Palimpsest (September 18 – 24, 2022)

Things I read, heard and saw this week that inspired me.

“Best of: A Life-Changing Philosophy of Games.” The Ezra Klein Show. [podcast] 2022aug19.

A view of our quantified lives as point scoring games where the points shape our values and tell us what to want. This one touches a lot on the point scoring nature of social media and why Twitter's gamification of conversation warps our political and social discourse.

“Elaine Castillo : How to Read Now.” Between The Covers : Conversations with Writers in Fiction, Nonfiction & Poetry. [podcast] 2022sep18.

This is a huge conversation spanning almost three hours about reading, what reading is and how reading is always placed inside political space. This long episode has so many threads and so many insights packed in, it is like a microdose of many, many episodes in one. Always a pleasure to listen to brilliant readers talk about reading. This one is a pleasure and a challenge.

“The Office is Dying. It’s Time to Rethink How We Work.” The Ezra Klein Show. [podcast] 2022aug16.

Pandemic lockdown of 2020 gave us an unplanned experiment in new ways of working. The pressure cooker of necessity caused a hugely innovative period of adjustment and recalibration. As things settle toward the new normal, workers are left wanting to retain some of the benefits of flexible work from the online/hybrid experiment. Unfortunately, most work places learned the wrong lessons. Workers wanted the best of flexible work but are mostly now getting the worst. Rethinking how we work requires us to rethink why we work, starting with the office as a space. What is it actually for? This conversation touches on the trends of social atomization. What does it mean when work is the last place left for people to relate directly as human communities? There has to be a better way. Right?

What I’m Reading

  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. My wife is worried because now I want to make cheese in our kitchen.

What I’m Watching

  • The Sandman. We finished Season 1 this week. It was interesting to see how they reorganized the pieces of the original story to build toward narrative arc for Season 2. The last episode is basically bonus material that didn’t sit well inside the storyline for Season 1. As much as I enjoyed the build of the second half of the season, I enjoyed this last episode as an example of what the show might have been if told more as pastiche, which was my experience of the graphic novel.
  • The Patient. A psychologist is captured by his patient and locked in the basement for ongoing personal therapy sessions. I won’t say more because the pleasure of this show is letting each short (20ish minutes) episode deliver a quick gut punch. This series works in the way the best horror/thriller short story works. Keep it tight, compressed and deliver the gut punch right at the end. Also fun to see Steve Carrell play a serious role. It took me a while to get myself out of Office mode, looking for that Michael Scott smirk. Carrell grows into the role as the episodes progress.

How to Measure a Career

I spent today in meetings. Day-long meetings are generally awful, but today I was with my fellow academic library deans and directors from across the state college system. I always look forward to these meetings. It is a rare chance to gather with peers who do the same work in the same system with the same goals under the same constraints. We share. We commiserate. We celebrate. We solve problems.

After 13 years as a higher ed administrator, I have worked with a lot of different people. Many have moved on to other things. Some have retired. A few died. At 45 years old, I am now the third longest-serving administrator in our group of 19 academic library directors. Today someone felt compelled to suggest that I have accrued something that passes for wisdom over those 13 years. I’m not sure this is true. I do think a lot and talk a lot. Someone who thinks and talks as much I do is bound to occasionally say things that feel useful.

Each time my friends and I are together, we reminisce about the work we’ve done, the challenges we’ve faced, the opportunities we developed, the absurdities we have endured. In taking stock I realize that the things of which I am most proud are not the things that I myself have accomplished. I am most proud of things I have helped others accomplish. Things I have helped others recognize to be possible.

Being the boss is hard. If you do it well, it is probably lonely. If you care about the work you do and the people with whom you do that work, you will never feel like you are doing enough. You will always be dissatisfied with your response to a need, your inability to provide a resource, your misunderstanding of a situation.

Be kind to yourself. Take inventory of your greatest successes. You are an effective leader if:

  • You have people who trust you to tell them the truth.
  • You have people who ask you to listen when they are struggling.
  • You have people who openly share their craziest ideas because they want someone to be excited with them.
  • You have people who thank you for who you are and how you work and how you help them work.

