If there was one skill I would teach people it would be the ability to scan read, but there is an important skill prior to that – pre-classification.
It isn’t possible even today to read all of the information that is made available to us, and we shouldn’t even be trying. I know of many people who, myself included, can’t even properly read all of the email that they are sent each day, and I for one don’t even bother trying.
But I do scan read every one of the hundreds of emails, the hundreds of blogs, twitter and facebook.
I don’t find these numbers overwhelming, or a burden. I have a routine, and a system that shows me what is important and allows me to fly through what is not important.
A significant part of that system is the pre-classification system.
Pre-classification is all about efficient use of your minds ability to process things. The minds is much more efficient at repeatedly processing similar things. It’s not so efficient at switching the processing between different types of information. If we had to work our way through a set of activities we would naturally split them down into groups of things and then tackle a group at a time – that’s what the pre-classification system does with information. There’s no way that we would switch between ironing and washing the pots – iron a shirt, wash a pot, iron some trousers, wash a port – and yet that’s exactly what we expect our brain to do with information.
Every email client I know has a rules engine of some description that allows you to pre-classify emails based on where they have come from or on their content. But I see so few people using them. This engine might just be your life saver.
In my scan-reading system all of the emails from expenses, from travel, from corporate communications, from marketers and newsletters get classified before I’ve even seen them. I’ll still scan read them, but that’s all they are going to get. Doing this allows me to handle them in bulk. There’s only one piece of information I care about in the emails from the expenses systems – and, as it happen, it’s the last line that says “status”. As long as this doesn’t say “rejected” I’m fine. Having a set of similar emails to review allows me to apply the same routine to each one, which is much more efficient than switching between email types.
The classification system works in my blog reader to (which happens to be FeedDemon). I fly through the updates of pictures that come through from flick because I’m really looking to see if there is anything particularly interesting. I know which these blogs are because they are in a folder called unsurprisingly “pictures”. The “colleagues” category, though, get much more attention, I want to give the people I work with more time than a high level scan.
Same with twitter and facebook pre-classify and then scan read.
For twitter, TweetDeck is invaluable for this, I care that the column from colleagues has been updated, I will rapidly skim through “all friends” list. They don’t necessarily say anything any more profound, it’s just that I care more about what they have to say than I do about Dave Gorman or Jason Manford, or even MC Hammer.
I’m slightly stretching the point on facebook though, because I don’t get many status updates as I’ve turned most of them off. This then means that I can scan through what’s there without having to work out whether I care or not.
Go on try it out – remember, this skill could be essential to your future job prospects.
I’ll talk about the actual process of scan reading another time.