zen habits : breathe

Top 10 Productivity Hacks – #8

Quick intro: This is one in a series of Top Productivity Hacks – little tips and tricks that are designed to make you more productive. At the end of the series I’ll post them all together in an overview.

Productivity Hack #8: Simplify your information streams, and plow through feeds and email.

The first step of this hack is the more necessary — we often have an overload of information coming at us in different ways, and it is distracting and a waste of our time. Do we really need to read 100 blogs every day? Edit your feeds to just the ones that you really love. Trust me — you can let go of the rest. Also edit the email (and snail mail) that comes in: can you unsubscribe from mailing lists, newsletters, or other unnecessary, regular emails? Can you filter out all the forwarded chain mail you get from friends and family (or ask them to stop sending them)? I’ve done this, and it saves a lot of time. The few chain mails (or joke emails) I still get, I delete immediately. Stop getting catalogs in the mail too.

What other information are your receiving on a daily, weekly or monthly basis? Can you cut out your magazine and newspaper subscriptions without really missing anything? Do you get routed email from coworkers that you really don’t need to be getting? Do people routinely cc stuff to you unnecessarily? Think about everything you receive, and edit brutally. You will drastically reduce the time you spend reading. For everything else that begins to come in after your editing process, ask yourself if you really need to be getting that information regularly. Most of the time the answer is no.

Now, after this process, you should be left with less to read. Here’s the next step: crank through it all.

I make sure to empty all my inboxes every day — physical, voicemail, email, blog reeder. I just crank through them, making quick decisions as necessary, saving some important ones to be read later if I don’t have the time to read them now. Sometimes I’ll print them out and take them with me on the road for reading when I catch some unexpected spare time, like waiting at the doctor’s office.

Reading my blogs is a good example: I use Google Reader, and when I check my feeds in the morning, I use the “view all” mode, where I’m reading all the blogs at once. I use the mouse wheel and just scroll down through them all, reading the headlines quickly. If I see a headline that sounds interesting, I’ll click on it to open in a new window to read when I’m done, then continue to scroll through the rest of my unread posts. I can quickly get through more than 100 posts this way. Then I’ll go and quickly read the posts I’ve opened in new tabs. If I don’t have time to read them now, I’ll bookmark them in a folder I call “Inbox” to read later. When I have time later, I’ll read through all my Inbox posts, and delete them (or save them elsewhere if I want to post about them). But the key is to crank through them, really only reading the really interesting ones.

Editing and cranking through the information you receive can free up a lot of time for more important things — like achieving your goals.

Top 10 Productivity Hacks

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