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Lifehacking my thought processes

by Mel Starrs on September 19, 2006

in Productivity

I have been asked recently on a number of occasions ‘Why do you blog?’. I have a couple of answers depending on who asks the question, the most common (mostly to people I have worked with in the past) being ‘Remember how I used to send emails around to everyone when I found something interesting? And no-one read it? Now I send that message out to the internet’.
This medium allows me to use a ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ mechanism for sharing knowledge. I find an interesting titbit, usually in my Bloglines inbox, email or a magazine, let the idea percolate a while and then post it. Rather than pushing it upon my colleagues and then being disappointed that they haven’t read it, I wait for others to find me and the information. Of course, I try to make it easy for people to find me (tagging, using sensible post titles etc). When people do find it, they are more likely to be interested and engaged, as it is on their terms, rather than mine. I suppose exceptions would be folks who have subscribed via FeedBlitz, but the majority of readers of this site either find it as a result of a direct search for information, or are returning readers who I suspect work in a similar industry. This makes blogging a much more appealing proposition to me as an author than emails ever did.
This ‘need’ to share knowledge can be explained by Malcolm Gladwell in ‘The Tipping Point‘. The very fact that I am blogging about my industry defines me as a potential ‘maven’ – a socially motivated collector of information who freely shares the information with others. By doing so, I am meeting a social need of mine, which is stronger than say, a power need whereby people might protect their knowledge from others in an effort to gain leverage in some way.
Blogging is more than that to me though. I like to think of it as a way of ‘lifehacking‘ my thought processes. By actively collecting information, let it ferment and then sorting it out into some coherent sense, I am better equipped to make informed conversations and decisions on the topics. I’m not saying this necessarily happens, but I’d like to think it ought to be a consequence.
And new tools are finding me every day making the process itself easier and easier. I thought it would be useful to post my current blogging method and tools – I am constantly tweaking this as I find new tools.
My information gathering process

  • Bloglines – an online RSS aggregator with the ability to generate email addresses for subscriptions (point all the following to this account). Apart from the aggregation of feeds to one place, Bloglines presents content in a fairly standard format, usually stripping out ads, getting rid of any pop-ups and keeping your screen ‘clean’ and free of distractions (such as massively long blogrolls, while occasionally useful, usually massive time killers).
  • Watch That Page – for sites which have neither RSS or email. WTP will send an email (to a bloglines address you set up above – use a different email address for every subscription and name it after the page, company, whatever you are watching) everytime a page changes. This is how I keep an eye on who is becoming a BREEAM assessor.
  • Bloglines Search – within the Bloglines interface there is the ability to set up searches across all the blogs that bloglines follows for keywords, such as competitors or your own company name or keywords such as BREEAM.
  • Technorati Search (via RSS) – again you can search for either your own company name or those of your competitors. WARNING: this is an excellent way of catching employees blogging at and about work. Not that I condone either catching people out OR blogging at work. If you are sharing your latest exploits on MySpace with your mates, you might want to leave out who you are currently working for. Not only could your current employer be less than impressed, but keep in mind future employers are increasingly more likely to google you when you apply for a job.
  • Google Alerts (via email) – similar to the two above, this searches for terms you set within Google News. Best for company news.
  • Google Blog Search (via RSS) – similar Bloglines and Technorati.
  • del.icio.us tags (via RSS) – not quite so useful for competitor analysis, but useful for searching for posts on topics of interest. Tags need to be of a medium specificity eg: ‘sustainability’ throws back dozens of posts per hour (too many), ‘sustainable+construction’ throws a few a week (too few). Experiment until you get it right for what you are looking for.
  • Numerous email subscriptions and RSS feeds directly from useful sites, such as info4local

My drafting process

  • Within Bloglines (where most of the above is collected) there is the ability to email the article
  • Within Writely there is the ability to send yourself emails (to an encoded address)
  • Send articles to Writely
  • Group together related ideas within Writely to eventually draft posts
  • Post either directly from Writely into WordPress or cut and paste into WordPress for better formatting options

Other useful tools

  • del.icio.us is where I save most of my reference articles – things I don’t intend to write about but might need to refer to later
  • EditGrid is where I currently store online spreadsheets (I used to use Google spreadsheets but EditGrid has charts), including for instance my BREEAM assessors spreadsheet
  • gliffy is a great resource for drawing diagrams
  • bookmooch is where I currently keep my wishlist of books – there’s a handy widget which lets me add books recommended by others direct from their post to bookmooch if the isbn is available on the page
  • Google Calendar is where I put upcoming events of interest in the UK for sustainable buildings (I will be publishing this soon on this site once I work out some time zone issues)

After all of this processing, I can’t say I have achieved a state of great zen, but I am approaching ‘mind like water’, like any good disciple of Dave Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done‘.

  • http://www.greenomics.blogspot.com/ David Jeffery

    Interesting post Mel. And thanks for that list of resources / tools – I wasn’t aware of many of those.

    David

  • http://www.greenomics.blogspot.com/ David Jeffery

    Interesting post Mel. And thanks for that list of resources / tools – I wasn’t aware of many of those.

    David

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  • http://www.gliffy.com Debi K

    Thanks for the mention of Gliffy. We are very appreciative. If you have any suggestions and/or feedback please drop us a line at our newly revamped website! Thanks,
    debik at gliffy dot com

  • http://www.gliffy.com Debi K

    Thanks for the mention of Gliffy. We are very appreciative. If you have any suggestions and/or feedback please drop us a line at our newly revamped website! Thanks,
    debik at gliffy dot com