ve read the article is very straightforward.

Summary

The above workflow may seem overcomplicated, but I’ve integrated all of this into my daily routine. This makes it quick and efficient to stay up to date on subjects that matter to me, whilst filtering the information that I don’t need.

As Pete Cashmore says, 2010 is going to be the year of digital distration, so finding new ways to make information valuable and useful is going to be an issue for many more people, not just information junkies like myself.

I’d love to hear about your information management workflows, so please leave your tips in the comments below and tell me how you’re coping with the firehose of data that’s coming your way on a daily basis!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy Lowe January 28, 2010 at 11:08 am

Good stuff, sir… One thing: you can just add Reader to the ‘Apps’ section on your iPhone Google App. No need to faff about with Safari.

ttucker23 February 2, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Thanks Andy. I’ve got the iPhone Google App, but it just opens a link in Safari right? Useful, but I fancy a stand-alone app that pulls my Google Reader feeds in, downloads them for reading off-line, etc.

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