Staying afloat in a sea of information

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sea of information we have access to. There are moments when I’m sure we’ve all felt the waves crashing down on top of us. This post will introduce you to the process I use to help me stay afloat and manage the flow of information.

Discover

My main source of information is Twitter. I also subscribe to lots of blogs and newsletters via RSS and email.

Every day I see so many interesting things I want to read but cannot follow up on in the moment. So I have to have a process to collect these to read later.

Collect

When I find something interesting that I want to read (or watch) later, bookmark or act on I do one of two things.

If it’s something work related I email it to a Trello board. Everything I send here gets added as a card to a list called Articles. The card title is the name of the article and the description contains the link. For more information about how boards, lists and cards work, check out the Trello getting started guide.

My reading radar board in Trello

My reading radar board in Trello

Every few days I triage the Articles list and move unread articles to an appropriate category: content strategy, writing, social media, analytics.

For non-work related reading, I send articles to Pocket. I also group these by themes using tags: creativity, LGBT, sport etc.

Act

Once I’ve read or watched an item (that’s the process part) it’s time to act.

Some things just get deleted. Some get shared, via Twitter or Facebook. You can share items to these social networks directly from Pocket. It also links to Buffer if you want to schedule social media posts for later.

Others items get bookmarked for future reference. These tend to be resources or tools that I may want to use again, guides or examples of how something has been done. For this I use Bundlr. It’s easy to clip links and images straight from a browser using a bookmark or add-on. You can also add things by copying and pasting a link – I use this method when I’m on a tablet or phone.

You can group similar items into Bundles. I’ve got bundles for different topics, eg blogging, and different types of content, eg style guides. In the past I’ve also used Bundlr to collate tweets, slides and other resources from events I’ve attended.

If something really resonates with me then I will blog about it. I’ve just started using an editorial calendar to work blog post ideas generated in this way with other posts I’ve got scheduled. This is set up in Trello so it’s easy to move items from my reading board straight into the editorial calendar.

You can find out more about Trello in my previous post on using Trello for collaborative task management.Learning workflow: discover, collect, process, act

Habit forming

In part I’ve written this post to kick-start something. I’m good at stages one and two in this process, but I need to get better at stages three and four. I need to form a habit.

It’s getting to the time of year when we’re thinking of New Year’s resolutions. One of mine is going to be about making space for the things that are important to me. This includes reading widely and acting on the things I’m learning.

From the new year I’ll set aside a chunk of time every week to triage my reading lists, process the information and decide what to do with what I’ve learned. I’m hoping that this will in turn help with another of my resolutions – to write more. Like all good content strategists, I’ll be using my editorial calendar to map out how all this new content fits together. Perhaps I’ll write more on this later.

Share your tips

So, that’s how I manage to stay afloat in the sea of information. I’m interested to hear how you keep up to date and acting on what you’re learning. Go ahead and share your tips in the comments.

Advice for first time bloggers

Last week I ran some training for first time bloggers. To give some personal insight I thought a lot about my own blogging practice and how I got started. And here’s the result.

In the beginning…

I started blogging before I was even aware of what a blog was. I was a teenager, working out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. I created an account on diary-x and started writing. I’ve never thought about it before, but this means I’ve been blogging in some form for around 15 years. I’m comfortable doing it. I’ve developed a voice that I’m happy with. And yet I still get nervous every time I publish a post. I wouldn’t have it any other way – it means I care about what I’m writing and making it the best I can for the people who are going to read it.

I can’t tell you the number of blogs I’ve had over the years. I’ve always had at least one on the go, but more likely two; one personal and one professional. When I’ve set them up they’ve all had a clear purpose. Some I’ve set up and then handed on. Others were written for a specific event.

Deciding what to write about

There’s an easy answer to the question of what you’re going to write about – anything. Yes, really. As long as you’ve got a clear idea of the goal of your blog and the overarching theme, within that you can write about any topic. You don’t need to be an expert. In fact I think it helps if you’re not. What I’ve observed from interactions with the readers of my blog is that they’re looking to learn from the experiences of others in a similar position to them.

I’ve got the best response to posts where I’ve shared what I’m learning or what I’ve tried. The most popular post on my blog is about writing handover notes. I wrote it when I was looking for tips on how to write a good handover document and couldn’t find anything useful. It gets as many daily views (around 40) as it did the day it was published over a year ago. Why? It shares my experience, offers practical tips and covers a topic that isn’t written about much.

The act of writing

Once you know what the topic of your post is going to be, get the initial ideas out of your head. Put them down on paper or in a digital notepad, whatever works best for you. You might find it helpful to give yourself a time limit – I usually begin posts in my lunch breaks which gives me a deadline for getting something down. Don’t edit as you go along. You’ll end up with a rough draft or perhaps just a list of disconnected thoughts. The important thing is that it’s a start.

Now you can edit. I find it’s best to leave the draft for a while, when I come back to it with fresh eyes it’s usually obvious where to go next.

I find it’s easier to write outside of the blog environment. Only once I’ve got what I’d consider to be the final draft do I copy this to my blog editor. At this point I preview it to see how it looks in the template and give it a final proof. Once the final tweaks are made it’s finally time to publish.

Conclusion

And there you have it, my advice for getting started with blogging. I’ve summarised that stream of consciousness into a few key takeaways:

  • write about your experiences and share what you learn
  • give practical advice
  • choose topics where there’s a gap in existing writing
  • once you’ve got a topic, just get some ideas onto the page – don’t worry about order or style
  • give your draft some space and then begin to edit after a few hours

Do you have any top tips for beginner bloggers? Share them in the comments.

Commentable

For thing 2 I looked at a handful of blogs from the list of participants on Delicious. How did I choose which blogs from the many to go to? Well, it’s all in the name for me. I did however try not to go to too many UK blogs, as I see the global reach of this programme a great benefit. I also tried not to pick too many academic librarians.

Of the 20 or so blogs I looked at I commented on four and I will be subscribing to their RSS feeds to follow their progress through the programme. They are:

And finally, I will leave you with a picture that sums up exactly how I feel about comments: