RSS Feeds, Instapaper, Google Reader & Twitter For Accountants

I have a theory (though I doubt I’m the first to suggest this) that the rate of change corresponds directly to how easily we can create and share information. The easier it is to find something out, the sooner we can take action on it. It should come as no surprise that as the number and volume of communications channels have grown this past decade, the cycles of business development have shortened. And, it’s no stretch to say, especially for those of us in knowledge industries, that the future will go to those who can best learn to capture, channel and convert information into action.

Here, I’d like to offer a few of my own tips for capturing and channeling information. I encourage you to share your tips in the comment section below so all of us can learn together.

  1. The first step, perhaps, is coming to terms with the fact that you are not going to catch everything. Maybe there was once a day when the morning paper would cover everything you needed to know, but today, there is literally too much information. Drinking from this fire hydrant is more of a strategy of dipping your head into the stream at regular intervals than trying to absorb every last drop. Knowing when, where and how much is the most difficult question.
  2. RSS feeds are your friend. RSS feeds are a special link that you copy from your favorite information sources (like this website) and paste into reading software. Instead of having to surf around to your favorite sites for updates, you just open your reading software and all the latest posts are there automagically. There are many options for reading software: I use Google Reader to collect all of my feeds, but view the content from applications that synchronize with my Google Reader account (Reeder on my iPad, FeedDemon on my Windows machine and NetNewsWire on my Mac).
  3. Virtual newspaper clipping with Instapaper. Ever run across a really neat article/website while searching for something else? You didn’t have time to read it right then, so it unfortunately became lost to the annals of browsing history. The free web service called Instapaper can solve that. You click a bookmark and the program saves that article into your own special list. Later, during your reading time, you can bring up the list in your browser and give the article the attention it deserves. Even better, your personalized list can be turned into an RSS feed itself and is readable on your iPad/iPhone and Kindle.
  4. Refined reading time. I hinted at it above, but I think dedicated reading time is essential in our profession. We all most likely do this already – my only suggestion here might be to periodically re-evaluate our information diet for topic and channel. Do we need to incorporate more estate tax reading? Should we consider tracking a blog? Is it time to let other reading go? As I come across good information sources, I add them to my “Testing List,” then periodically look it over and see if I need to re-shuffle. My goal over time is to refine the sources so I have less, rather than more, and that those few provide timely insights that are helpful to me and my clients.
  5. Twitter lists. Twitter, though still a nascent technology, is a great way to learn about things … and you don’t have to actually “tweet” if you don’t want to. However, you’ll quickly discover (as described in #1 above) that there is way too much going on. To deal with all that activity covering a hodgepodge of topics, consider grouping those you follow into lists (available right from the Twitter website). Then, when you want to read about technology, you can read one list, and when you want to read about tax, you can read another. Although I know we all tout our ability to multi-task, I find narrowing the view helps my mind from going to mush.

The “information age” quickly became the “information overload age.” Fortunately, tools continue to emerge that can help us push back against the data glut, so that information can actually become insight – and insight can become action!