This is how a career is measured. Everything beyond this is just certificates in scrapbooks, plaques on walls and lines on the resume.

Getting the Right Things Done

I hit a slump at work last year. It happens from time to time. I still showed up. I still tried my best, but my best was becoming less and less effective. I still loved my job. I still cared, but I was working harder and harder for less result. I knew it. The people who know me best knew it but were often too kind to inquire.

I worked hard. I stayed busy, but I never seemed to accomplish the most important things. My to do lists exploded. I had a hard time setting priorities. My to do list was such a complex tangle of folders, alerts and tags that I could no longer discern the important from the merely urgent. I fell into the trap of choosing a few easy things to mark off each day and letting my email inbox decide the rest. Email poured in from all sides and I couldn’t get a handle. I was drowning.

The problem wasn’t that I had too much to do. We all have too much to do. The problem was my poorly designed workflow. Enter David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. (Find it at your local library.)GTDcover

Getting Things Done is a dead simple guide to organizing workflow. I read Getting Things Done over winter break and am practicing the core principles at home and at work. Here’s my quick take. I was coming home from work everyday braindead and exhausted because I was constantly misusing my mind. The brain is brilliant at detecting patterns and creating new associations between ideas, but the brain is terrible at remembering. An effective workflow allows the brain to do what it is meant to do and stop wasting precious energy performing tasks it cannot accomplish.

Most productivity tools and literature emphasize management of time and priorities. Time and priorities cannot be managed. Only actions can be managed. My wickedly complex To Do lists failed because they tried to manage ideas and priorities rather than actual actions.

Allen’s GTD workflow focuses exclusively on actionable next steps. Lists are meant to capture all relevant next steps and organize them into contexts. To Do lists should only contain lists of things that can actually be done. My To Do list was choked with non-actionable items like Solve Climate Change or Establish World Peace. These aren’t next steps. These are projects.

You are probably laughing at me right now because you already knew this. Its okay. I’m laughing too. I knew better but did it anyway. Projects belong on their own lists, which are then broken down into actionable next steps.

The list of next actions is sacred and must be rigorously protecting from the inevitable intrusion of multistep projects. Allen gives a fundamentalist definition of a project as any outcome you desire within the next year that requires more than one step to achieve. Solving Climate Change and Establishing World Peace are obviously projects. Less obvious perhaps, mounting a TV on a wall might also be project with discrete steps. You have to research the available mounts, select the appropriate mount, purchase the mount, install the mount, hang the TV and then deal with the attached peripherals. Again, you probably already knew this but the reason I avoided so many items like that on my list was confusion about how to get started.

The insight Allen offers isn’t so much that projects are comprised of actions. The insight is that getting those actions broken down and captured in advance reduces a lot of unnecessary cognitive tax. The discipline is deciding in advance what will need to be done so that you don’t waste precious mental energy thinking about it when you have time to actually do it. The useful habit is always deciding in advance.

The other useful habit is organizing next actions by context rather than topic. My To Do lists were developed around the idea of keeping actions into discrete topical lanes. This meant that before deciding what needs to be done, I had to sort through a mishmash of competing projects or themes to find tasks that were both important and achievable at that particular moment. This did not work well.

It is far better to organize next actions into contexts, like Email; Phone; Writing; Quick Hits; and Intense Focus. This helps put next actions into a context of energy and focus. When you are making phone calls, use that list. When you need easy wins, use the Quick Hit list. When you can focus deeply, use that list. The idea is make decisions easier by making the list serve the energy and focus available at any given time. You can’t always do the thing that is most urgent, and you probably shouldn’t. You can always do something. There’s always more to do than can be done. The goal is to keep doing things and keep moving forward.

There’s a lot other practical help to be had. Allen offers advice on email, my arch-nemesis. So far, it has helped a lot. Allen talks about the piles of stuff in my life and helps me understand those piles as actions to which I have not yet committed or properly understood. Stuff is deadly. We must kill our stuff before our stuff kills us.

