There’s an absolute ton of information that we’re shifting through every single week in this industry, that is the epitome of information overload. Managing an inbox, managing group projects, and managing countless articles and podcasts can be overwhelming. We’ve found several tools and have come up with our own personal rules for keeping on top of all the information overload that gets dumped into our inbox.
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Handling 3D Information Overload
Sometimes we catch stuff that is practically a year old by, the time we get into it, not because we’re not trying to get to it. It’s that there are so many topics, too much information overload. There are so many things to get pushed out. Sometimes, we can’t find it all until we start looking in a specific area. Things aren’t always labelled 3D Printing. It isn’t always logical where we are going to find it.
The reality is, it’s not just 3D printing information overload. It is information overload all over the place. Politics aside but email information overload, it’s killing our businesses, our ability to be productive. I can totally understand how it goes with too many emails and not reading them. It happens all the time. I can’t tell you how many people I call up and they have not read my emails. They’re like “Oh! Did you send that email? It was towards the bottom.”
Emails compared to clothes
Getting to inbox zero – and it’s a mom thing, maybe, where you realize that if you don’t keep things picked up over time, so like whenever you see clothes on the floor, you just pick it up and put it in your laundry basket otherwise, there are clothes all over the floor. In a week later, you can’t get your kids to do it. It happens. Tom, remember Alex’s room, the smell that would come out there after a while? You take care of it as you go.
That is my number one rule of email. It’s also my rule of all the information and stuff. It doesn’t mean I washed it and that I folded it and put it away. That would be a crazy amount of things to take care of. It means that I saw the email. I scanned it. I say not important today, probably important in a week. I put a flag on it. I file it into where I want it to eventually be. If it has something to do with podcasting. If it has something to do with 3D printing, business topics, wherever it is, there are clients. I put it there. But it has a flag with an alarm on it so that it will alarm me when I need to do it.
Flagging important emails
Tom hasn’t gotten into that. To him, he just goes through the email, reads every email. He understands if it’s important or not and will flag it if it’s important. That’s just to make it red so that whenever he does get back to that, it doesn’t have to alarm him.
But flags are a reminder. They’re not like a danger warning, it’s just to say, “Hey I’m important, get back to me.” It’s to get my attention when I’m getting back to it and spend more time on it. I deal with the urgent things right away. But to me, filing everything at the time, I’m trying to be more efficient and not be ruled by my email so much and to be spending too much time on it.
He didn’t want the email to consume him so he ended up with an inbox with 600 emails after a little while. He’s been known to have as many as 4,000 in his inbox before ending up on a Sunday, spending a couple of hours, really cleaning it out and dealing with it.
Email Bankruptcy as a “Last Resort” for Information Overload
If you were among the 4,000 when Tom committed the email bankruptcy, he ended up his entire email zero. I’m so sorry to hear that. But chances are good that I was a copied on it and I took care of it. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t take care of what he needed to do. No, absolutely not. he did take care of it, especially the higher priority it needs to be done with. He doesn’t neglect emails, he’s not really one of those people.
There are some people we do business with, that if you send them an email, you may as well not have communicated with them at all. It ends up in a black hole. They don’t even look at it. They either prefer text messages like Cameron Shawn of the Umbrella Syndicate. He prefers a text message. If you want to get his attention and have a conversation. That’s how you do it. You send him an email, forget it. I had to credit Ken with coining of the phrase “email bankruptcy”. He’s the first person I heard to say that one. I realized that I had do the same thing, and I know there are others who’ve said it before, but he’s the first person I heard saying it that’s why I gave him credit for it.
There are others that we’ve learned use Skype Chat as their primary means of communication. We know an entire company that primarily communicates through Skype Chat. You might think that’s crazy but they do it. It works. What I like about that is you don’t have an inbox to clean up because it’s just there. It’s this historical linear chronology of communication that just lives.
Tools for email management
I want to finish on the email part. Then, we’ll talk about all these other tools that we use for all this information overload, even though some of us use it better others.
With emails, I flag them. I put them in one place. When they come back up, I deal with them. I don’t push them off, unless I don’t have an answer at that point, I push them off.
A lot of times, if it’s somebody who’s waiting for an answer, it’s not just something I want to read or get back to later and look at that. I will tell them I can’t deal with it right now. I will deal with this in a couple of weeks, and if you don’t hear from me by such a date, then send it back. I do that immediately because it takes two seconds to do it. Then they’re not bugging you because otherwise, you will get phone calls, emails, or text messages.
That happens a lot especially when an article is supposed to come out but it doesn’t come out on time. If I just ignored it, they just send more emails. I try to deal with that so that it doesn’t overload my email box.
