One of my biggest time management and productivity challenges has been to strike a balance between focused work and keeping up with important content. As an author and entrepreneur, my work depends on news articles, academic papers, “how to” posts by topical experts, and many other kinds of content. Every marketer, whether a CMO or a content writer, faces a similar struggle.
The fight for your attention
Today’s flood of digital information has a downside for readers. Even excellent, useful content can interrupt your work and hamper productivity.
Often, our work requires us to use the very tools that entice us with seductive and distracting notifications and links. Email, Twitter, Facebook, and other social apps let us interact with others and also introduce us to potentially interesting content.
Paradoxically, the better that new content is, the greater the chance that we’ll get coaxed into consuming even more. What began as a two-minute email check can turn into a twenty-minute reading and surfing session. I have to admit, I’m as likely to click on “You Won’t Believe What Happened When A Squirrel Went for a Ride on a Great Dane” as the next distraction-seeker. Mindful of my weakness in the face of both relevant and irrelevant links, I’ve adopted a few techniques to minimise the probability that I’ll get sidetracked.
Distraction Fighter #1 – Pocket
Pocket is the lynchpin of my anti-distraction strategy. It’s a free app that lets you save any piece of content for later reading with a single click. It synchronises across all your devices, so you can save something on your laptop and read it later on your tablet or phone.
When someone tweets an interesting link, or if I’m doing quick email triage and find a useful article, I no longer interrupt what I’m doing to check it out. I just save the link to Pocket. A browser plugin lets me do that easily without even visiting the page. Or, a button in the header of your browser lets you save any page you are looking at.
The first benefit, obviously, is that the task you are working on doesn’t get interrupted. You can check out the content later at your leisure. You can even turn it into spoken text, perfect for playing from your phone at the gym or during your daily commute.
To minimise work-time distraction, I dump anything that looks remotely relevant or interesting into Pocket. Content that doesn’t live up to the headline is easy to delete after reading a paragraph or two.
The second major benefit is that the content in Pocket has been cleansed of ads, headers, footers, sidebars and all the other irrelevant page content. The format is clean, uncluttered, and free of alluring links to funny cat videos. If I don’t see the link to the “worst prom photos ever,” I can’t click it.
Pocket presents your articles with a pleasing graphic display. It’s a bit like a magazine you create yourself. The most recently added content appears first. I may start there, or jump down to something that fits my mood. If I’m killing five minutes waiting for a phone call, I’ll skip over the 15,000-word piece from The Atlantic and pick something I can finish quickly.
I’m ruthless about deleting saved content quickly if it’s not interesting or useful. There’s too much good content to bother with the mediocre. I rarely get to “Pocket Zero” (the equivalent of Inbox Zero), which means I’ve always got something to read if I’ve got unexpected downtime.
Distraction Fighter #2 – Evernote
So what happens when I find an article I want to keep? Pocket does allow you to archive content. But, this brings us to my second free tool… All I do is favourite the item in Pocket, and an IFTTT recipe sends it to Evernote. On some devices you can also save the content directly to Evernote with a “share” button. Either way, it’s trivially simple to take an article you dumped into Pocket and save it permanently in Evernote.
Evernote is another free (for basic users) tool that stores anything and everything you might want to remember or access in the future. Like Pocket, it runs on all your devices and synchronises your data. It’s such a versatile tool that people put it to wildly different uses, including recipe storage, contact management, expense tracking, todo lists, and lots more. My primary use for Evernote is storing research for my books and other writing.
Evernote lets you save articles in a variety of ways. A browser plugin lets you save any page you are looking at. You can also create notes (Evernote’s basic unit of content storage) right inside the app. Or, you can fire up your phone’s camera inside Evernote to take photos, scan documents, and more. Evernote is the Swiss Army Knife of information storage.
Like Pocket, Evernote also saves me from having to consume content immediately. If I glance at a how-to article, for example, and decide it might be useful in the future, I just dump it into Evernote. I do the same with a 30-page research paper in PDF format. Also like pocket, saving content using Evernote’s “simplified article” setting preserves text and images but strips away ads and distracting sidebar content.
If I think I might want to reference a web article in the future, I don’t rely on browser bookmarking. Not only do bookmarks get out of control, web content often is moved or deleted. Evernote keeps the content safe and forever available.
Evernote lets you put your notes in folders and add keyword tags to make retrieval easier. One of the more interesting features is that Evernote processes images with text using OCR. This renders the text in the images searchable. If you are looking for that receipt for lunch at Guido’s, Evernote will find it even if you just snapped a photo of it.s
The most useful feature for me in Evernote is its integration with Google Search in Chrome. I use Google dozens of times per day, and if something I saved in Evernote matches my search it appears in a box next to the Google results. When I’m doing research I often find I’ve already saved a highly relevant article or paper. I may have forgotten that I ran across the item months earlier, but it pops up when I search Google. It’s rather like having your own personal library searched whenever you do a web search.
Do I still get distracted? Of course… but this combination of Pocket and Evernote minimises that and actually lets me consume (and occasionally preserve) more content in much less time than before.