The practice is to get everything out of your head, captured on a list and then organized into context for appropriate future action. Dead simple but definitely a practice.

So you are probably reading this and marveling at how any of this could be a surprise to me. You might be wondering how they let me manage multiple libraries and supervise a team. Some days, I wonder the same thing.

I love my work. People depend on me to bring my best. They deserve my best. I deserve to come home with my brain intact so that I can share my best with my family and myself. To do that, I need new habits.

So far, my Getting Things Done workflow has helped that happen. It is a work in progress which I will adapt as I go. If it works, I won’t need to tell you. You’ll see it happen. I’ll answer your email. I’ll follow up on that conversation we had last month. I’ll have time to sit and talk big picture because the urgent, unimportant distractions are no longer nipping at my heels.

Email is Not My Job

Email is not my job. It is a tool I use to do my job. At least, that’s what I tell myself. And yet, more and more often, I find myself spending most of my time writing, answering, filing and deleting emails. It has gotten absurd.

I’m not alone. The problem of email overload is so bad, my college is drafting policies to try and define who can email who and the rules for using email in the workplace. The policy won’t help. Email is a useful, but limited, communication tool. We overuse it and try to make our emails do things for us they were never intended to do.

The problem with email is that messages are wickedly easy to send and, on the receiving end, wickedly difficult to deal with. Handling my email inbox usually feels like hand to hand combat with somebody else’s to do list. Every email brings with it a decision. Do I reply? Do I delegate this? Does this person really need my response? Is the sender really a person anyway or is it just a semi-clever software program spewing invitations to review someone’s latest [fill in the blank]. Many messages get deleted. Others get flagged. Some get answered or delegated. Every email is a decision. It is exhausting.

Enough is enough. I’m building some new rules for myself regarding email. I want efficiency. I want clarity. I want control.

My brother manages manufacturing workflow processes. He treats his inbox like a project. Everything that comes in gets immediately color coded. Certain senders (his boss, his boss’s boss) are colored special colors to help them stand out. Every message is quickly reviewed for action type and given a color category using Outlook’s category options. One color for urgent. Another color for not urgent. Anything that doesn’t deserve a color is deleted.

I’ve been working with this idea for a week now. I already have my most important email senders pushed into a priority, VIP email folder. Messages from my boss, my staff and my related work teams get pushed to the VIP folder. Messages in this folder can be viewed as a group. They also display on my iPad as a special alert to help me keep track.

All incoming messages are quickly scanned for possible action. Easy things get answered or addressed right away. Most things aren’t easy and require a color. Red for urgent. Pink for important but not urgent. Green for waiting for an answer or more information. Purple for things to read.

My new rule: every message gets scanned and immediately answered, deleted or categorized. I then use Outlook category filters to view my urgent emails all together. This helps me prioritize my work for the day. After those are gone, I will view the important, but not urgent set. Some day, in theory, I will read the purple items labeled to read.

It isn’t a perfect system. I’m still not entirely in control of my inbox but, after a week of using categories and filters, I already find myself less stressed about the hemorrhaging inbox. I’m dealing with the things that need my attention most a little more quickly. At least, I think I am.

I still need to fine tune the system. Today, I added another step. I close my email software when I’m not actively using it. Today, I read email first thing in the morning, again mid-morning and then right before lunch. I opened email midafternoon and then once more before I left for the day. The rest of the time email stayed closed.

From time to time, one of my VIP senders showed an alert on my iPad. I glanced quickly over to determine if the message was urgent, knowing that truly urgent things always arrive via phone call or text message.

It felt good to close my email when I wasn’t actively using it. I felt more in control.

I have written about my personal struggles with email before. You may think I’m daft. You may think I’m making things too complicated. The truth is I’m just trying to feel more in control and capture that feeling that email is a tool I use rather than a tool than uses me.

You may be reading this and feeling upset because you’ve sent me an email or 5 and haven’t yet gotten a response. Try not to be upset. There’s a good chance your email to me has a pink cast, in which case I’ll get to it.

