Manage the Noise – 6 Easy Ways to Plug In Better.

Where we’ve improved in communication and information, we’ve suffered in lost time and overload.

If the coming years are set to be a boom for curators of information, how can you strike a balance between drinking from a firehose and switching off the flow completely?

photo by bartmaguire

photo by bartmaguire

The Atlantic provides some ideas on how to plug in better, and there’s plenty more you can do to use your time productively and access huge amounts of noise at the same time. Here are some of the things I’ve learned to do over the years.

Six Ways to Plug In Better

  1. Prioritise accurately – Recognise social networks as a true time sink. If it’s on in the background, or constantly causing you to check your phone, it’s taking up more time and attention than you think. In many cases, that’s fine. In some cases, you need to shut down or find a way to tune in to a more limited feed of information.
  2. Know when to shut down – I used to repeat the phrase “know when to stop” a while back. It was to remind myself that time is precious. You may be wonderful at time-management, but that doesn’t mean you know when to stop. The constant flow of information coming your way is easily switched off, but it’s not so easy to make that conscious choice to shut it down.
    You rarely need to hear something at the first possible moment. You may want to, but that’s a whole different matter. Also, when a big event takes over, you’re unlikely to miss it completely. I regularly take days at a time away from online activity, but the world still goes on without problem. And I return without problem too. Nothing is damaged, no harm is done.
    To some online gurus, leaving the scene is a cardinal sin. Why not schedule something in advance? Why not make a big deal about your downtime? Why not find a way to not have any downtime at all?
    I prefer not to follow advice that doesn’t gel with the bigger picture. When my circumstances change, the bigger picture may change and I may follow different advice. So I’m listening to what makes sense in my own personal circumstances. With a bit of listening, it becomes clear when it’s wise to shut down and when it’s best to log back on.
  3. Don’t read everything – Some people complain when they’re following more than a hundred RSS news feeds. Some people complain when they’re keeping up with more than a couple hundred users on Twitter. Some people complain when they’re catching up with several hundred friends on Facebook.
    But how much of it is important? Chances are, most of what you read won’t make a difference to you. You need to be brutal and bypass a lot of the content out there. Either flick through your updates and develop a focused mind (no more cute kitten vids and hilarious TV ads will disturb you now, uh-huh!) or select the items you want to spend more time on and save them for later consumption.
  4. Don’t fall for ‘in the moment’ – When you save stuff to look at later, you may not be the first person to comment on every last detail. You may have to miss out on making a really clever remark within five seconds of someone writing a status update. I always feel sad when I miss saying something amusing in the moment, but I remind myself that I find loads of other times to do it. You can’t be everywhere all the time. Not everything will work out how you want it, and you have to get used to that (which takes a bit of practice, but isn’t difficult in itself). Once you get over this, you’ll find it much easier to turn off the feeds when you need. And you’ll find it much easier to catch up too.
  5. Scan for what’s important now, what you’ll save for later, and what might entertain you – Everything else can go out the window. If you’re unsure about something, save it for later or take a quick peek to decide one way or another. That’s a quick peek, not reading half an article! The important stuff comes first, the stuff for later comes whenever you get spare time (including never), and the stuff that might entertain you can be for your breaks and downtime when you want something else to do. Because breaks are important!
  6. Use the time you’ve got rather than finding more and more time to sort – When I’m away for a few days, or something urgent crashes in to my schedule, I may come back to A LOT of catching up. After all, I subscribe to hundreds of blogs, I follow thousands of people on Twitter, and I’m using loads of other services more too (like Google+, LinkedIn, Scoop It, and so on).
    A lot of the catching up isn’t necessary, so I work on what I should be aware of. For instance, I have a Twitter list of essential accounts to check back on for the last day or so, I have selected a few RSS feeds that need reading and a few busy RSS feeds that I can ignore without even checking, and I keep a scratchpad to make brief notes rather than trying to put something major together (that can wait, but I don’t want to lose any ideas).

I’m still learning and I doubt I’ll ever stop. So let me know what works for you when you plug in to the great firehose of noise in your life.

EduLinks – 26 August 2011

“If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did. In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passé.


“The post-idea world has been a long time coming, and many factors have contributed to it. There is the retreat in universities from the real world, and an encouragement of and reward for the narrowest specialization rather than for daring — for tending potted plants rather than planting forests.”

Too much advice and not enough productivity?

Simple advice can usually be taken the opposite way.

  • Want to achieve your goals?  Make them public!  No, keep them private!
  • Want to focus better on revision?  Listen to music while you work!  No, sit in silence!
  • Want to save money on your shopping bill?  Make a list!  No, shop less strictly to bag the bargains!

You may have heard me say that one person’s poison is another person’s potion.  When it comes to uncomplicated suggestions from a friend, or a blog post with some quick tips, the advice won’t necessarily work for you.


photo by RobeRt Vega

photo by RobeRt Vega

If there was a single answer, we’d all take that route and we’d all love the success it brought.  Nobody would have to worry.  But, naturally, life isn’t like that.

The same goes for if a selection of answers all produced the same, successful, result.  Suggestions are great, but you have to make them your own before they’ll work.  Even then they may not yield the fruit you were expecting.

