how i manage my information workflow

Wed, Mar 21, 2012

With more and more information coming my way, I decided to rationalise how I manage all that chatter and keep track of what needs doing and when. Now, being a software developer, I need to concentrate on designing systems and writing code, as well as keeping up to date with several fields and managing the development infrastructure such as Jira for issue tracking, Bamboo for continuous integration and Fisheye/Crucible for code reviews. So before I even go near the endless stream of bytes flowing from the net, most of my time is already taken up with things related to what I do. So I don’t really have time to work out how best to use various productivity applications, other than download, install and crudely filter the flow, usually to some local application where I keep notes.

So, I decided to delegate the bootstrapping to someone else. Someone who does it for a living and produces nice tutorials on the latest apps. I plumped for a ScreenCastsONLINE subscription. Having watched a few of the videos I got together a load of apps and have been working this way to manage the potential information overload. There are gems in the byte flow but unless I sit down and filter it in a systematic way I just end up missing a lot of them.

There are two entry points to my knowledge filtering system, Google Reader and Twitter. It’s largely Google Reader that I use and only occasionally dip into Twitter, although I have found some interesting nuggets in there, mostly from tweets that have URLs in them. Google Reader acts as a backend aggregator while I read the feeds in Reeder on the Mac or Feeddler on the phone. On the Mac I’ll read the posts using Readability mode which makes them easy on the eye and if I like a post I’ll send it off to Instapaper for reading later. What I’ll tend to do is then read it with Readability and if I like it enough to favourite it, an ifttt trigger will send it to my Evernote account. The byte flow from Twitter usually ends up in Instapaper if I don’t read it there and then and joins the now distilled flow.

By the time the bytes have reached any of the syphoning points (the brains in the diagram), I’ve vetted them sufficiently to know that there is something worthwhile and I can tap them off for further refinement. Once syphoned off, everything ends up in Things, where I organise my workload and add links to my online Evernote jottings. I tend to manage the schedules in Things while the information related to each task is stored in Evernote. That way I can share ideas with colleagues and so forth.

When something is in Things and being worked on, the now crystal clear flow is channeled to either Scrivener, for writing reports, or off to my development environment for writing code. I find Scrivener brilliant for managing reports as I can drag and drop my Evernotes into the research area of a Scrivener project and can write the report in sections and compile to a number of different formats when it’s ready.

Of course, at this purest level of byte flow I need to be able to tap into it from anywhere and that’s where Dropbox comes in. I simply either use the shared folder directly for Things or copy an updated Scrivener project to it and I can work on my projects from anywhere. Git takes care of code access from anywhere.

It’s quite liberating getting all these cooperating applications working together as I can now delegate a large part of information storage to them, while they let me know when something interesting comes along. In the meantime I can keep developing without worrying what’s next in the backlog as the backlog will nudge me when it’s ready to be dealt with.

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