10.1.12

Concentrate: Read It Later

BY JEFF ROBERTSON

Preface: You should read this because...

  • I eventually mention a free, useful product you might want.
  • I ramble on about the olden days, and everyone likes that.
  • There is a link to The Onion.

Digital life is noisy.

Growing up, there was no internet and nobody had a cell phone.  We had one phone line and five TV channels.  To really concentrate on something, you just left the room that had the phone and the TV.

Fast forward 30 years and we can't get away from the noise.  My computer constantly pops up with new emails and IMs; my phone dings with texts; news feeds at the top of my browser continually alert me to the very latest; Twitter exists, I can only assume, as a secret experiment to study how much information people can consume before they go stark raving mad (a lot, it turns out).

Much has been written about information overload, and a multitude of services, philosophies and theories offer help managing the flood: Priority Inbox*, minimalist text editors, Twitter lists, and many, many, many more.  (Or you can just give up, says The Onion.)

I've worked on my own, simpler systems to cutting out digital noise.  I cut unnecessary email (see below); I don't go to Facebook unless I get a message from it (via email) that I need to respond to; I watch Colorado Rockies games with books propped up against the bottom of my TV to block the exceptionally annoying Twitter feed that scrolls across the bottom (yes, really).

Recently, I rediscovered a service called "Pocket", formerly known as "Read it Later", which was a much better name in my opinion.  You can put it on your browser, phone, tablet, etc. and easily mark anything for later reading.  While browsing around the web, whether for work or while taking a break, I often stumble across things I'd like to read, but they're too long or too off-topic to pay attention to at that moment.  With Pocket, I just click a button (similar to adding the page as a favorite), and it queues up the article on all my synced devices so I can read it later when I'm not trying to concentrate on the task at hand. I still get to see all the information I want without constantly going down rabbit trails.

This is just one of many ways to retain focus and get things done -- every little bit helps.

Side note -- my thoughts on Priority Inbox and its many competitors.  Do not filter my inbox... I will spend all my time worrying about whether or not you have filtered something important, and I'll be stuck checking my Priority Inbox and my real inbox. It's surprisingly easy to filter your own mail so you only get messages that you need to read.

Here's how I handle email:

  • If spam comes in, I report it as such... Google Apps does a really good job with spam.
  • If any sort of bulk mail (like a newsletter) comes in, I'll skim it when I have a moment.  If emails from that publisher are not consistently relevant and useful, I unsubscribe.  If it's something I didn't intend to subscribe to (like from some online store I visited), I unsubscribe immediately without reading any of it.  I unsubscribe immediately because it is much faster to opt out right then and there rather than waiting for their next email, remembering what it is and unsubscribing later.
  • If a useless notification comes in, I create an email filter for it.  I have it automatically marked as read and put in a folder of junk.  I don't ever look at the folder of junk unless I need to see if there was some useless notification.
  • If a family member routinely sent forwards or other junk (which fortunately they don't), I'd create a filter for that too.
Jeff Robertson
written by JEFF ROBERTSON

Jeff Robertson is an entrepreneur and an online development expert with experience stretching back to dial-up. He is a partner and VP of Technology & Operations at Carbon8. On the development side, he helps bridge the gap between the technical and marketing worlds, and oversees technical infrastructure. On the operations side, he helps optimize team processes, manages finances and buys emergency coffee if the supply runs low.

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