[Reposted from Lifehacker, where I guest posted this article this morning.]
Investment bankers aren’t known for their impulse control.
Several global firms in Zurich don’t allow their bankers to check email more than twice per day. The reason is simple: the more they check email, the more compelled they feel to send email. Technologist Robert Scoble has said that for each email he sends, he gets 1.75 to 2 messages in return. This phenomenon highlights the unscalable nature of most time-management approaches: striving to do more just produces increasingly more to do.
Fifty email messages beget 100, which beget 200 and so on. It’s impossible to manage this with a results-by-volume (or frequency) approach. There are two cornerstone behavioral changes for reversing this trend Read More
It was 9:47pm at Barnes and Noble on a recent Saturday night, and I had 13 minutes to find a suitable exchange for “The New Yorker Dog Cartoons,” $22 of expensive paper. Bestsellers? Staff recommends? New arrivals or classics? I’d already been there 30 minutes.
Beginning to feel overwhelmed with a ridiculous errand I’d expected to take five minutes, I stumbled across the psychology section. One tome jumped out at me as all too appropriate—The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen or read Barry Schwarz’s 2004 classic, but it seemed like a good time to revisit the principles, among them that:
-The more options you consider, the more buyer’s regret you’ll have.
-The more options you encounter, the less fulfilling your ultimate outcome will be.
This raises an difficult question: Is it better to have the best outcome but be less satisfied, or have an acceptable outcome and be satisfied? Read More
I’ll cover my head in shame: I only discovered keyboard shortcuts about a year ago. There, I said it.
Here are a few shortcuts that take out excessive mouse use and — cumulatively over thousands of computer movements per week — save hours and hours.
There a million and one “shortcuts,” but learning them all takes forever. The headache savers below are those I use almost every time I touch a computer. Though self-evident to most techies, I hope a few Luddites like me will find them a revelation. If using a Mac, use the Cmd key instead of Ctrl… Read More
If you could hire someone else to be spend countless hours in your inbox instead of you?
This isn’t pure fantasy. For the last 12 months, I’ve experimented with removing myself from the inbox entirely by training other people to behave like me. Not to imitate me, but to think like me.
Here’s the upshot: I get more than 1,000 e-mail a day from various accounts. Rather than spending 6-8 hours per day checking e-mail, which I used to do, I can skip reading e-mail altogether for days or even weeks at a time… all with 4-10 minutes a night… Read More
The NYT article was very well done, but the truth is that I get some of my information from many different sources, including friends, professors, and occasionally — yes — even the much maligned service staff.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Let’s start with something we can all agree on: In a digital world, the race goes not to the person with the most information, but the person with the best combination of low-volume and high-relevancy information. The person with the least inputs necessary to maximize output.
12 Filtering Tips for Better Information in Half the Time: RSS, Del.icio.us and StumbleUpon
by Ryan Holiday
In the search to stay informed but free and fluid, I’ve found a way to let collaborative filtering do the work for me. Here is how I do it:
RSS—Really Simple Syndication
This comes as a shock to everyone in the tech crowd, but most people don’t use RSS.
If you don’t use it, you should start. It can fundamentally simplify your online life.
Why would you check back to Tim’s site everyday to see if he’s posted when you can be updated only when it happens? RSS does to your web habits what Tivo did to your television–utterly revolutionizes it. Grab Google Reader and subscribe to Tim’s feed here.
Robert Scoble reads 600+ feeds a day, which nearly no one should, but if you subscribe to his feed, he’s filtering those 600+ for you, hence his nickname, the “human aggregator.” [From Tim, as true with all brackets: Rather than browsing the web for what you need and getting distracted by the irrelevant but interesting, RSS essentially gives you your own personal newspaper with carefully selected content. Here a general rule of thumb – The 70% Surfing Rule: if you surf vs. subscribe, assume you will spend at least 70% of your online time consuming interesting instead of actionable information, and 70% of the time, you won't return to the task you initially set out to complete].
