How I manage the information firehose
Note: I originally posted this article on LinkedIn
Back in the '90s, before the internet and the search engine, I used to have to go to my university's library to find information. Today, we have the world's information on our fingertips, and we can find data about almost anything from wherever we are. Our challenge today is not about getting information, but about filtering the signal from the noise and turning that filtered data into knowledge.
The following is how I tackle this challenge.
Step 1: Curate sources of information
Most of us have our regular “channels” from which we get information. These sources may be online (websites we frequent, social media, RSS feeds, mailing lists) and offline (newspapers, books, and magazines).
The first step is to periodically review the sources of information. Ask yourself:
- Are the people I follow on social media still interesting to me?
- Are the websites I regularly visit still giving me valuable information?
- Are the mailing lists I subscribe to still relevant to my needs?
These days, most of my sources of information are online. I want to share a couple of tips about getting information:
- RSS is a way to read the content of a website without actually visiting the website itself. Using software like Inoreader (which is my choice for RSS reader tool), you can “subscribe” to many websites and read all their content in one place. Not all websites support RSS, unfortunately, but many still do.
- Podcast is a great medium to get news and information (and entertainment) without having to use your eyes. I listen to podcasts when I work out and commute — it's probably the only times where I multi-task. I currently subscribe to 32 podcasts and I found PocketCasts to be a great software for managing that many subscriptions.
Step 2: Skim, then read now or save for later
With my mobile phone, I usually get my news and information first during my downtime, e.g. short breaks between important activities or when I'm riding public transport. In this step, I do a light skimming of my information sources. The goal is for broad coverage, rather than depth. I look for clues about whether the information is relevant or interesting to me.
If there is an article that catches my eye, I will decide whether to read it then or save it for later. This will depend on the length of the article, the time I have, and just how compelling the article is. If I decide to save the article for later, I will save it in Pocket, a “read-it-later” tool.
Step 3: Block time for serious reading
This step is very much a habit that I have established. You may have heard of “the five-hour rule,” which says that no matter how busy you are, always block 1 hour every workday to learn something. This practice is critical for my growth as a person and a professional.
The keys to this step are focus (hence blocking the time) and active reading (highlighting passages and taking notes). E-books are great because I can highlight and take notes directly on the e-book itself.
Readwise is a great tool that consolidates your highlights and notes in one place. It integrates well with Kindle, iBooks, and Pocket (among others). Readwise then allows you to review your highlights in the future, so you can remember important passages from the articles and books you have read.
Step 4: Save and file information
After step 3, I will decide whether the article is worth saving. If it is, I will save it on Evernote. I do this because of two reasons:
- Although most information is available on the internet nowadays, there is no guarantee that it will be there forever. Articles sometimes disappear on the internet and the URL may change.
- Like in Step 1, saving the article to Evernote is another act of curation. I have almost 10,000 notes on Evernote now, each has been tagged for easy searching. If someday I need to find a particular information, searching my Evernote will give me better and more relevant information.
Step 5: Connect new information to existing knowledge
In this last step, I block time to think about how the new information is related to the knowledge I already have. To do this, I follow the Zettelkasten method described in Sonke Ahren's book, How to Take Smart Notes.
Zettelkasten is a method to store and organize knowledge, extend your memory, and generate new ideas. With Zettelkasten, you write one note for one nugget of information or idea, then connect the note to other notes. Connecting a note to other notes mimics how the brain learns. I've found that this method has helped me surface meaningful ideas and facts.
We are living in the information age and your brain will be overwhelmed if it must remember everything. As David Allen says, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” Having a Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) tool is important for this step. My tool of choice is Obsidian.
Having the right tools to do the above steps are important. What's also important is establishing the habit to do them. If you read for more than entertainment, and if your goal is to manage information and turn it into knowledge, then having a blocked time in your schedule for reading and thinking is critical.
Your Personal Knowledge Management tool gets more valuable as more knowledge is stored in it. Having the habits and consistency to add more information into this tool will give you exponential returns over time.