Tools of the trade, my 2011 edition

One of the most interesting parts of going through everyone’s responses to my question about managing their cognitive load was seeing the similarities and differences in strategies.  In fact, a couple of you wondered what those commonalities might say about us and our work. That may be a post for another day. 😉

I thought it would be fitting end to that series to go over what tools came up as useful, and list some of the changes I’ve made to my information consumption strategies based on your input.

The #1 tool, and the only one that everyone used was Twitter. This may be a sampling artifact, since I use Twitter a great deal, but in my decidedly unscientific pondering of the last three conferences I was at, I can pretty definitely claim that most of the museum people I run into use it as well.  Respondents to my email, like me, use Twitter clients rather than Twitter’s web page.  Filtering is vital if you’re not going to drown in the tweetstream. I have a love/hate relationship with Tweetdeck. I love it’s flexibility, and it’s lists that allow me to sort my incoming tweets. I’ve got my general museum list, hashtags I’m following like #mtogo and conferences, as well as a friends’ list, and even a celebrities list (Stephen Fry is just too interesting!) Being able to sort them means I only have to see the one two lists I feel like listening to on any given day. Things that seem interesting or worth following up on get favorited and go into their own favorites list.

After I’d started this series, I found It stands for “If This, Then That” and it allows you to set up logical equations using web services. My favorite task has become “If I favorite a tweet, copy the text to a file in my Evernote account called ‘twitter favs’.” Very convenient!

We came, we saw, we looked around… and left.

RSS feeds
Coming in second was relying on RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds to aggregate the websites you want to follow.  I’d given up on RSS some time ago in favor of doing it old school style, slogging from site to site with the Firefox Morning Coffee plugin that lets you add a button to Firefox that will open tabs of any number of sites at once.  RSS readers like NetNewsWire let you corral thousands of sites and group them so you can manage your browsing before you start.  I have my twelve or so museum sites I’m most interested in keeping abreast with, maybe another twenty more tangentially connected to my work, and then a slew of general science and tech sites that spew forth potentially interesting content daily. With a reader, I can decide if I really (need to/want to/can stomach) wading through 317 Slashdot articles today or not, and I’m pretty ruthless now about hitting the “Mark All as Read” button when I don’t want to be bothered. I find it satisfying in fact to see all those little numbers of unread posts disappear. Poof! Like Jasper said in the first post, letting go is important to your sanity.

I’m on the verge of getting moved from Mail to Outlook, so changing my email habits now is bit counter-productive. That said, I did clean out my inbox and outbox and went through my mail filters and updated a bunch. My inbox is a lot more manageable! More to come, post migration.


What was interesting to me about LinkedIn was how many people used it, but not much, and not often.  Off all the responses I got, only one person really invested in LinkedIn, and that was for the discussion groups. For most of the others, myself included, we filled out our profiles, connected with people we knew, and … not much else.  Tweetdeck lets me post to LinkedIn, so sometimes I will send tweets that way, so it looks like I’m on more than I am.  Again, this may be a sampling artifact. Most of the people I asked have jobs and aren’t doing the kind of networking that freelancers and job seekers have to do. I have to admit that the reason I check LinkedIn is usually because I’ve gotten an alert that a contact has changed their profile, usually because they’ve gotten a new job.

Make Learning a Formal Activity, and Do It with Friends
Organizing these local meetups has been very rewarding.  And making them regular, and reliable has been important to them. Getting to the point where people expect them to happen is gratifying, and the pressure keeps me going.  I’ve enjoyed watching people make connections, and actually learn useful things from each other at the events.  Even these ostensibly social occasions can be learning experiences.

Reading about departments with built in learning communities made me a little jealous at first, and I realized how much I enjoy that kind of interaction. As I’ve been writing these responses, I’ve had any number of little epiphanies. One of them was that if I wanted to work in a more learning-centered workplace, I’d better do something about it. The outcomes of this were twofold for me.  Firstly, it reminded me that I really wasn’t doing much to pass on any of the benefits I received at the start of my career. So, I’ve got a shiny new intern (actually she’s a highly skilled, veteran intern) and am trying to figure out what is useful for her to know is a very valuable lens into my own practice.  What do I do? Why do I do it this way? It’s a lot of work, keeping an intern learning and doing stuff that’s not make-work.  Hopefully, she’ll get something useful out of the experience. Stay tuned.

The other outcome has been that the exhibit developers here agreed that we’ll hold regular professional development meetings. There are only three of us, so it can be very informal — read a book or article and discuss.  It’s not hard, it just takes determination to keep doing it.  Got any exhibit topics that you think are hot?





  1. A pleasure! I’ve been thinking about working for you a lot this past week. Between my intern and guest lecturing at Tufts, I’ve been answering a lot of “How did you get where you are?” questions. And the answer is always, “Because somebody took a chance on me.”

    We should talk about Twitter next time you’re in town. I was stunned by how many of the EMPs I run into say they they don’t “get” Twitter. I know you’ve expressed that same sentiment, and I’d love to dig into it. Its utility seems so obvious to me, I have trouble explaining it.


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