Scott's Weblog The weblog of an IT pro specializing in cloud computing, virtualization, and networking, all with an open source view

Managing Information Flow

I’m picking up a thread started by Dave Graham, his brother Danny, and Stu Miniman regarding how they have organized their workspaces in order to help manage the flow of information. Here’s how I work.

Since my job has me both in and out of the office quite a bit, I’ve had to adapt most of my processes to work with only my MacBook Pro’s built-in display. While I do have a second monitor that I use when I’m actually at the office, I’ve grown quite accustomed to Exposé and the ability to quickly see all my windows (F9), only the windows for the application I’m currently using (F10), or quickly gain access to my desktop (F11). Unlike Danny, this “kool-aid drinking fan boy mactard” actually doesn’t mind the OS X UI in the least; in fact, I find that it tends to get out of my way the most. That’s not a slight against Linux or Windows; the OS is a tool, just like any other, and users need to use the right tool for them. For me, the OS X UI makes sense and works well. Your mileage may vary, of course.

I don’t use Spaces, the Mac’s virtual desktop functionality, because…well, it’s awful. Besides, having gotten so accustomed to being able to quickly and easily navigate windows I’ve found that I don’t need the extra desktops. I used to be a huge virtual desktops fan (just read some old entries here in the Macintosh category), but after getting the hang of using Exposé I just can’t get back into using virtual desktops.

Anyway, enough of that. In my efforts to manage the daily information flows, I use a few key applications:

  • Apple Mail with MailTags and Mail Act-On: The combination of Apple Mail with MailTags and Mail Act-On allows me to quickly and easily process e-mail messages by tagging them and filing them with only a few keystrokes. In early 2008 I resolved to keep my Inbox empty, and these tools have been a key part of actually managing to do that.

  • NetNewsWire: NNW manages all my RSS feed subscriptions. When I review new items in NNW, I only superficially scan the headlines across all the subscriptions. Items that look like they are worth a deeper investigation get added to my OmniFocus inbox for reading later. I currently don’t track any Twitter searches via RSS, but that may change later. We’ll see.

  • OmniFocus: I use OF to manage all my obligations. Anything that takes more than a couple of minutes to handle gets dumped into OF for processing later. A couple of AppleScripts automate the process of getting items into OF from NNW (via a Quicksilver trigger) and from Apple Mail into OF (via Mail Act-On). This allows me to quickly and easily process only two inboxes—my e-mail inbox and my RSS inbox—and track everything inside OmniFocus. I also keep OF on my Mac synchronized with OmniFocus on my iPhone.

  • For Twitter, I’m using a program called NatsuLion, which also has a matching iPhone application. I may dump this for another application, as I’m looking now for an easier (read: more automated) way to share more information via Twitter. It would be great to be able to use an AppleScriptable Twitter client to which I could push an NNW headline, for example.

Along with those applications, I typically have several Remote Desktop sessions, a number of browser windows, iCal, my blogging client, TextMate, and Office 2008 running at any given moment. Between this core group of applications, I find that I’m able to manage—and sometimes rise above—the information deluge.

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