Holiday Info-Diet

It’s all very well and good to do a bit of work to wind down correctly, and to have something in place for your first day back at your PhD, but what about the world unfolding around you? Surely there are things that are happening all of the time while you are having a break, eating mince pies, watching the Queen’s Speech and wondering whether or not the Doctor Who Christmas Special is going to be better than most of the recent series.

(it has to be…it just…has to be!) (please Santa, I’ve been good this year)

Checking and rechecking Twitter and relevant newsfeeds, bookmarking things and reading on the sly and so on – they will interfere with your break. And chances are, if you even remotely suspect that you need a break then you really do. Reducing the value of that break is only going to be harmful in the long run. But what can you do to keep tabs on articles and so on? How can you avoid missing them?

Fortunately, with a couple of bits of internet wonderfulness, you can have simple archives created over the Christmas break, and then review it in your first week back. No distractions, no constant disappearing down a rabbit hole. In the same way that you will not check your inbox until at least January 2nd – promise me you won’t! – create a news inbox to review later.

Step 1: Sign up for IFTTT

IFTTT is short for If This, Then That, and is one of the neatest little things I’ve come across this year. There are wonderful articles about it out there, but essentially you can set up an account and then set up “recipes” for your account to follow. Certain events trigger the recipes to action – and these events can be passive or active as far as you are concerned.

I’ve been using it a lot in conjunction with Twitter, Pocket and Google Drive recently: it’s really simple to set up, and recipes just take a few minutes of tweaking so that you have what you want. The functionality keeps improving all of the time.

My favourite

IFTTT keeps a silent eye on my Twitter activity and if I favourite something then it looks for a link in the tweet I have favourited and if there is it puts that article into my Pocket. IFTTT even tags the entry so that I know how the article got to be there. This has been super-helpful over the last few months; just favourite and it appears, I don’t have to open the link and then share it on my phone, or if I am at my computer I don’t have to right-click and save to Pocket. Just one click, “favourite”. Done.

However, over Christmas and New Year you might put yourself on a Twitter-diet, and restrict how often you use it. Some of the people you follow might share something you want to follow-up on, but how could you know without trawling, either over the holiday or when you get back to the office?

Twitter withdrawal

Some quick maths: I follow 171 people on Twitter, and let’s say they tweet on average (publicly) at least four times a day. If I don’t check in on them for ten days, then I’ve missed ~6500 tweets. Chances are, they tweet a lot more actually – that number could easily be close to an order of magnitude out. But chances are, I don’t actually read all of these anyway. I just skim through, looking for links or zeroing in on certain people.

It is simple enough to set up a recipe in IFTTT that will take the information of a tweet from a person and populate a spreadsheet in your Google Drive. I know it is simple enough because I figured out how to do it in about two minutes from looking at the interface! Every time that the Thesis Whisperer tweets over the holidays, you can capture it for later review. Reviewing things in a concerted burst doesn’t have to take long. It’s one of the principles of Getting Things Done – collect things and review when you have time, don’t let things be a drag on the NOW. NOW is – or soon will be – holiday time.

This, I think, is the power of using IFTTT over the holidays; a little bit of work can produce a helpful summary of what has been happening over the break.

Everything will be waiting for you when you get back.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)