RSS is the first but casual line of defense in your war for efficient information consumption.
Tips for Using RSS Effectively:
1) Don’t Use Categories
Organizing all your feeds by genre is tempting but will burn you out. It is better to list them all out in a single view and use the “j” and “k” shortcuts [hitting the “j” key move you down, hitting the “k” moves you up] on Google Reader to navigate your feeds. This inserts variety into your daily read and lets valuable material stand out, as opposed to reading 30 posts in a row from the same author.
2) Don’t check it on the weekends
By batching it up and adding a sense of urgency to the process, you’re much less likely to waste time on crap. Be ruthless. If it’s good and you miss it, it will come back to you, I promise.
3) Clean House
You’re in charge. Your time is valuable. You’re too good to put up with someone who phones it in. If your friend told boring or pointless stories, would you call them up in the middle of the day and give them your uninterrupted attention? If an author isn’t delivering consistently, cut them out. If they ever improve enough to be worth reading again, you’ll probably hear about it.
4) If it Piles Up, Throw it Away
If you fall too far behind, don’t dedicate 4 hours to catching up on 1,256 posts. Just click “Mark All As Read” and move on. If you’re utilizing Delicious and StumbleUpon correctly, both later in this article, all the important stuff will come back to you.
StumbleUpon is a valuable tool as a reader or a blogger. As a reader, it allows you to hierarchically rank the Internet–thumbs up or thumbs down, Gladiator style. Based on your voting history and interests, it lets you “stumble” on to pages that you’ll like (somewhat like Pandora in music). The term “stumble” is a bit misleading because what you’re really doing is outsourcing your searching/filtering to a computer and to a highly dedicated crowd of 2 million people. They help you catch the crucial things you may have missed in your RSS reader.
As a blogger, SU is far superior to Digg, Reddit or any other service in terms of delivering traffic. Last month, Stumble Upon sent 23,000 people to three sites I work on to posts that are almost a year old. 91% of those visitors were totally new to our pages and 69% of them stuck around (31% bounce rate) compared to the abysmal 4% stick rate (96% bounce) that came from a front page story on Digg. This happens because they’re being sent to pages that fit with their interests–because the algorithm works.
Getting the Most Out of StumbleUpon
1) Actually Joining the Community
How can you expect to get returns from a service you never bothered to invest in? Everyone in your organization, even if it’s just you, should have an account, and you should be a regular contributor (which really means an extra click when you see something you like). If you develop a high-quality, genuine account, no one is going to have a problem with you voting on your own stuff–you do like it, don’t you? But your votes won’t mean anything if you haven’t voted often and voted well for other pages you actually think are worthwhile.
2) Guide, but Don’t Direct
If you’re not going to vote for your own stories, you should make sure they’re in the right category. When I looked over Tim’s pages, one of his best posts “The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen” was categorized under travel. It’s not about travel; it’s about living life on your own terms. So go through your archives and make sure anything that has been submitted is in the right place. By keeping up on this, you can optimize your site for the traffic it deserves.
3) Dial in Your Interest, Let Computers Do Your Work
Every time you vote, tag, and review a story, the Stumble Upon algorithm gets to know you that much better. Start by voting in all your favorites, sites who’s feed you subscribe too, and writers you read everyday. Knowing that you like psychology, that you recently voted for an interview with Richard Dawkins and a Wikipedia page on Cognitive Biases, allows Stumble Upon to serve you with Time Magazine’s newest story on evolutionary psychology instead of you having to subscribe to the magazine’s RSS feed, or worse yet, drive to the store and buy it.
4) Use Only the Essentials.
After you install the toolbar, get rid of all the excess. Go to “Toolbar Options?Position Options” and place it anywhere you want (I keep mine at the bottom in my status bar). And then uncheck little buttons in the same window and select “icons only”, and all you’re left with is the thumbs up, thumps down button–everything that you need.
