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Managing Information Streams Pt 6 – information flow and task management software.

March 23rd, 2008 | 2 Comments | Categories: Geek · Gig stuff · Managing Information Streams · tips for musicians |

I’ve spent a lot of time considering how to filter information, get good information, and cut back on pointless information, but haven’t thus far said (or thought) all that much about what we do with it once we get it.

And that is clearly key. Information requires processing as well as ‘managing’ – it might require an action, it might require dissemination, responding to or it might change the way we’re already doing something. So finding a way of processing it is vital.

I’ve already commented that To-Do Lists are the bain of my life, and I’m constantly on a quest for better ways of processing the information that comes in via whatever stream, be it email or twitter, conversation or SMS, spontaneous idea or blog post.

What I want to be able to do with information can summed up in a four step process – record, process, disseminate, respond.

  • I want to record the idea, if it’s not recorded already, or just extract the bit of a larger document that I need to remember.
  • I then want to process it somehow – file it under a category, assign it to a task list, put a date on it…
  • It’s highly likely that I want to let other people know about it too – either people with whom it’s a shared task, or if it’s just general helpful information, to share it with anyone else who wants it.
  • And finally, I want to perform whatever action I need to in response to it – the task I assigned to it in the ‘process’ stage.

This is heavily influenced by the David Allen’s GTD system system, but in a second hand way. I’ve only just read what his system is – Collect, Process, Organize, Review, Do – even though I’ve been using software designed to help you do this for a while. I’ve combined his ‘process’ and ‘organise’ into process, and added disseminate, as I see that as a distinct and different action from the responses that require me to do anything else… but that’s just me. :o)

His system is tried and tested, so you may want to read more about it.

Anyway, the key to all of this is finding a way of doing those steps that dovetails with how we live. I did a straw poll on twitter a while back, asking twittists what they use for their ‘to do lists’ – the most popular was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a paper notebook. I’ve tried various things, from the to-do list parts of mail.app, to-do lists on iGoogle, paper, mobile phone, iCal and a GTD app called Thinking Rock. Thinking Rock seemed promising, but just took way too much setting up for my liking.

So I started to use Twitter – just as a simple way of posting a daily to-do list publically, and getting feedback from people. That seems to work really well.

But clearly, it doesn’t help me process more complex tasks or arrange projects. That’s where Things comes in. It’s a task management app, using GTD ideas, but seems pretty simple to set up, easy to follow, and so far I’m finding it pretty useful when I remember to check it – I’m looking into ways of getting the alerts from it to interrupt my usual daily faffing to remind me what I really ought to be doing. If I can get it to do that, it’ll be a life saver.

So Things is how I do the recording and processing part of my ‘to do list’ and inspiration-type information management. The bits that are more article/blog/news-based, I manage using three web services – Google Reader, del.icio.us and Twitter.

Google Reader I use to ‘star’ things for myself to read later and to ‘share’ items with anyone who reads my shared items (or looks at the front page on my blog at the list on there. I might also cut phrases from that and drop them into Things for later processing.

Twitter I use to post links if I want some instant discussion about a topic, or just to flag it up for people who follow me on there, in case they’re interested. It’s a way of throwing it out there and not having to work too hard to monitor the response.

and Del.icio.us I use if I want to save a link with a comment, add it to the links page on my website, or tag it for someone specific that I want to send the page to, if they’re on my friends list.

So with that lot, I manage to perform my four tasks – record, process, disseminate, respond. Feel free to give this some thought, and to check out GTD a little deeper. It’s clear that David Allen’s GTD system is a hell of a lot more clearly and deeply thought out than mine. I just have the kind of brain that likes to personalise systems and processes before implementing them. So this is my version. :o)

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Jennifer

    Looked at “Things”, but couldn’t work out if it was Mac-only or cross-platform – do you know? (I’m on Linux now for my day-to-day stuff, though still Mac for music.) Usually I’d expect to see that info somewhere pretty obvious on a link off the front page or the download page, but couldn’t find it.

  • Steve

    Hi Jennifer, it is, sadly, Mac only – I should’ve mentioned that! There’s a cross-platform one called ‘Tracks’ – http://www.rousette.org.uk/projects/ – which looks good.

    If you are using Things on your mac, it can export XML, I think, so you could view it elsewhere…