There is also, of course, a chance that your email(s) have been deleted. If that’s the case, you are going to need to decide how many emails you want to send me to try and get my attention. My new rules are still young so I’m not sure how they will play out. I am declaring a kind of war here. Email is not my job. It is a tool I use to help me do my job.

I need your help. What rules or processes do you use to manage your email? Comments most welcome.

My Pursuit of Paperlessness

Earlier today, I glimpsed my paperless future. I had two documents to sign, scan and send to a colleague. Scanning documents is a pain in the ass. Filing or destroying the paper copies of those scanned documents is a pain in the ass. Dealing with paper in general, is… you guessed it, a pain in the ass.

I don’t like dealing with paper. This is probably a shocking confession coming from a librarian. After all, aren’t librarians the people charged with organizing the world’s paper? Not this guy. I have a different gift. I’m really good at find papers but not so great at filing them. My gift for search probably comes from having spent so much time in my life looking.

Don’t get upset. Paper books are still wonderful and lovely and charming and delicious and all that. I’m talking about the Other Papers. The not-wonderful, unlovely, uncharming paper that comes from spending 40-50 hours a week inside an office. I’m talking about time sheets, travel authorizations, requests for funding, subscription approval forms and any number of other administrivial paper.

I have an aversion to all of this paper. I am cultivating this aversion. I am training my team to believe I have a killer allergy to the use of paper in the workplace. Occasionally, when someone hands me a piece of paper that requires some small action on my part, I like to yell, “”It burns! It burns!” and wave the paper around like the flag of my discontent.

There is a better, more productive and mature path. I glimpsed that path today. Those two documents needed my signature but I really didn’t want to print, sign, scan, email then file.

Here’s what I did instead.

  1. Open electronic copies of the source documents (one an Excel spreadsheet; the other a Word document)
  2. Complete as much as possible onscreen.
  3. Save the document as PDFs to the Dropbox folder on my computer.
  4. Open the documents in the Dropbox app on my iPad.
  5. Push copies of those documents from the Dropbox app to the iAnnotate PDF app.
  6. Sign and date the document in iAnnotate with blue digital ink.
  7. Push a copy of each signed document back to the Dropbox app as a flattened PDF named the same as the original so that the document is updated rather than replicated.
  8.  Move to the permanent storage file on my computer.
  9. Email and done.

Okay, so I do acknowledge that typing all of this out into 9 easy steps does seem a bit more complex than just print, sign, scan and email. I promise it is a million times easier for me and I don’t have to deal with a paper copy and I don’t have to worry about document retention policies and I don’t have to worry about misfiling since it resides on my computer and will get indexed for search. The whole process takes about three minutes. The process of print, sign, scan, email, file/destory takes at least 5 minutes.

Today’s scenario started with digital source documents. I’m not always so lucky. In cases where someone hands me a paper document that needs my attention, I reach for the Scanner Pro app, which uses the iPad camera to take an image of a document and then turns that image into PDF which can be batched automatically to a designated folder in Dropbox.

Dropbox is the common thread that makes these workflows possible. I really like Dropbox, but that’s a paean for another time. Today felt like a long overdue step toward something I’ve always known was possible but hadn’t really bothered to try. It just gets better and better.

Better Version of Me

There is, I think, a better version of me, standing somewhere slightly out of sight. He is a little more creative, a little more active and a little more focused than I am. He wakes up 30 minutes earlier than I do so he can have time to read and reflect before he starts his day. He runs at least three times each week. He meditates. He writes everyday and always finishes what he starts, even if it isn’t always satisfying in the way he has expected.

He prioritizes well and focuses intently on the matter at hand so he can get things done.

He is 20 pounds lighter but he is isn’t vain and never gloats.

I glimpse this person from time to time. You may have seen him yourself on occasion. He is hard to pin down. He enjoys the attention that comes from standing just behind the corner. He craves the adoration that comes from not being in the room.

He is elusive. He is skittish. I have never reached him directly. I have never meet his immediate gaze.