Yes, it’s frustrating, but life isn’t simple.  That’s why so many people are hooked on finding a quick fix or an astounding life hack.

Whenever you stumble upon something great, let’s call it ‘lucky’.  Without seeking any advice, you won’t be as lucky as one who does the searching.  You do have to ‘create your own luck‘ to an extent.  However, there is a saturation point where even the one who searches is wasting their time.

After all, there are so many blogs devoted to study tips and life hacks that it’s easy to spend too much time reading themDo you really want to save time, or do you want to procrastinate? At some point, you need to act on the advice you already have.

Darren Rowse of ProBlogger made some great points over Twitter about all the supposedly time-saving advice out there:

“Problem with productivity techniques: so many focus upon how we can stuff more into life – which just sets us up for heart attacks later.  Not sure what the answer is but it strikes me that a better approach to productivity would be becoming focused and doing less things better.  Or maybe thinking about all this productivity stuff is just a distraction from being productive.”

Darren was inspired to make those comments because of this video:

We do face distractions.  They won’t go away.  Neither should we be forced to rid ourselves of all disruption.

However, the idea of ‘doing less things better’ is important.  Doing more isn’t automatically more impressive.  A limited number of key pursuits can be more convincing.  You may find that, in the transition, you focus on more demanding work within the deliberately limited scope.  The good news is that hard work under these conditions is often more satisfying.

I’m not trying to suggest that general productivity hacks and tips are useless.  Far from it.  Much of the advice I give on this blog is general.

I see the difficulties of taking advice working in two ways:

  1. Specific advice is easy to action because there is little need to interpret.  Just follow step by step.  However, it is less likely to yield as much success as the person who achieved it and advised in the first place;
  2. General advice is harder to action, because you have to take responsibility for making it your own.  You may develop the approach wonderfully, you may reach a dead end and seek out different advice, or you may find it too hard to take on that responsibility at all.

Advice, no matter how specific, should be examined and considered, but at no point should you expect an automatic win.  Even if you’re persuaded it’s a no-brainer.

It’s great to take a punt and win.  It’s hell to expect the best and lose.

The advice I give is based on my own experience and those of others.  I sometimes advise stuff that doesn’t (or hasn’t yet) worked for me.  Why?  Because I know many others who have been successful using those methods.

We may not be the same, but we share many similar features and goals and thought processes.  It would be insane if nobody listened to others for advice.  It would be equally insane if you took everything they said as the truth. The only person who can find your truth is you.  And it’s not an easy road.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.  Have a nice trip.  And don’t make *too* many stops on the way for advice.  You can’t refuel if you’ve not started using your own resource tank yet.

Want to hear more? Just before I went to publish this, Darren Rowse put up his own video on whether productivity systems really work.  I’ll leave you with that:

Morning Productivity Wake-up Call – Read, Review, Revive, Ready!

For some, getting up can be difficult on the best of mornings.  It needn’t be if you ease into the day with a “read, review, revive, ready” session.

photo by tizwas01

No point in prolonging the inevitable... (photo by tizwas01)

There’s nothing ground-breaking about it.  Here’s the deal:


If getting out of bed is a pain and you’re more interested in the comfy bed, at least you can wake up with a morning read.  Your head may feel fuzzy, but you don’t have to read anything challenging.  Maybe a chapter of an easy-going novel will wake your mind up and take you away from the happy feelings of sleep.  Just something to let you set off, rather than drift off!


Now you’re at least awake.  At this point, a moment of review helps.  What are your plans for the day?  What do you need to concentrate on to make the most of your time?  How would you like to develop and what do you plan to do about it?

Setting your daily goals will get your mind flowing and focus you for the day ahead.  And it can still all be done in the comfort of your bed if you wish.


Now’s the time to strike.  You’re wide awake, but you’re still cosy and warm.  You’ve got a choice:

  • Jump out of bed, throw back the curtains and splash your face with cold water;
  • Jump out of bed, throw back the curtains and commit to a brisk exercise.  Just five minutes should do it.  Star jumps, running on the spot, throwing your arms through the air like a loon, whatever you like.  This isn’t exercise for keeping fit, it’s exercise to make you alert and raring to go!

…you can throw back the curtains after the exercise if you’re worried somebody is going to see you.  😉


Getting out of bed is even easier when you’ve already prepared for it.  I’ve long been a fan of easing into a new day by preparing the night before.  I get my clothes ready and my necessary belongings organised.  That way, I don’t have a last-minute scramble finding a particular book or working out what to wear.  You’re ready before you’ve even started.

Far from promoting laziness, these preparations give me a morning boost, because I’m free to concentrate on more important things.  The hassle of getting everything ready in the morning simply adds to your feeling of not wanting to get up.  So sort out as much as you can the night before!  It makes such a powerful difference that you’ll probably stop with the face-splashing and exercising.  Who needs to revive if you’re already feeling perky?

A “read, review, revive, ready” session saves a lot of time in the long run, since you’ll be less likely to make the mistake of falling back to sleep when you didn’t mean to, or pushing the snooze button for the eighth time in a row…

If sleep, or wakefulness, is proving too difficult even with this method of rising, check out my other tips on improving your slumber and staying awake.  It’s the most popular post on this blog for a reason!