Roll Up for Email Information Overload
The other thing that I do is I’m absolutely vigilant about not being subscribed to things and to be unsubscribing and/or moving it what to what use, which I love, called “Roll Up”. Unsubscribing from a lot of things or putting those subscriptions into the Roll Up, it’s been very helpful to reduce the noise of email.
It’s called unroll.me. A Roll Up is basically anything that comes into our Google Mail. We have different email addresses, which helps us out. We have Gmail addresses for anything that might be a subscription. That way, we can send them through there.
It’s also anything like. You kind of want to keep up on any updates that might happen in your Youtube account or you want to have that happen from any of those apps you subscribe to. But you don’t really want to them in your email account. You just want to be able to make sure you’re on the Newsletter if there’s something that you want to monitor.
Those kinds of things we also use when we register – those Gmail accounts – to make sure that it happens. That makes it efficient for us so that you can just look. I set it once a day to come in. It does roll all of the subscriptions into one email.
You see it happens sometimes if you happen to be in your email. An email will come in. It will show up. Then, it will disappear. This is basically tracking through your email constantly. It’s pulling that out of your email and into the Roll Up. It’s been a little freaky. I’ve seen it happen for a couple of times where email downloads. There are 10 emails, then all of a sudden, there are only 6 or 7 left. I’d be like “What happened? They just disappeared!”
That’s what we do with those. You have your own little-customized Newsletter that you can just scroll through up at the end of the day or at the beginning of the next day. You take a take a quick look and ask yourself, “Do I want to read any of these?”
Sometimes, I don’t want to unsubscribe from our client’s newsletters and things, but I don’t read them every single time. I just watch them and say, “Oh! Okay, I might need to pay attention to this one.”
Feedly and Flipboard
The other thing I do is use something called Feedly. Instead of subscribing to something on a website, putting an email address down and subscribing, if they have a feed – an RSS feed, which what a podcast is, If they have a feed in terms of a written blog feed than I usually go put them into Feedly so I can watch them there. It’s like my own little Flipboard which I use as well.
Flipboard is another tool we use ,which is more news-related and more magazine realted. We don’t want to have them read individually.
This is reminding me of a new feature that we implemented on 3D Start Point this week or last week. We have, at the top of our homepage, a “Subscribe to Receive Updates.” So what that is, is every single day, we have a new blog post on our site about, usually, show notes for one of these episodes, but also we have other blog posts posted periodically that are not about the podcast.
We do sometimes extra-longer reviews or we review other items especially when we do the monthly review – The Holiday Review of Products. For people that frequent 3D Start Point, you can enter your email address and opt-in to receive updates. We just implemented a new feature which we think is helpful to unclogging email o reduce the frequency we might get.
We asked our programmers to do that. They finally did it which is when you sign-up to receive updates on 3D Start Point. You can now:
- Choose to get a daily email anytime there’s a new post, once a day you’ll get an email; or
- Choose a weekly one
I think it’s so nice because otherwise, it was too much email. I totally understand the people who didn’t want to use it. We’re trying to be a little more user-friendly. They can follow their own rules.
Those are some things that we do. The other thing is from a business standpoint. As an Inc. columnist, I use Slack. They use Slack all the time which is great because it’s not all that different from Skype Chat, but the whole team is there. You will hashtag it and have to belong to the group. You’re subscribed to it but you can belong to multiple groups.
I have a 3D printing one with few friends and people that want to talk to us all the time. They just use Slack and get messages pushed to my phone. I don’t have to review them but I can scan the conversation that’s going on, in case it’s important to me or not. If I have a question, I can roll it out to the group. I don’t have to send an email and wait for a response. It’s better than text messaging. We’re not actually connected. We don’t have each other’s phone numbers or anything like that but we’re connected that way. It works really well for groups.
I got rid of my Amazon phone because I couldn’t do it on my Amazon phone. Amazon had a short foray into the cell phone world and moved on. Tom can’t criticize Slack because he doesn’t use it the way I do with my column writing. He doesn’t get the name, he thinks it’s like, ”Oh! You’re a slacker!” You’re going to slack off or something. Like from the Back to the Future movies, wasn’t it? “You’re a slacker!” He just doesn’t get Slack. It’s a fine product just with an unfortunate name.
Basecamp and Group Information Overload
It’s the other key to everything in what we’re doing. We use Slack but we also use other tools like Basecamp with our clients. We might have Basecamp projects set up. Instead of emailing everyone, we use the Basecamp. We have mine set to, is once a day today, I receive information on who logged in, who said what, and who did what. It’s just once a day. I see, “Okay, all the WTFFF?! podcast graphics were done. Okay, I can check them out now,” or I asked for some project work and it was done. I can follow our team and they can follow back. It’s a simple low key way to do it.
