Ports in a storm – my favorite tools for managing information

By Matter

I’ve been at Matter for almost five years and in the PR agency biz for a dozen. I can safely say that I have never experienced a busier, more demanding time than Matter is experiencing right now (yes, yes…much better than the alternative!). Between new clients, new projects, new people, multiple launches and an upcoming tradeshow (at which several of our clients will be present…oh, and we have our own booth!), we are are all redlining. A slightly less obvious, but perhaps more persistent demand on us all is “staying informed” through reading/watching/listening to content related to our clients, industry and interests. (Information overload is familiar to you, no?)

We have tools to combat this threat on our sanity, however. They are called organization and efficiency.

While I believe it is critical for everyone to have a productivity system, there is no right one for everybody and others explain those better than I would anyway. I’m going to focus this post just on my favorite tools for managing information, which is an important part of any productivity system.

Information sources

News, correspondence, status updates, brilliant musings in 140 characters…these are the streams of my personal fire hose.

1. Email – at work, we use Microsoft Outlook / Exchange. For personal email, I have a couple Gmail accounts (each with a distinct purpose). My preference for Gmail has less to do with liking Google’s way of handling email (it’s fine, but it doesn’t wow me) and more to do with the tight integration with other Google tools (see below).  My iPhone is indispensable for being able to check them all from one screen. I aim for Inbox Zero in each. I’m probably 80% there. I am a liberal user of “unsubscribe” and “add sender to blocked list” functions.

2. Twitter (and related) – I’m in a constant on again / off again struggle with Twitter. (I think it is tremendously valuable for businesses and I personally hate using it.) During “on” cycles, I use TweetDeck on the computer and Echofon (formerly TwitterFon) for my iPhone.

3. RSS – I’ve tried a bunch and have settled on Google Reader. Again, this is more because of my desire to centralize on Google than because of a particular preference for its handling of RSS.

4. Social networking sites – I have LinkedIn, FriendFeed and Plaxo profiles, but Facebook is the only site that I actually use. I don’t love some of the newer features, but it has helped me re-establish some old relationships and strengthen existing ones. And there’s definitely some decent entertainment value.

5. General news – I have the luxury of reading daily industry news summaries my teams put together for our clients, so the only news source I actively go to daily(-ish) is the New York Times. At my computer I go to the site and Iaside from industry-specific stuff

Information processing

I have a rule that any session checking Google Reader must end with zero unread items. Here’s how I do it:

1. Scan headlines and preview posts that look interesting (ignore posts that don’t)

2. For posts that I can / want to read in preview mode (e.g., aren’t too long, don’t have embedded audio or video), I do

3. For posts that don’t lend themselves to preview reading, I click through to the full post. If it’s too long or off topic for that moment, but I want to read it later, I use the Firefox add-on Read It Later and, naturally, its iPhone app. (Tip: I like to save things for offline viewing, too, so I can read things on planes or trains.)

4. Items that I want to save long-term all find their way to Evernote. No more bookmarks of the browser or social variety for me!

Email processing is similarly simple and decisive. I preview subject lines and open items that appear interesting (or required), while delete those that don’t. Upon opening an item, I either…

1. Do and delete / file

2. Respond and delete / file

3. Delegate and delete / file

Information capture and storage

Matter has a server for client and company files, but increasingly, we are also turning to Google Docs. In addition to the ubiquitous access it provides and the fact that it’s right there in your Google account with Reader, Gmail, Tasks, Calendar, etc., the benefit of Google Docs is it allows easy collaboration and version control without the hassle and confusion of emailing drafts around. If I won’t have access to the server or the cloud, I rely on Lexar JumpDrives (yes, a client plug, but it’s true!)

Finally, for capture of offline info, I love Field Notes and Gold Fibre Retro Writing Pads. (I’m a sucker for Old School.)

My preference is to simplify, consolidate and prioritize whenever possible (hard to do in this biz!), so there is WAY more absent than present on my list. This isn’t to say there aren’t other good tools out there. I’ve tried a bunch and these are just my current favorites.

More interestingly, though, what are YOURS?