10 Steps Towards InfoSanity

grab bag, society, tips

I was suitably inspired by this commentary on “keeping up.”

And so I’ll ask you what I asked myself over the last few weeks:
How many undealt-with messages do you have in your inbox?
How many paper magazines or newspapers do you get regularly?
How many RSS feeds do you subscribe to?
How many “must see” pages do you have bookmarked in your Web browser?

How many of these items make you happy, provide you with essential information, truly help you have a better life?

I’ll tell you where I stood a few weeks ago. 4,000+ e-mails in my inbox.  Over 100 e-mails coming in daily (and no, that doesn’t include mails at work).  Many thousands of unread blog items. Nearly a thousand to-do items.

Now I’m making progress. My inbox is down to fewer than 100 mails.  I’ve begun trimming my RSS feeds.  I decided not to renew two of my magazine subscriptions.  And I cleaned up my browser bookmarks.

Here are some of the cleaning techniques I’ve used; perhaps you’ll find some of them helpful.

1. I shifted over *all* my mail to Gmail.
If I don’t read an e-newsletter within a day or two, I archive it.  It’s available to be searched for later, but now it doesn’t clutter my inbox and I don’t feel compelled to read it.  Gmail isn’t a perfect e-mail reader, but—among other cool features—its one-click (or one-keystroke) way of archiving is a beauteous thing to behold.
2. I unsubscribed from a ton of e-newsletters.
I asked myself—have I found anything hilarious, invaluable, or otherwise important to my well-being in each subscription that I don’t already get elsewhere?  When I answered no (and I did, quite often), that subscription went POOF.
3. I learned to strategically answer personal mail.
Wherein the past, I’ve often tried to respond right away… or I’ve found myself replying to friends’ mails literally a year or more later, now I’ve brought a better balance into play.  Is the e-mail a query that can be answered quickly and easily, something involving a time-sensitive issue?  I now try to answer that sort of mail either right away or within a day.  Is it more of just a friendly conversation?  My goal now is 1-2 weeks. Mails that I determine should be replied to at a later time get tagged with a month name, and I check each of those tags towards the end of each month.
4. I adopted the handle-immediately-and-file habit on “impersonal” mail.
I either immediately read/skim and file newsletters and receipts and such, or cut and paste the critical portion into my calendar, Evernote database, or MyLifeOrganized to-do list and then archive.
5. I’m learning to treat RSS feeds as mercilessly as e-mail.
Not brilliant, critical, hilarious, massively useful, or something from a friend?  I’m unsubscribing (though I have SO many feeds that it’s taking me a while to get through the list).
I’m now using Rojo, an online reader.  Its overall UI and speed isn’t nearly as nice as my favorite desktop reader, NewzCrawler, but with Rojo I can catch up on work and personal feeds on my home computer (Windows), laptops (Windows), or work computer (Linux) as appropriate without having to worry about sync’ing issues.
6. Down with tech magazines.  And most other magazines.
Typically, the same content is available online, and in a more timely manner.  When I want to curl up in bed with something to read, or need something on the bus, I can bring one of those bound things with lots of text and no ads… I think they’re called a… a book or something like that!  And besides, after doing tech stuff all day, do I *really* want or need to be absorbing more tech in my free time?!
7. I’m prioritizing my guilty pleasures (reading fewer opinion columns, spending less time IM’ing…)
We can’t and shouldn’t cut out all the “lazy” activities (lolling around in bed with a crossword puzzle, watching The Simpsons), but we should wisely note that we can’t do *everything* we want and still accomplish all that we need to do (including sleep, exercise, and life planning).  Therefore, some stuff’s gotta go, whether that’s time spent playing video games, watching TV, beta testing non-work-related software, etc.
8. I’m learning to be at peace knowing that I just can’t know everything
Before I unsubscribed from dozens of e-lists and RSS feeds, I had this clammy fear that, oh God, I’m going to miss some critical posts on [x].  Overlooking the fact that the same info will likely turn up on another blog or journal that I read, there’s the more important retort:  So what?   So what if I’m 0.1 versions behind on my music player?  So what if I never hear that 73 Lightposts has just released a new, ultra-simple oh-so-amazing Web app?  Will my life go on if I never get to try yet another Goowyvibeycrunchy portal? [the answers, by the way, are:  I’ll live, that’s fine, and yes.]
9. I’m purging without guilt.
This is certainly related to #8, but… in RSS feeds in particular, I’m now much more ready to occasionally click the “Mark [entire directory of feeds] As Read” link.
10.  I’m spending less time annotating; if I need it, I’ll search for it.
Annotating and tagging takes time.  And there’s always the fear of… hmm… should I describe this in a more structured manner?  Use Access?  Excel?  It’s a lot easier—and sometimes just makes more sense—to archive it and forget it.

*  *  *

Of course, it’s a bit ironic that I’m patting myself on the back for getting better at infomanagement and yet spending 30 minutes writing a blog post about it.  But hey, if this post can save a collective few hours for other folks, then it’s worth it IMHO.  Besides, getting this stuff out there in writing is further discipline fodder for me (“I already told people I’m not taking a year to answer e-mails… now I have to stick with this…!”)

Anyway, I hope my own discoveries are helpful for you.  Do chime in with comments about my tips, and please share some of your own!  It’s time well spent, I promise 😀

3 comments… add one
  • buildings guy May 4, 2006

    How many undealt-with messages do you have in your inbox?  10 because they all require long responses

    How many paper magazines or newspapers do you get regularly? none, occasionally i’ll get stuff at the newstand

    How many RSS feeds do you subscribe to? about 20

    How many ?must see? pages do you have bookmarked in your Web browser? too many, i find i never get to this list

  • Adam May 9, 2006

    I’m down to 52 messages in my inbox… about 3 paper magazines… 150+ feeds (ack!), and probably a couple dozen bookmarks (more if you count my Spurl libary).  Much better than before (when I had, for instance, more than 4,000 e-mail messages!), but still a ways to go.

    I’m committed to having no more than 20 e-mails in my inbox at any one time, paring down 5 per day, so tomorrow, for instance, I’ll have 47 by the time I go to bed. 🙂

  • James Mar 23, 2008

    Nice one post by you.
    Still what about spammers ? i can’t publish my email id because of spammers only.
    Is there any step taken by G Mail?

What do you think?