Still, I have a plan for catching him. I will keep myself moving. I will keep him distracted by practicing those things he does so well.

I am creative. I will practice being a little more creative.

I am active. I will practice being a little more active.

I am focused. I will practice on directing my focus more quickly where it belongs.

He isn’t so special. The ingredients of his genius are within my reach. I just need to continue working with the pieces. I need to keep moving. He will, at some point, make a mistake. He will hesitate or stumble the wrong way around a corner. At that moment, he and I will be standing in the very same room. We will see each other as we are – directly with no concealment.

I will introduce myself though he already knows me so well.

I will seem different to him. Better. Stronger. More focused.

He will seem different to me. Specific. Attainable. Nothing special.

Time Sickness

My family took an actual vacation last week. My wife, daughter and I flew to Florida. We spent three days at Walt Disney World, three days at Madeira Beach with an additional day at both ends of the trip for travel. It was all the things vacation should be: fun, relaxed, and restorative.

I love to travel , but we don’t get to travel a lot. Traveling is an adventure and a challenge. Traveling disorients all the senses and makes it easy for me to pay attention to the kinds of things I normally don’t notice. I had a lot of great moments along this trip and more than a few realizations. The most powerful had nothing to do with travel. It was about stepping outside my routine. It was about realizing the core affliction of my life. I suffer from time sickness.

I was floating in the Gulf of Mexico, watching the sky as groups of pelicans descended, coasting a few feet above my head, skimming the water for fish. It was fascinating. I’m not a great swimmer but the salt water carried me like a mattress. I was able to relax and watch this completely commonplace yet unfamiliar thing happen around me. I watched and drifted. After a while, I realized I had no idea how long I had been watching the pelicans. It may have been minutes. It may have been hours. I had lost my unit of measurement.

Two days later, I was checking out of our hotel and realized I had no idea what the date was. I joked with the clerk about it, then realized I had no idea what actual day of the week it was.

I had become completely unmoored from the clock and the calendar. The feeling that came with this realization was very much like the feeling I have had after the flu passes and I am able to stand out of bed for the first time and feel hungry and rested and curious about what’s been happening in my house.

I get this feeling from time to time. It doesn’t require travel. It happens when I take more than a week off from work. It is a powerful, healthy feeling. It is a feeling of recalibration, a new relationship with time.

Most of my life is spent in close observation of time. The clock and the calendar organize my days. When people at work need me, they send requests for my time. These requests appear simultaneously on my computer, phone and iPad. Just to be certain I notice.

I am pushed through my day by reminders, flags and alerts that move my attention from one event to the next. My schedule for next month begins to fill early in the current month. An event like faculty in-service happens and it is immediately time to begin planning the next semester’s in-service.

This isn’t complaint. This is how life works. This is how we are able to accomplish things. We manage our time. We parcel and divide it into focused, discrete segments so we can move forward toward a goal. We schedule things with people so we can all move forward together.

At some point, the routine of scheduling and tracking time captures more of our attention than the things we are actually doing with that time.

This is, I think, the definition of time sickness: when the awareness of the tools and units used to measure time receive more attention than the activities we are trying to use that time to accomplish.

When that happens, it is time to step back. You don’t have to get on an airplane or go to the beach, although I can personally recommend both as a likely remedy. When you first diagnose the symptoms of time sickness, you’ve got to take a step back. Change your relationship to time.

Take time off. Take a walk. Disable all notifications, alerts and messages. Watch the pelicans. They are always doing their routine. You just may not have let yourself notice.

Vacation Ritual for the 21st Century

No one can stay connected all the time. It isn’t healthful, and it isn’t practical. You don’t have to travel to put healthy distance between yourself and your work. Sometimes, you just need to unplug.

My work life has been pretty hectic the past few months. I love the work that I do and I have recently had the chance to take on new, complex, interesting challenges. Still, I have run myself a little ragged. The term “overclocked” keeps passing through my head lately.