Delicious, if you use it right, not only makes your bookmarking system [highlighting good pages for later reference] portable but it hires all your friends as personal news shoppers for you. If you were looking to outsource your morning read, but didn’t want to pay those Indian MBA’s, this is how you do it.
Making your Bookmarks Del.icio.us:
1) Use the “Links for You” section
Delicious’ killer app is its ability to facilitate sharing. When friends read a story they think you’d be interested in, they tag it to you and it shows up in your account to be read at your leisure. I’ve set it up so my network of friends and co-workers hit me with 5-10 of the day’s best stories–the things I can’t do with out. If done right, you’ll have an army of friends out searching for the things you need to read instead of you taking the massive burden on yourself.
2) Give to Receive
While you’re doing your regular read, keep your friends in mind. If you see an article that’s relevant to a friends business, tag it “To:UserName” and it shows up in their account.
3) Mark them “To_Read”
When you see something that you know you have to read, but don’t have time for now, set up a category that delineates that you’ll go back to it. Think of it as a DVR that saves the stuff you need to watch but didn’t want to be chained to the clock for. I mark stories “To_Read” and every few days I go back through and get caught up. The last thing you should do is rush through something important when you can go back later and get the most out of it. I also have “To_Do” tag that I use to mark things I need to install or complete.
4) Be Simple
Use the Classic Del.icio.us buttons and nothing else. In Firefox, it puts them right next to your navigation bar, one for tagging and the other to view your bookmarks. Use as few tags as possible. Use the description section to highlight the meaty part of the article. And lastly, only befriend people who provide quality material. The last thing you need is the website equivalent of chain-emails showing up in your account.
The Bottom Line
Each one of these services is useful in and of themselves, but used in combination, they can dramatically improve your results while simultaneously cutting the bulk of your information load.
RSS is your first line of defense. You pick the sites that deliver quality content and are informed when they’re updated. No need to live and die by it–treat it like scanning the newspaper headlines.
Then, by employing collaborative filtering, you use other people’s time to weed out the things that would waste yours. In fact, Del.icio.us and Stumble Upon polls your friends and people with similar interests for the most crucial sources of information and anything else you might have accident skipped over. If The Wisdom of Crowds has taught us anything, it is that a large group of people is drastically more efficient than you’ll ever be on your own.
Unless you enjoy grinding yourself to the bone, use this principle—whether you call it “crowdsourcing” or otherwise—to stop drinking from the information fire hose. It’s not more information, it’s better information, that distinguishes the real winners in business and life.
Looks like I’ll be in South America for a bit enjoying some surf and turf. Does anyone have a room or house in Punta del Este available the first or second week of January? I’m happy to share (same true for good wine), and the closer to La Barra, the better Just email amy-atsymbol-fourhourworkweek.com or leave a comment.
There is an eight-foot stretch of shelves in my house containing nothing but full notebooks.
Some would call this hypergraphia (Dostoevsky was a member of this club), but I trust the weakest pen more than the strongest memory, and note taking is—in my experience—one of the most important skills for converting excessive information into precise action and follow-up.
Simple but effective note taking enables me to:
-Review book highlights in less than 10 minutes
-Connect scattered notes on a single theme in 10 minutes that would otherwise require dozens of hours
-Contact and connect mentors with relevant questions and help I can offer
-Impose structure on information for increased retention and recall
I fashion myself a note-taking geek of the first class. How dare I self-appoint myself into this priesthood? Relax, script kiddies. I’m using a much broader definition of “geek,” this one borrowed from “Understanding Geeks” in the current issue of Inc. Magazine (that said, I was recently on Geekbrief.tv, birthplace of the ubercool iYule.tv):
“Someone with an intense curiosity about a specific subject. Not limited to tech–there are also gaming geeks, music geeks, etc.”