If I need it on a project basis, I need to know about it immediately, if it was important or not, I can reset (just that project) to get an immediate email on. I don’t have to do that globally. I love that. It’s simple to use. We’re looking at some other programs to do that with Basecamp. It hasn’t been the best tool for us. It doesn’t do everything that we want but it’s been good so far.
It’s a good place to start. I recommend it for new projects or organizations when you’re small in your bootstrap phase, when you’re just starting. It’s not expensive. It’s easy to get into. It’s helpful. It doesn’t do everything. It’s not going to be all things to all companies or all people but it’s a good first step. You might outgrow and get a more significant system in place but that’s fine. Use it while you’re in the beginning or in a bit of early stage. It’s perfectly fine.
Posting can lead to transparency of a project
I found, as a freelancer – that’s who we are – we are consultants of clients, in the way that we work we knew that project takes a long time in design. We can just post up little updates, quick little things, what sketch you wanted to see. We don’t have to make it a big presentational ordeal. We can interact with them and keep them satisfied that work is happening.
That’s a kind of communication tool we’ve used to keep down on the, “I’ve got to have an update this week. You have to prepare a big update.” It’s cut down on that tremendous force. Our clients are very satisfied that we’ve been responsive because of it.
The transparency of the projects that it gives is really good because everybody who is allowed into that project has a visibility to everything going on within it. They don’t have to ask as many questions when you can go through and just look at what is happening. You have a place to go to.
It’s all in one place because you have one stream. That’s the other thing I love. When you’re trying to find something and you are like, “I know the clients said they approved this. Where is it? Oh, It’s in the stream.” It’s a living document. It doesn’t go away. You can archive it all and save the entire project when you’re done with that. I just did that recently.
Plus you don’t have to remember to copy all the key people in an email and like, “Oh! I forgot to copy! Oh! They didn’t know about the meeting! Oh! I didn’t prepare for it!” It’s there.
Get Pocket to Organize Information Overload
The other thing that I do which is very processed-oriented to the way that I work, I read a whole lot. I read about 10 or 12 articles every morning before I get started with my day completely. I will pick back up a night and read twice that. I go through and I actually read all these documents. But rather than keep the emails, the feed, as I’m scanning them, I don’t read them at that moment. If I’m intrigued by them, I’m enough to say “Yes, I’d click that.” All I do is click it and I put it in the Pocket. That’s the other tool we use called Get Pocket.
It’s a very good tool. I love this tool. I do that. It’s the applet up at the top of your browser bar. I click on it. It looks like a denim jean pocket with a little v or Chevron on it. I click it. It goes red. It pops the little button letting me tag it. If I tag Inc. article research, WTFFF, I just tag whatever it is that might be why I essentially pocketed that article.
Then, I go back through. If I’m writing an article, I’d go back to the whole Inc. article research tag and I’ll be “Oh! That’s what I wanted to write about! Now I remember that”. Or I can be “Oh! Okay, it does this really apply to my article?” It also does work, when we go through it, that’s how we plan our editorial calendar for this podcast.
It’s like a web bookmark on steroids. It’s a different way of organizing information that is searchable. It’s a really good thing. It makes it really easy for us. It keeps all in one place. You can move it out of the main and archive it so you can still keep it for later. But, you don’t have to if it was really irrelevant, I just delete it.
That helps me get through those newsletters and those things that we were talking about like the Unroll Me. If I don’t have time to read at that moment, I just click it and then put it into the Pocket. I can do it for my phone as well. It all goes to the same place. Then, we share it.
LastPass for Password Information Overload
Our entire team shares the Pocket through LastPass. That’s how we keep our passwords as well, which is very cool. If you’re not using LastPass, I highly recommend it. It’s a great tool. When you have multiple log-in for different sites or if you’re doing any client work like we do, we actually have log-in credentials to a bunch of clients’ sites and in order to organize and share that with our team, you can do that.
The great thing about that is no one sees what the passwords are. If you need to change that, whether you have an employee who’s no longer with you, can pull that shared link from them so they can’t use it anymore. You don’t have to reset the password which is nice. It’s a highly-effective tool. I know companies that deal with way more site passwords than we do. I’m talking about hundreds of hundreds of them. It’s a great way to keep tracked of it.
Information Overload and IFTTT
There’s one last tool we use for sites that aren’t as user-friendly or sites that are difficult to get a feed on. YouTube has that kind of problem for us. Sometimes, people like a YouTube video or we have members of our team who do it. If I’m not on YouTube at any given time, I won’t know it. It can be that our team has uploaded a video and they forget to email us, which happens all the time. I set up an IFTTT.