So today I am starting a much needed vacation, one week plus a few extra days to carry past my daughter’s sixth birthday. When I leave work for more than a day, I leave good people in charge and trust my team to make good decisions. I try to make myself available by phone and/or email in case of emergencies. Emergencies don’t often arise in the library. Still, I often monitor email while on vacation just to “”keep up with things”. This is crazy. I don’t need to keep up with things while on vacation. Not keeping up with things is pretty much the point of taking a vacation.

When I got home today, I decided to try something new. I disconnected my work email account from my phone. I can still scroll through my email once  in the evening, if I want. But the act of physically disconnecting my phone from work email felt really good. When email is too accessible, there is an irrational urge to check it often. Unplugging my work email from my phone prevents me from feeling the temptation to check it. Making work email inconvenient while on vacation makes “checking in” or “staying connected” feel less necessary.

I know I’m not that important. My team gets along fine without me. I know they will call if something  important actually happens that needs my immediate attention.

In the meantime, disconnecting for a little while is the only way to really get the benefit of time off. Do what you can to stop thinking about work when you aren’t at work so you can actually rest. Then, you can return more vital and focused, ready to pick up the work you left off, accomplishing stuff that matters.

Becoming well-informed

Yesterday’s post about information rituals missed the point. I was working with the idea of information rituals as intentional, useful information habits. Yesterday’s post was a screed written by a madman, crippled  by the compulsive need to stash web links in the virtual nooks and crannies of his web space in the misguided belief that there will someday be enough time to visit them all, watch them all, read them all and use them all. There won’t be enough time and there won’t be a point. Yesterday’s post was more about link hoarding than about information rituals.

Yesterday’s post failed to consider this: why bother? The goal of link catching, organizing and follow-up can’t be to visit them all. There is no point to that. The web is immense and growing on a scale far beyond the human mind. Before we can consider useful information habits, we need to consider the goal. What are we trying to accomplish?

You can’t learn everything. You can’t be interested in everything. If you are, you certainly can’t invest your attention equally in all directions.

Information rituals should help a person benefit from their information streams: Facebook, Twitters, blog feeds, social bookmarks, emails and so on. The benefit is gathering the raw materials needed to be well-informed.

Being well-informed means seeing an idea or event from many different directions. Being well-informed means having a sense of understanding about a thing, how that thing relates to my life and how that relationship changes over time. Being well-informed is about gathering resources that help you make good decisions. Being well-informed helps you set goals, plan actions and assess outcomes. Being well-informed helps you lend value to others who can benefit from your specialized knowledge and focus.

And so, before I can think about developing useful information rituals, I need to establish my purpose. What is it about which I wish to become well-informed? This, it seems, will determine the most suitable rituals to cultivate.

So here’s the list of things about which I am trying to stay well-informed. These are more than just recreational interests. These are events, themes or concepts about which I need to become and remain well-informed in order to accomplish my larger goals. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • writing: as an action and a process
  • libraries: why we need them, how they operate, what they do
  • leadership theory and practice
  • books: what is being published, how are those books being received, what is their impact
  • eBooks: emerging publication models and the business of eText,  how reading eBooks compares to reading print books, how to connect readers with eBooks through library collections
  • mobile technologies and their use in education
  • open education: models, platforms, possible goals/outcomes
  • educational technologies: how technology intersects usefully with teaching and learning
  • pedagogy and learning theory: how people learn, how we teach people to learn more effectively; how libraries contribute
  • information theory: what is information, how is it used, how do people seek, find and interact with information
  • changes in web technology
  • social media: how they create communities of interest and how to use them to deliver messages to audiences
  • Buddhism and mindful living
  • parenting
  • creativity and things that inspire people to accomplish useful goals
  • politics and political action
  • world news
  • local news

Ah. I begin to see the problem. This is a very broad list, and I know the list is incomplete. I am trying to wrap my mind around too much. I am becoming somewhat informed in a number of these areas but am not being purposeful enough in finding where these areas overlap. I am sipping from streams of information that pertain to all of this but not focusing intention on developing deep knowledge.

