Hello, information overload. It’s me, Will…

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2013 was the year of information overload…for me at least

In 2013, I took some big steps to combat information overload in my online life. It was a year where I kept many plates spinning. After a few times when some of the plates stopped spinning, I began to take a hard look at how I manage information in my professional life. Information is a big part of my professional life as a freelance technical writer. Information brings me joy.

Here are some areas where I took direct action against the information overload in my life :

Managing my email across devices

After reading about Unroll.Me, I began to use it in a major campaign to unsubscribe from email lists from both my willkelly.com and gmail accounts. While it took me a bit of time to start savoring less incoming email in my inboxes, I did indeed begin to notice.

Twitter then became my primary source for the mobile and other technology news that I follow.

Other email management tactics I put in place included, filtering out email from any recruiters that were sending me contract jobs well outside my geographic area or dredged up my name in a bad boolean search and didn’t bother to read my resume past the keywords. I also began deleting any and all emails with the words “urgent requirement” in the header.

Another big email project, this year, was to purge my gmail account of old email than was circa 2005-2008 still lingering in the account.

Managing my calendar across devices

I tried to refine my calendar management as well through 2013. I added two times to review my calendar during the day. Once in the morning and the second in the evening. I usually interact with my calendar through either my iPad or iPhone. While I gave Mynd Calendar a positive review for TechRepublic, the app’s alerts let me down a few times so I may move back to the iOS 7 default calendar app in the New Year.

Managing pitches & briefings

Pitches and briefing invites from technology PR firms also began to stack up in my email inbox. Through 2013, I made it a point to accept fewer briefing invites until I hit the point of rarely accepting briefing invites unless they were tied to a story or blog post that I was writing. However, I did manage to keep in place was reserving a few time slots to speak to a startup or thought leader every month above and beyond the articles I was writing.

In 2013, I discovered the joy that is recording phone interviews with TapeACall on my iPhone. A total complete game changer for me. One unfortunate side effect that happened was it contributed to my information overload unless I transcribed the call as soon as possible after the interview call. In fact, one of my professional New Year’s resolutions is to transcribe my calls as soon as possible after the call and not let it linger.

Hanging up the phone

2013 also taught me the fine art of hanging up the phone. When I would get a call, and there would be a long pause, bad VoIP, a bare utterance of “Kelly” or I just plain couldn’t understand the person, I would hang up the phone. It saves me time, and frustration and I can get back into the zone quicker.

The new call blocking feature in iOS 7 became an antidote for information overload in its own right (for me at least).

Likewise, I just delete voicemails if I can’t understand the caller. When I upgraded my iPhone to iOS 7, I went as far as blocking their call.

Using Evernote

I’ve been using Evernote from when it was in beta, and it now serves as the central repository for all notes, screen captures, and research for articles I am writing. Clearly and Evernote Web Clipper make it easy for me to save web articles and posts for later reference for research or inspiration when I’mseeking new article pitches.

In the beginning, I depended on folders, but as 2013 progressed I used tagging and searching with increasing success.

2014, Information and me

Now that it’s March, I’m feeling less stressed about information and feeling the benefits of the steps I made at the end of last year.

What being a reviewer can teach a writer

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Sometimes the most formative job for a writer is being a reviewer

I was a computer book technical reviewer earlier in my career. It was a freelance gig, but I still consider the work one of the more formative chapters in my professional writing career even though it wasn’t actually writing work.

Computer book technical reviewers sometimes are sometimes called technical editors are responsible for ensuring the technical accuracy of computer book manuscripts. The work taught me to pay attention to technical details, which in turn went onto influence my work as a technical writer and freelance writer.

I got to learn the following lessons which I still carry with me:

Don’t forget industry best practices. The gray underbelly of computer book publishing is that some of the authors have never done real work with the applications they write about. The home office in the spare bedroom just isn’t a reliable bellwether of how the software or service works in the corporate enterprise.

Write substantive comments that engage and stand on their own. None of my former computer book publishing clients ever met me face-to-face. There is only one book author from a project I’ve ever met in person. This means my comments on book manuscripts had to be substantive and stand on their own because it wasn’t down the hallway if somebody had a question or needed clarification on a comment I made. This also helped in cases where the publisher’s staff may not be technical.

Be fluent in multiple browsers and OSes. Some of the finer points in technical manuscripts can be lost with a simple change in Windows OS or browser versions. So it is important to know the OS and browser versions your audience is using. It’s a minor detail but something to be conscious about especially if you are documenting web-based applications bit live in a Microsoft Windows world. Today, mobile devices and the Mac make this ever more important.

Have you ever had a formative non-writing job that later contributed to your writing career?