Here are a few recommendations from inside the world of a compulsive note taker, including both the macro (books and notepad principles) and micro (page features and formatting):
1. Create an indexing system:
Indexing AJ Jacobs’ latest book (click to enlarge all thumbnails)
Information is useful only to the extent that you can find it when you need it. Most of us have the experience of note proliferation—notes on the backs of envelopes, billing statements, hotel paper, etc.–that somehow never gets consolidated. Consolidate and create an index.
My favorite notepads (covered below) generally don’t have page numbers off the shelf. Here’s how you progress with a non-paginated pad:
A. Put page numbers on the upper-right of each right-hand page but not on the left (e.g., 1, 2, 3, etc.). I do about 30 pages at a time, as needed.
B. Whenever you complete a page, put the page number in an index on the inside cover (front or back) and a few words to describe the content.
If it’s on the left-hand page, just take the prior page and add “.5” to it. Thus, if you flip over page 10, for example, and write on the back, that second page is “10.5” in the index.
Brainstorming blog post topics and paginating on the right-hand pages
The page numbers in the index do NOT need to be in order, as you’ll be scanning for content, then referring to the page. If you write on the same topic again, simply put that page number next to the previous index entry.
Creating an index like this for non-fiction books I read allows me to refer back and review key concepts in 5-10 minutes without rereading the entire book and searching for underlined sections.
Notes from “The Biology of Sleep” at Stanford University (Notice the bottom-right square allocated to follow-up questions, which is standard)
2. Choose the Proper Pad for the Job:
My current repetoire of active notepads.
Not all notepads are created equal.
This doesn’t mean that one is better for all things, just that you should match the form factor and durability of a notepad to the content.
Below is a photo of several different notepads I use:
-I use the big notebook, which contains graph paper, for larger projects such as future books, TV programs, feature-length articles, LitLiberation, conference panel notes, etc. I don’t want to turn 10 pages to get an overview of all the pieces of a single topic/event. Cons: terrible for traveling and intimidating for interview subjects. The larger the pad, the more reserved interviewees will be.
Notes from my first SXSW (Notice the bottom-right follow-up, in this case, people to contact)
SXSW panel titled “Blog to Book”; Notice the bottom panel and how I number the participants so I can just label comments/notes with each respective number. No spacial guessing required.
-I use the hard-backed red rectangular notebook, bought in Milan, as a default notepad. It is the perfect fits-in-ass-pocket checkbook size. Telephone interview notes, lists (dreamlining, asset assessment, cash-flow projections), projects requiring less than 3 hours to complete, random observations about emotional state or internal problem solving, random silliness like songs (think Adam Sandler), etc. Here is one beauty, written at 4am during an airport layover after a sleepless red eye:
The fattest midget I ever met
Some called him the triple threat
Ugly, dirty, and smelly yet
The fattest midget I ever met.
Hey… if you’re bound to have rare flashes of insight/stupidity, you might as well capture them on paper.
-The flexible softcover moleskine is excellent for interviews, especially if you are in motion or in the field. I’ve found, however, that if that is the only notebook I carry, I put in material I would prefer to preserve for months or years, and the soft moleskine gets ripped to pieces in backpacks, luggage, and pockets over just a few weeks. There are hardback versions, but they tend to be square-ish and fit poorly in pockets. I limit this format to interviews, contact info when on the run, and temporary to-do/not-to-do lists.
I don’t use digital notetaking tools. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve noticed that some of the most innovative techies in Silicon Valley do the same, whether with day-planner calendars, memo pads, or just simple notecards with a binder clip. It’s a personal choice, and I like paper. It can be lost, but it can’t be deleted, and I find it faster.
Quite a few of you have asked, so here’s the scoop. The $2,600 date took place this past Saturday, and we had an AWESOME time. I promised I wouldn’t show pictures, but the smart young lass looks a lot like Natalie Portman, so the night immediately started off on a much-relieved foot. She’s a veeeery pretty girl.
