How I read widely AND avoid information overload – Gayle McIntyre

Part of my job at the Teaching Support Centre is to keep up with journal articles and news about higher education and discover new resources that might be useful for program development or conducting research. To that end, I’ve put a lot of thought into how to ensure that I can read from a wide variety of sources, but avoid being completely overwhelmed by the amount of information. To give you an idea of the volume I read, I subscribe to three high-volume listservs, around 35 higher education blogs, a few magazines/newspapers, and 25+ research journals. However, I only spend maybe 10 minutes a day going through it all. How?

My main criteria for using tools to keep up with information is:

a)      Can I peruse at my own pace? (I don’t like alerts or reminders, and sometimes I don’t have time to keep up daily), and
b)      Is it easily searchable? Can I go back weeks, months or even years later and find the information I need?

To accomplish this, I primarily use three tools:

  1. netvibesNetvibes: I use this site to keep with journal articles, and news headlines (Chronicle, University Affairs, etc.). Because all the content is on one webpage, I can see at a quick glance which journals have updated content, and whether there are any interesting news headlines. If something tweaks my interest, I can read the summary or abstract immediately or go to the source site to read the full document.  If it’s a journal article I know will be useful, I save it with my other research references in  Zotero (it’s like an online (free!) Endnote).
  2. Google Reader: I use Reader to subscribe to interesting blogs that I usually read. Also, all content that comes through Google Reader is searchable, so if I vaguely remember something I’ve read a few months ago I can do a quick search and find the source.
  3. Email Filters: I strive to keep a (mostly) empty inbox, so I can’t have dozens of daily listserv messages coming through all the time. Each listserv has its own filter and is automatically transferred to a folder. I keep the messages sorted by subject thread, so if there’s a thread I’m not interested in, I can delete all the messages quickly. Also, I’ve bookmarked the online archives for each listserv so that I can quickly search for something I remember reading.

The key? I don’t worry about “missing” anything. If it’s something really important, it will be referenced  on one of the blogs I read. If I don’t have time to read anything, I can catch up when I do. Or if I fall really far behind, I could always select “Mark as read,” (although I’ve seldom done this). And because I have a system in place, I’m not afraid of  adding new sources of news and information quickly and easily to the appropriate tool.

Now if only I had a system this complete (and searchable!) for offline information…