Manage Your Personal Data Flow
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We spend a lot of time and energy learning how to find information -- how to improve our Google searches; data-mine our own PCs and company networks; and discover the most valuable sites, blogs and feeds.
But is finding information really our biggest problem? With information overload bloating our inboxes and boggling our minds, I think most of us need help learning how to avoid information -- at least until we need it.
Two kinds of information waste our time: 1) info we can't use; and 2) info we can use, but not yet. It's that second time waster that's hardest to manage.
Wouldn't it be great if all the information we needed just came to us at the right time, automatically?
There are many ways to make this happen. You can send just-in-time information to your desktop PC or phone, depending on where you expect to be. Here are the free tools and techniques you can use to always know what you need to know, when you need to know it, without being overwhelmed by that information when you don't need it.
Remember The Milk - Set up very specific reminders to be delivered at the time you specify via e-mail, IM or SMS.
FutureMe.org - E-mail yourself for delivery on any future date you specify. This is best for long-range information that you don't need to know for months or years.
Gubb - Maintain any kind of list, which you can get by e-mail or SMS when you send a message to Gubb -- then automate the list (see below)
HassleMe - Use this easy Web-based service for occasional, non-exact reminders.
Traffic.com - Set up alerts to arrive at a specific time each day with traffic information about your specific drive or commute. Send it well enough in advance so you can leave early if you have to.
FlightStats - Get voice, text or e-mail alerts three hours before your flight, plus another notification for every change of information. Also check your airline's web page for similar services, which in some cases have more flexibility.
Send reminder e-mail for future delivery - When you get e-mail with important information that you can't use yet, forward it to your desktop or phone or both -- for future delivery. In Microsoft Outlook 2003, you click on the Forward button, add your own address, then click the Options button. Select "Do not deliver before" and set the future date and time, then click Close. It also works for reminding others. Instead of setting a reminder to nag someone later, nag them now, but set the e-mail for later delivery.
Cast a wide net for future reminders - Send yourself notes about people you're about to meet just before you meet them. Set up alerts about staff birthdays, personnel events (so you can, for example, provide your direct reports with advanced notice of performance evaluations) and other random data. Your colleagues will think you're a caring genius with a photographic memory.
Combine tools and techniques - Send a message, for example, that will trigger Gubb to send you one of your lists -- say, a list of reminders for a big meeting. Set it and forget it. Meanwhile, you can add things to the Gubb list or change it in anyway. Later, when the e-mail triggers a reply with your list, it will be the updated, modified list.
Use the right tool for the job - Your alerts can be set up in the form of calendar appointments, e-mail messages, SMS alerts, scheduled to-do items and automated phone calls. For example, if you're likely to be driving when you need some piece of information, arrange for it to arrive in audio format if possible so you don't have to read while driving. Experiment with different approaches, and use the ones that fit the task at hand.
With these tools and techniques, you'll always know what you need know, when you need to know it. Best of all, you can avoid all that data -- for now -- and cut down on your information overload.
In addition to writing for Jupitermedia's Datamation, where this column first appeared, Mike Elgan is a technology writer and former editor of Windows Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or his blog: http://therawfeed.com.