Big smiles all around.
Festivities began at the famous Alfredo’s Steakhouse in SF, where Marco made the meal one to remember. The delicious medium-rare Chicago steaks were matched with wine I brought along, in this case, a particularly sentimental and special bottle: Rombauer Vineyards’ Proprietor Selection 2004 Zinfandel (think of it as this wine on steroids).
Bigger smiles all around.
Once full and well buzzed, we set off for the beginning of entertainment: seats 10 feet from the main platform at Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza. It was incredible, and as an acrobatics fetishist, it was in seventh heaven. Hard drumming, aerials, gainers, wheels of death… Here’s just a taste of what we feasted our eyes on:
After Cirque du Soleil… well, I’ll leave the rest of the date to your overactive imaginations! It’s entirely possible nothing happened, but if it had, I wouldn’t be one to kiss and tell. Some things are more fun left unexplained
The Dream Date Challenge:
What would your dream date look like?
Pick a city anywhere in the world, and for a budget of no more than $500, describe your dream date in 300 words or less (bullet points are fine). My favorite 5 will get at least 12 copies of the 1st printing (it’s now in the 25th) of The 4-Hour Workweek to give away as X-mas/Festivus presents.
I recently came across this article in Princeton Alumni Weekly magazine, edited here for length. How would your life change if you bought nothing new for a year? How much of it would be good change vs. bad?
Princeton friends John Perry and Sarah Pelmas had debated repeatedly with their San Francisco buddies about the impact of the U.S. consumer lifestyle on the planet and on their own quality of life. In late 2005, they decided to do something about it: The 10 friends challenged each other to see if they could all go through the whole of 2006 without buying anything new.
The group called themselves The Compact, after the Mayflower Compact, and pledged that for the entire year, they would purchase secondhand or borrow everything they needed, except for food and essentials like toiletries and medicine.
“We thought that if we stopped participating in the cycle of disposable consumption and empty shopping, we could tread a little more lightly on the planet,” says Perry, a communications director at a high-tech company, who majored in English at Princeton.
Sounds hard? They say it wasn’t. They shopped less overall and got creative when they needed specific items. They reserved “shopping” for times when there was something they really couldn’t do without. When Perry needed a pressure cooker to prepare vegetarian dishes for his partner and their two children, he found a used one on the Internet. Pelmas and her husband, who are renovating their home, found secondhand appliances and recycled wood for baseboards and cabinets. But they were stumped by how to find used nails, screws, and hinges, and broke down and bought them new instead — the only time they cheated. Pelmas also struggled with finding sports sunglasses for rowing. Never able to find a used pair, she taped up her old ones and kept using them instead.
“It seems impossible and daunting, but it really isn’t,” says Pelmas, who studied English and creative writing at Princeton and now works as a school administrator. One of the benefits of ditching recreational shopping was more time for friends and family. “It’s completely changed the way we look at things,” Pelmas says. “Most things don’t seem necessary anymore.”
The Compact unexpectedly morphed into a national — and international — phenomenon after the media in San Francisco caught wind of the project. Before the year was out, stories about it had run in dozens of U.S. and international media outlets. The Compactors started hearing from people around the country and around the world, including environmentalists and people concerned about global warming, but also from parents worried that their children were becoming too materialistic, and people troubled by the consequences of U.S. oil dependency.
About 8,000 people have joined the e-mail list The Compact created to discuss the project, and groups modeled after The Compact have sprouted in 38 communities across the United States and in countries including Romania, New Zealand, and Japan. You can read more about The Compact on its blog at sfcompact.blogspot.com.
The project was supposed to wind down at the end of 2006, but Perry and Pelmas plan to continue living in the spirit of The Compact. “When you stop engaging in ‘retail therapy,’ you realize how much you have and how little you really need,” Perry said.
By E.B. Boyd ’89
E.B. Boyd ’89 is a freelance writer in San Francisco.