Ashley Sanders is a doctoral candidate in the department of history at Michigan State University. You can follow her on twitter at @throughthe_veil or on her blog, Colonialism Through the Veil.

In our crazy, everyday graduate student and “real” lives, how does one keep up with broader academic, discipline-specific, and tech trends? Should we even try? Is it worth it? Is it too late/too early to do so? In this post, I offer tips and tools to stay on top of the most important research, academic conversations, and relevant digital news, all while maintaining your sanity.

To answer the above questions for yourself, define your life purpose in a paragraph. Where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing one and five years from now – personally and professionally? Spend some time brainstorming, journaling, discussing your ideas, and then spell it out in a concise paragraph or two. This will help you determine what information is most important to pay attention to. [For more see, Ayomide Akinkugbe‘s 6 Ways to Manage Information Overload]

Make a list of the most valuable information and news sources to follow based on your life purpose. The next step is to put a plan in place to keep up with the trends in these areas. Break it down based on the news cycle to determine when each information source is updated and how often you need to check-in to stay up-to-date.

1. Monthly: At least in the near term, you will probably need to keep up with scholarly trends. Schedule time each month to catch up on any relevant articles in the top journal(s) in your field – say the first Sunday of the month – whatever it is, make sure it’s easy to remember and set an alert on your calendar. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. It’s tempting to feel like I have so much to catch up on, why even bother starting now. BUT, it’s still important, so I’ll begin with the most recent journals in the several fields in which my research and teaching interests lie. When I have time, I can go back to pick up other articles I’ve missed over the past year or so while I was occupied with my own research.

2. Weekly: Read up on the latest tech trends and academic news. Don’t know which digital blogs and Tweeps to follow? See my last GradHacker post, “Who and What to Follow.” Search hashtags and keywords on Twitter to find specific content-related organizations and scholars, and ask professors, peers, digital humanists, and IT specialists on (and off) campus for advice on which digital trends to track.

3. Daily: Schedule tech times during the day to check Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and/or catch up on RSS feeds. Then stick to a time limit! Set a timer, like Chrome Alarm or Firefox’s “Facebook Addict Alarm” or Reminder Fox, an extension that integrates to-do lists, alerts, and alarms right in your browser.

  • Make time for useful information. I’m not saying don’t peruse your friends’ Facebook pages or the latest Kardashian or Miley Cyrus scandal. However, there is a time and place for that: when you’re ready to unwind, unplug, and chill out after a day of work. However, when you’re trying to keep up with important field-related content and news, that is not the time to also read the latest snark and gossip columns.
  • Pick and choose what to focus on: I find that Twitter can be especially overwhelming, but apps like Tweet Deck and HootSuite allow you to dedicate columns to specific interests. Bookmarks and RSS feeds also help you narrow down which blogs are the most useful and stay up to date with the latest posts. When iGoogle disappeared, I switched to Protopage and set up my RSS feeds, to-do lists, and bookmarks in one easy location. With this homepage, I can quickly see which articles I have yet to read on my favorite academic and news blogs.

Bottom line: Make technology work for you. Turn something that often voraciously consumes valuable time into a tool for productivity that helps you achieve your goals and life purpose.

Additional Resources:
Turn Down the Noise: Tips for Managing Information Overload
GradHacker Eva Lantsoght’s 6 Steps for Optimizing Your Digital Streams
GradHacker Andrea Zellner’s I’m Going on an Information Diet

What tools and strategies have you found useful to keep up with the trends?

[Image by tinydesigner, used under creative commons licensing.]

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