Staying on top of things

Part of my job is keeping on top of what’s going on in technology – it changes very quickly and it’s important to have a reasonable idea of at least the broad strokes of the wider industry. Also, it’s key to know what’s going on in the animal kingdom – I’m never going to close a client if I’m talking about the otters holding hands when the new otter is the carrot eating hedgehog. Savvy?

To that end I scan a lot of stuff. There’s one key tool and one supporting actor for me. The main thing I use for this is Google Reader. I’ve subscribed to 131 feeds there and it grows constantly. That’s not a lot compared to many, but it is quite a bit of news flowing into it every day. Everyone has their own tricks for dealing with information overload in Reader – for some people organizing things into different priority buckets works. I like to keep it simple. I pretty much don’t organize my feeds – they just all go in one big pile.

Others like to use all sorts of keyboard short cuts and plow through them in their open state scanning each post and moving on. Again, to slow for me. I keep it all in collapsed form so that all I see is the feed name, title of the post and the first bits of text of the post – I keep my hands away from the keyboard, I scan down that stuff using the roller on my mouse and click only the ones that catch my attention.

I star things I want to remember – which could mean it’s really good or it could mean, it’s a longer post that I don’t have time to get to at that moment and want to go back and check it out. Using this, I can easily go through a hundred posts in a matter of minutes – depending on how many catch my eye. I constantly “Mark all as read” – I don’t let it pile up on me – if it starts to pile up, I know I’m never going to read those ones at the bottom of the heap, so I just mark all as read and start clean.

In addition to being a really efficient way to go through information Reader’s also a great repository for research. By using the search you can easily see what people have said about whatever you’re looking for. It’s great to be able to search over only your starred posts pulling up only the most interesting to you. If you aren’t using it already, I can not recommend Reader enough. It’s iPhone interface is great and it just let’s you keep on top of a lot of things really easily.

The other tool I’ve begun using is Instapaper. It’s kind of like a bookmarking tool, but to me it’s like Google Reader for the rest of the internet. It puts a bookmarklet in the browser chrome, then when I come across a page I want to remember I easily add it to the list. The hook is that it keeps a running list of your read and unread links, so when you go to Instapaper you can quickly see what’s waiting. Then, if you click the link, it not only sends you to the page but it moves the link to the read section.

It has an iPhone friendly interface and it’s so simple and easy to use, I’ve already found it indispensable. It could certainly use a little more functionality – but I’d rather it be too simple than too complex, so I’d like to see it grow slowly and organically. Beyond that, because it has an RSS feed I’ve imported it into my Google Reader as well. But I haven’t played around too much with how I want that workflow to work. It’d be cool if you could devise rules in Google to auto-star stuff – that’s pretty much what I think I’d like to happen.

At any rate – using those two tools I find it very possible to keep on top of a wide variety of news sources both via RSS and general surfing without spending 8 hours a day doing it. It let’s you spend as much or as little time as you need to when you’ve got the time to do it. You have any other tricks/tools you use to help out?

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