I need to pare down my daily information diet. I need to identify the most beneficial sources of information in these specific areas, find places where these overlap and pursue those channels with greater focus. This might mean dropping some blog feeds. This might mean reshaping my Twitter feeds. I need to raise the criteria I use to screen what sources I try to follow to increase the value of time spent with each.

I do realize that this thread of posts may seem crazy. What I am talking about here is cultivating a mindful approach to information overload. We all suffer. We can all benefit from new habits. I suspect in the future, the ability to quickly filter information, screen out background noise and act quickly on the highest quality information will be a basic requirement for survival.

The mind evolves to survive our circumstances. I believe we can take control of this process. In fact, I believe we have to take control of this process or we will get bewildered, blinded and lost. If we don’t find ways to cultivate useful information rituals, we will become more and more poorly informed in the most information rich time our species has yet seen.

Information Rituals

Update (11march2013) – This post misses the point. I consider this a first, misguided draft. I am still working with the idea of information rituals. Step one: figure out what information rituals need to accomplish.


I need to develop new information rituals. My current habits are not working for me. I have three email accounts — one personal, one for work, and one Gmail for capturing data posted to web forms. All three have become link hives,   hundreds of emails with nothing but unvisited links to sites I need or want to visit.

My email situation, though tragic, is not uncommon. But then consider the other places I have stashed unvisited links:

  • Google Bookmarks
  • starred posts in Google Reader
  • favorited tweets
  • Evernote for articles that require some action
  • Instapaper for articles to read during downtime
  • ScoopIt for articles to share with others
  • PDFs scattered across iBooks, Adobe Reader for iPad, Blue Fire and Dropbox

This is a mess. I not in control. If unvisited weblinks were physical objects, you would be watching my tearful family on Hoarders begging me to let these links go and just live a simple, uncluttered kind of life. I cannot let them go. I need these links. These links have something for me, some small but essential insight.

The problem here is discipline. My information habits lack purpose and rigor. My information habits are thoughtless and unexamined. I need clarity. I need a streamlined system that makes sense, and then, I need to develop the rigor required to operate and protect the system.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, I am kissed with a little bit of OCD. Some people wash incessantly. Some people drink or do drugs. Some people are compulsive about light switches. My manias are list-making and link catching.

I can’t stop catching interesting links. I am a librarian. I work on the web. I am online all day. I get interested in things. I share links. People share links with me. It is the nature of what I do.

I need a better system for organizing my link hoards into coherent clusters that can be dealt with, delegated or deleted.

I need new information rituals.

Something like this:

  • Only keep Google bookmarks that matter. If a link gets tagged read or explore, then read or explore that link. Delete the links that don’t matter.
  • Triage all interesting emailed links into one place. Maybe a folder inside one email account or a dedicated email account. Funnel all emailed links to that one place and prune that one place ruthlessly. Bookmark the links that matter. Delete all emails.
  • Do not favorite tweets or star items from your Google feed. Push them to the folder and deal with them when there’s time. Bookmark then delete.
  • Keep Evernote clean for links that require some follow-up or associate to a particular project, like this blog.
  • Read Instapaper articles daily.
  • Push all PDFs to iBooks because iBooks allows annotation and also allows organizing features on bookshelves. Adobe Reader and BlueFire  have no organizing features to prevent the tumble. Dropbox is crowded with other things.

There are the tenets of the faith. Here’s the ritual:

  • Read Facebook and Twitter in the morning, preferably via Flipboard. Push links as needed.
  • Read Google Feeds at lunch. Push links as needed.
  • Read ScoopIt in the late afternoon. Push links as needed.
  • Read Evernote before blogging in the evening. This is where the blogging ideas get saved.
  • Visit Google Bookmarks for new sites and to delete unneeded bookmarks.
  • Read Instapaper with evening leisure time.
  • Read PDFs as needed.

Fascinating. This is completely unsustainable and I sound like a complete lunatic.

Okay, you get the idea. I’m stopping now.

I need to think a bit more about the idea of information rituals, those habits of searching, finding, clicking and reading that get us through the day.

What are your information rituals? How well do they work for you?