Staying afloat in a sea of information

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sea of information we have access to. There are moments when I’m sure we’ve all felt the waves crashing down on top of us. This post will introduce you to the process I use to help me stay afloat and manage the flow of information.

Discover

My main source of information is Twitter. I also subscribe to lots of blogs and newsletters via RSS and email.

Every day I see so many interesting things I want to read but cannot follow up on in the moment. So I have to have a process to collect these to read later.

Collect

When I find something interesting that I want to read (or watch) later, bookmark or act on I do one of two things.

If it€™s something work related I email it to a Trello board. Everything I send here gets added as a card to a list called Articles. The card title is the name of the article and the description contains the link. For more information about how boards, lists and cards work, check out the Trello getting started guide.

My reading radar board in Trello

My reading radar board in Trello

Every few days I triage the Articles list and move unread articles to an appropriate category: content strategy, writing, social media, analytics.

For non-work related reading, I send articles to Pocket. I also group these by themes using tags: creativity, LGBT, sport etc.

Act

Once I€™ve read or watched an item (that€™s the process part) it€™s time to act.

Some things just get deleted. Some get shared, via Twitter or Facebook. You can share items to these social networks directly from Pocket. It also links to Buffer if you want to schedule social media posts for later.

Others items get bookmarked for future reference. These tend to be resources or tools that I may want to use again, guides or examples of how something has been done. For this I use Bundlr. It€™s easy to clip links and images straight from a browser using a bookmark or add-on. You can also add things by copying and pasting a link €“ I use this method when I€™m on a tablet or phone.

You can group similar items into Bundles. I€™ve got bundles for different topics, eg blogging, and different types of content, eg style guides. In the past I€™ve also used Bundlr to collate tweets, slides and other resources from events I€™ve attended.

If something really resonates with me then I will blog about it. I€™ve just started using an editorial calendar to work blog post ideas generated in this way with other posts I€™ve got scheduled. This is set up in Trello so it€™s easy to move items from my reading board straight into the editorial calendar.

You can find out more about Trello in my previous post on using Trello for collaborative task management.Learning workflow: discover, collect, process, act

Habit forming

In part I’ve written this post to kick-start something. I’m good at stages one and two in this process, but I need to get better at stages three and four. I need to form a habit.

It’s getting to the time of year when we’re thinking of New Year’s resolutions. One of mine is going to be about making space for the things that are important to me. This includes reading widely and acting on the things I’m learning.

From the new year I’ll set aside a chunk of time every week to triage my reading lists, process the information and decide what to do with what I’ve learned. I’m hoping that this will in turn help with another of my resolutions – to write more. Like all good content strategists, I’ll be using my editorial calendar to map out how all this new content fits together. Perhaps I€™ll write more on this later.

Share your tips

So, that€™s how I manage to stay afloat in the sea of information. I€™m interested to hear how you keep up to date and acting on what you€™re learning. Go ahead and share your tips in the comments.

Using Trello for Collaborative Task Management

On Twitter this morning Doug Belshaw asked for recommendations for tools to get people out of their email for internal communications.

A few people mentioned Trello and this elicited the further question of how it can be used collaboratively:

In the web team at Newcastle University we€™re using Trello in three ways:

  • as an editorial calendar
  • for workload planning
  • for project task management

We have multiple boards, with four in regular use. Typically each task gets a card. As work on the task progresses it moves through a series of lists, which map to a process.

Work on the tasks and activity on the boards happens daily. Although each board is reviewed by all team members in person, usually at a monthly meeting.

The editorial calendar

Our blog writers and editors (a team of five) use this board to plan posts for our team blog. We took the inspiration from Trello€™s own editorial calendar.

The lists that map to the stages in the production of a blog post are:

  • post ideas
  • planning
  • writing
  • ready for editing
  • scheduled

Each card has two people assigned to it; one writer and one editor. We use the comments to identify who is in which role.

Cards are archived once the post is published.

The calendar power-up allows us to get a visual overview of what€™s coming up on the blog. We use the voting power-up to identify which topics on the post ideas list should be produced next.

Workload planning

Our whole team €“ that€™s 11 people €“ use this board. We use it for planning tasks that we identify as business as usual. As project requests come in they€™re added to a list of tasks to assign.

In our weekly team meeting we review the board, and assign tasks to people. We have one list per month. Once a task has been assigned it€™s moved into the list for the month when it will be worked on.

At the end of each month the list is reviewed and archived. Any tasks that are still in progress are moved.

I find using Trello in this way helps us to maintain awareness of what all other team members are working on. We use checklists, comments and attachments to collaborate on tasks when input is needed from both the technical and editorial teams.

Project task management

This is our newest set-up and we€™re still refining it.

We€™ve got a board for the technical working group where all tasks relating to the development of components in our new CMS are recorded. Each component gets a card and moves its way through lists for:

  • scoping
  • design
  • build
  • testing
  • sign off

After sign off tasks are generated for the editorial team around content standards and training. We€™ve got a separate board to manage these. This has a simpler process with lists for:

  • discussion items
  • tasks to assign
  • in progress
  • done

What we€™re missing in these boards is a solution for prioritising tasks. We€™re currently noting this in the card title – as high, medium or low – but there must be a better way.

We€™re testing the card ageing power-up on these boards which changes the look of a card when it€™s been idle for a set period. It also adds a date for when the card was last updated.

Conclusion

I think Trello helps us in many ways. Most notably to keep an overview of everything the team is working on and to increase transparency within the team.

It also feels much easier to pass tasks back and forth between team members, particularly when both technical and editorial input is needed.

Is your team using Trello for task management? If you€™ve got any tips please share them in the comments.

If you€™re interested in other options for collaborative task management then Doug has collated all the comments and recommendations he received in a wiki page on team collaboration.

Testing responsive layouts

At the start of the new year I began a new job on the Corporate Web Team at Newcastle University (more on this later, maybe). My first piece of work was to identify best practice for writing for mobile then look at the undergraduate prospectus and make recommendations for how the copy could be improved in line with this. I had a test site created which had our existing responsive template applied to it. Here I began rewriting the content on a couple of course sites.

As I progressed I wanted to test how the reworked pages would look on different devices. Rather than keep getting my phone and tablet out to check I found a couple of really useful tools which saved me a lot of time and effort. These also proved helpful for showing my progress to colleagues and clients.

1. Matt Kersley’s Responsive Design Testing Tool

This great site allows you to view different device sizes in your browser window:

Matt Kersley's Responsive Design Testing Tool

2. Responsive Web Design Tester (Chrome Extension)

This tool allows you to select a specific device to test and opens up a new browser window that has been resized to the dimensions of your chosen device:

Responsive Web Design Tester