It’s the abbreviation of “If This Then That”. www.ifttt.com is what we use. You go there and write a script for doing whatever it is. Basically, if an email comes with this subject matter or from this person, it routes it to our assistant. I can do that. If YouTube gets a video posted into our channel, it automatically sends the email. It puts it in the Unroll Me.
I like that event-based control and automated distribution. It saves me from having to forward things or checking on things that interrupt my day. It saves me from having to do a lot of that.
As we’re talking about these things, we’re remembering back to about 12 years ago, when working with a company in San Ramon, California, the owner of the company, who at the time was in his mid-50s, who was a technophobe, he had a cellphone. There weren’t Smartphones those days. It was the extent of the technology use. He’s doing a modern company. Everybody in the company uses email. They’re communicating with the other people in the company in Asia all the time via email. But, the owner of the company did not do email. He barely would have a computer and Google-search things.
He had an assistant who, every day, would print out his emails and give it to him on his desk to review. The assistant would filter and decide what the important emails are. He will give him the important ones. I remember just laughing at that and being in awe at how archaic and old school-worldly that was to do it.
Fast forward in 12 years, we’re inundated with email, which is very useful but I think sometimes we’ve got to get an assistant to go through our emails like that and only has us deal with the most important ones. It’s coming from a different perspective though, because certainly we’re not at tech adverse. We do all of our own email communications every time of the day. At some point, it’s death by email. You need to figure out how automate, how to streamline and get it to work for you and not rule you.
TuneIn, Alexa, and Echo to Manage Information Overload
There’s one other area that I do have trouble keeping up on, lately. That is podcast, because we’ve started a new business we’ve mentioned a few episodes ago about Podcast Start Point.
Now, I’m listening to our clients podcasts. There’s a lot of podcasts that I’m listening to. There are so many podcasts to keep up on and listen to. I usually listen to them while I do my hair and make-up in the morning. I’ll listen to them when I’m sitting anywhere waiting for kids to do whatever it might be if we got something going on. I imagine people doing it while they carpool. We don’t carpool, it’s difficult for us. We don’t commute on purpose, we’re in South California. That’s like insane – it’s insanity, I hate getting in the car.
There are ways to do that. Now, my favorite thing is, and we are now on it, which we are part of a very few podcasts on it. TuneIn which is available over Alexa. You can say, “Alexa, play me the latest WTFFF Podcast Episode.” She’ll do it although, I have to check, you have to make sure that you have TuneIn figured out on your app. You have to have saved it. You have to save WTFFF to your playlist or whatever they call it in TuneIn. You have to favorite it.
I don’t think you just go to Alexa, and because it’s available in TuneIn and say “play me that podcast.” It doesn’t quite work like that. Even our music list, it only plays the music list out of our playlist. You have to ask her find it in Prime Music. You can go to TuneIn’s website or their app. TuneIn is just like no different than Stitcher or the iTunes App in terms of a podcast. It’s a separate entity where prime music is a part of Amazon. It’s like a third party app. They keep improving it every day – Amazon Echo. They keep improving it more and more for us.
I like how the other day we asked how old the president was at the dinner table. She immediately yelled in the kitchen where Echo is and said, “Alexa, how old is the president?” And we asked her even more specifically, “How old was he when he took office?”
Our girls’ favorite thing to do is to ask it a joke. That joke was hilarious the other day. I remember laughing but I don’t know what it at is. It talked about antennas that had a wedding. It was two antennas that had a wedding. The ceremony was terrible but they had a great reception. The kids don’t get it but they laughed at it anyway. We got it. We found it funny. Our audiences are is now groaning. It is terrible. It’s a terribly bad joke.
Alexa and TuneIn are two great things. We end up going on a road trip to trade shows or for another purpose, that’s when I’ve been listening to all the podcasts. You need to go on a trip and do that.
I salute all of our listeners out there who are caught up listening to this day that is coming out. That’s where I’m suffering further behind. I also have 25 podcasts to listen to at any given time. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed there but I will figure that out. When I figure out an organizational process for that, I will let you know because that is my goal to make that efficient for me.
With podcast double speed is your friend for getting through them quickly. I was amazed because I thought it would make us sound like a chipmunk. It’s not that fast yet. It’s amazing how very little that effects and tone of your voice to play it at twice speed.
Final Thoughts on Handling Information Overload
I hope that helps you all get organized with your information overload and give a little bit of insight into this. We get asked all the time, “How in the world do we operate?” Basically, we’re operating three businesses at the same time. “How do you handle that information overload?” – I’m so far behind.
I hope that you are able to catch up yourselves and find organizational tools that work for you. If you have any better, great, and new, I’d like to hear about new tools all the time. – That’s my favorite. Share them with us!
- Skype Chat
- Tracy’s Inc. Column
- Get Pocket
- Podcast Start Point
- Amazon Echo
- Amazon Alexa
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