The Way We Work

You need to be “in the know” – about your business, of course, but also about the latest industry news, small business trends, what your competitors are doing, and other events that may impact your income for better or for worse.

You set up Google Reader a while ago to monitor dozens of blogs and RSS feeds. Now you have thousands of unread articles and still no manageable way to process all that information. What can you do?

Use folders

Digital communications strategist Tod Maffin has a “Four Bucket System” that he uses to keep things in order, starting with folder organization. “Each folder name is preceded by a number so they sort in order of priority,” he wrote. “In this way, if I don’t have a tonne of time, I’ll just start at the top and be assured I’m getting what I need.”

Create a list of the different types of blogs you follow, then number them according to priority. What information do you need to know every day? What information can wait until the weekend – or longer? You may find it helpful to create a folder called “1- Top Priority” to contain all the blogs you must read daily.

Recommendation: Be selective about the blogs you include in your high-priority folders. If your top-priority folder routinely has hundreds of articles waiting to be read, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed again in the near future.

Focus on your goal

Prioritizing your blogs will not help a bit if you allow yourself to relax into an hour or two of reading every day. The truth is, you likely have just a few specific reasons for following all these blogs.

For example, your reasons may include:

  • Staying informed of current news and trends that might impact your business or clients.
  • Learning new strategies that will help your business succeed.
  • Getting inspiration for the creative work you do.

Whatever your goals, keep them in mind as you prepare to start reading. Non-profit communicator Debra Askanase wrote about how she uses her goals not just as a filter when reading, but also when occasionally cleaning up the list of blogs she’s following.

Recommendation: Try to skim just headlines and introductions to flag articles that are relevant to your goals. Ideally, save these articles to another service – Evernote and Instapaper are a couple of great tools for this – and read them separately. It is possible that you may miss something relevant, but that is still preferable to spending your time reading everything.

Take action

In his post, Tod Maffin describes the four buckets – act, share, save, and read later – that he is committed to acting on regularly. There is a new tool that can make taking action even easier, even automatically.

ifttt, “If This Then That”, is essentially a recipe book for creating online shortcuts. Launched in December 2010, this San Francisco-based start-up gives you the ability to mash various online tools together in whatever way is useful to you.

For example, with Google Reader you can use ifttt to automatically:

  • Save any posts you star to your Evernote or Instapaper account
  • Tweet any items you tag with the term “tweet”
  • Email any posts you star to a specified email address

There are hundreds of combinations already created, and if you are unable to find the one you want, you can always create your own.

Recommendation: Automate what you can, and commit yourself to the rest. For example, if you decide to save relevant articles to a reading application, make time every day to read through those articles. Otherwise you will just end up with an intimidating pile of curated information you will not want to read, either.

New information is so constantly available that it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Organization, goals and discipline can make the flow a lot more manageable.

How do you stay on top of your news and information? Share your favorite solutions in the comments section below.

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As the managing editor of the Upwork blog, Amy Sept works with regular and guest writers to share information that helps freelancers and businesses navigate the future of work. She owns Nimbyist Communications and helps non-profits, startups, and small business owners get their content marketing on track.