Recently, I’ve had a lot of enquiries as to how I manage to write so many blog posts, either in terms of finding the time or staying current.
The answer is simple – I use tools to help simplify and minimise the effort involved. You could also use this kind of web 2.0 approach for creating a database and tracking data, intelligence, keeping current if you work in the Pharma or Biotech industry, whether a scientist, a marketer or a PR professional. Of course, you could spend hours Googling stuff or reading a few health sites online, but there are other ways to stay ahead of the pack.
The key parameters at play here can be summarised:
- Gather data
- Process and understand information
- Perform analysis
- Generate Insights
Far too many people often only do the first two tasks, but without analysis and insights, the data means very little. So what are the tools of my trade?
I’ve talked about Evernote in the past, which is a nifty data capture tool we use daily here at Icarus Consultants. They have both free and premium versions to suit everyone’s pocket.
When starting projects, we clip relevant information from the internet into a new Evernote Notebook and gather it all in one place. You can use a desktop or a smart phone for this task and dump as much information as you like into it for later searching. This makes it easier to digest when looking at the big picture and gathering ideas and seeing trends. You can also search your own database for existing information, which is very useful for blog posts or writing reports around a topic.
I often create and write blog posts in Evernote too. The research information is already there and it’s straightforward to use the editor as well, as backing up and synchronising the information across multiple platforms. We’ve all written something in Word or a Blog Editor and lost the content >.< but l have found Evernote more reliable for saving information, which can then be cut/paste with minimal editing into the Blog platform or Office for reports. I also have a bunch of articles, reports and blog posts that get part drafted and finished later, acting as a useful repository for gathering ideas.
Other good uses? Need some information on the road while talking to someone? A quick search in the app my iPhone will usually bring it up.
The other side of the coin is generating and gathering data. I’ve mentioned that you can clip research to an app such as Evernote on the go, but I also have a LOT of information in RSS, whether it be news items, feeds for the latest articles in tens of cancer and science journals, blogs from a variety of sources, rss alerts by topic or keyword etc. Keeping track of this huge volume of information used to be unwieldy.
2. My 6 Sense
One tool I really love and have been using for a while is My 6 Sense. This cool app takes all the rss feeds from my Google Reader, which is clumsy and awkward to read, and processes them into a more manageable fashion.
Several times a day I can check the app on my iPhone and see what’s new or relevant. Over time the app algorithms learn what your particular interests are and creates a page of what it considers to be useful items of interest in your RSS feeds via the Relevance tab or as they come in (the Time tab) as shown below (left photo).
Data is social, though; it cries out to be shared with others. The M6S app allows you to add social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook etc and share any interesting items with your friends or colleagues too. Here, you can also see the items from my shared stream (right photo) as an example of what I found interesting and streamed to others to read:
Over time, as you use the app more, it gets much better at predicting what you like or may find interesting. One thing I miss from the M6S app is a Search button – what happens if I want to find a bunch of interesting articles in my RSS database on a given topic, eg PI3K or something similar? At the moment, there’s no obvious way to do that as far as I can tell, but it would certainly be really useful to me.
I confess that after years of losing data unexpectedly, I’ve become a bot of a plain text geek. On my Macs, TextEdit was something I use daily, especially when taking notes from market research interviews on the fly. Then one day, someone mentioned SimpleNote, which is a beautifully simple yet flexible tool for gathering text notes.
For some months now, I’ve been using the App on my iPhone, which allows me to jot down ideas, tasks, notes to self etc on the fly… essentially simple notes.
Then recently, I realised that the free iPhone app also gave me access to the desktop app, which opens up a whole new world of utility and practicality. Here was something that could help me do multiple things efficiently:
- Research and find interesting journal articles or news about say, PI3-kinase in My 6 Sense
- Email article links to self via iPhone
- On desktop, cut/paste multiple snippets of information to SimpleNote
- Search SimpleNote for older articles
- Write blog post in SimpleNote
- Cut/paste blog post to TypePad for posting
- Sync selected information with DropBox and read from any computer later
Take a look at the snapshot below for the basic SimpleNote concept:
You can see how neat and intuitive this is at first glance and how easy it is to find information, whether it be data or contact information or even the reference link months after clipping it by scrolling down in an individual note:
The DOI is really useful because when I blog about journal articles, I only have to cut/paste the DOI into the Research Blogging site and it generates a nifty bit of code that provides easy access to the article via a link for anyone interested in it.
Over time, I diligently put in tonnes of stuff into these tools, whether Evernote or SimpleNote and they come in very handy for research for blog posts and consulting reports. Essentially, I find that I tend to use Evernote for web clipping and SimpleNote for text processing.
Of course, the short answer to the blogging question is you either get more efficient and smarter at gathering, processing, analysing and generating insights or you work longer hours. Being a good European, I’d rather work smarter and hope that people appreciate the insights generated either in the blog posts here or in client report :-).
What are your favourite tools and apps that make a difference to your daily workflow?