Addicted to Information: 5 Tips to Filter out the Noise

With so much information available to us, it becomes increasingly important to know how to get the right information. Sometimes that means going to the right places and sometimes that means filtering out the noise.

1. Forward mission-critical emails to your phone’s SMS

If you use Gmail with an iPhone, you probably miss the push feature that gives you instant notification of new mail messages. But even if you have push support with your mail provider / mobile phone, this tip will give you an extra layer of notification. Mission-critical is mission-critical, right?

In Gmail, go to Settings and then Filters. Now, create a new filter based on your criteria. For example, you could filter messages from your boss that are directly addressed to you. If you get a lot of emails from your boss, you could filter it even further with a keyword such as “important” or “due.” Next, choose the Forward option and forward it to the SMS email address of your phone. If you have an iPhone in the US, that number looks like 5551234567@txt.att.net

Every time an email comes in matching that filter, Gmail will forward the message along to your phone. It is usually pretty instant, although Gmail timing can be a little funny sometimes. In addition to the regular email alert, your phone will beep/twirl that you have an incoming text – with a link to a mission-critical email.

2. Subscribe to Google Blogsearch results

None of us wants to subscribe to every blog/news outlet in the world; that would overload our capability to process the information. Instead, we subscribe to the feeds we enjoy. I read Slashdot, Boing Boing and Engadget pretty much daily. But what if you are interested in a particular subject that may span multiple blogs, and want to know what the latest, greatest news about that subject is?

You can use Google Blogsearch (or Technorati, if you prefer) to perform searches across blogs. These results are usually more updated than regular Google web results. For example, I want to know everything that’s being said about Pantano Christian Church (as any good webmaster would). I did a search for that name in Google Blogsearch and then was able to subscribe to the results in my feedreader. Now any time someone mentions Pantano Christian Church in a blog, I’ll know about it.

3. Organize your RSS feeds

There are two primary ways to process RSS feeds in a feedreader – “river of news” method, and “by feed/category” method. A river of news dumps everything into your reader like an email inbox, indiscriminately pushing the latest whatever to the top of the list. I find this method too difficult to handle. Instead, I prefer to organize my feeds into categories and read them feed by feed. For people who need to section or box things in their brain, this is perfect.

Here’s how I have things organized in Google Reader. The blogs I read the most are in a “Favorites” folder. To process and read everything, I start with my Favorites and go through each feed individually. I have all of my feeds categorized somewhere so I can switch to each state of mind when reading. Technology, Lifehacks, Gaming, Software.

Another important key to keeping your feedreader organized is to unsubscribe to feeds if you find yourself constantly skipping content from that feed. Also, when you come back to your feedreader from a long break (or vacation), don’t worry about reading everything you missed. Just mark all as read and start fresh.

4. Twitter: don’t follow the Twitter Spitters!

Twitter can be a powerful communication tool. It can even be fun like a virtual party. But when your friends update too often, it can really muck up the flow of information. When you feel like you have to organize your Twitter reader like a feedreader, you know there’s a problem. Drop ’em like it’s hot. Seriously.

The nice thing about Twitter is that not following someone is a lot less socially stigmatic than removing someone from your friends list on Facebook or MySpace.

5. Develop your information archive process, and stick to it.

You are going to come across a ton of stuff on the Internet. Sites you need, videos you like, quotes that might inspire something in your next book… what do you do with everything? There a lot of options.

Browser bookmarks: this is the traditional way to save information online. They can get out of hand quickly so remember to keep them organized. I prefer how Firefox 3 and Safari handle bookmark organization.

Del.icio.us: The social bookmark website. You can post any page to your del.icio.us account and have access to the list from anywhere.

Evernote: This is an awesome notetaking, remember everything type of software that works on a lot of platforms: Windows, Mac, any web browser, plus a great native iPhone app. I currently use Evernote to store and sort specific thoughts and ideas. I’ve also been keeping track of every steampunk item I come across on the web. It’s great.

How do you filter out the Noise?

Lifehacking: Organizing Your Life

I recently stumbled upon several blogs that are devoted to a single topic – organizing your life. The buzzword for this in the blogosphere is “lifehacking.” It originated as a programmers’ term, but has recently broadened its scope to include all sorts of productivity areas.

Technology is supposed to make our lives more productive. But there are several problems that continue to elude the masses:

  • Software applications have a learning curve, and most interfaces aren’t intuitive or discoverable enough for the average user.
  • Web applications and sites suffer from this same usability issue.
  • Our lives are encompassed by massive amounts of data (both digital, paper and other). Working with data requires creating workflows, and modern technology sometimes convolves the workflow process.

The following blogs have numerous tips, tricks, hints and software downloads to make our lives more productive. These are mainly useful for people who use technology (especially the Internet) every day and want to organize their data and create productive workflows. That pretty much applies to everyone I know (a few luddites excepting).

Lifehack.org (feed)
Lifehacker.com (feed)
43folders.com (feed)

A few posts I’ve discovered through these services that are uber-useful:
7 tips of handling your Emails without feeling overwhelmed
Merlin’s top 5 super-obvious, “no-duh” ways to immediately improve your life
RSS tips (2) How not to go mad

And of course, a general tip I always recommend is to go grab a copy of Mozilla Firefox. Learn how to use the tab feature (I also understand that Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 is about to be released to the masses, and finally has tabbed browsing, but I can’t very well recommend the insecure Internet Explorer, now can I?). Can’t install it on your work computer? No problem – just use Mozilla Firefox – Portable Edition. No installation necessary.

Since I’m a designer and I have special interest in user interfaces, the lifehack topic comes naturally to me. So, I’m going to start posting more lifehacking productivity tips (most especially relating to Google and other web applications). It really fits with the tagline I set for this blog when I started it – “Where technology and real life can meet and be friendly.”

A note to my regular readers: if you subscribe to my RSS feed, please consider re-subscribing using the new FeedBurner feed. It will help me keep track of feed statistics. Thanks!