How to focus your online reading for maximum benefit

Everyone’s heard about the proposition that an infinite number of monkeys left alone in a roomful of typewriters would eventually produce the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Until now, has anyone thought about what could have happened if the monkeys had Internet access…?

 Nowadays, that infinite number of monkeys might well have completed the works of Shakespeare. We’d never know. They’d publish it on the Internet, and it would be lost amongst the million upon million posts of new text, Facebook likes, and YouTube views going up every millisecond.

So how do we pan through this river of material to sift out the nuggets of gold that are undoubtedly in there?

We have a suggestion to make, but first would refer you to the work of Steve Lewis who has produced a continuously updated overview of what’s happening on the Net at this very moment. It’s here, and it’s great work (Steve, if you read this, drop us a line; it would be great to connect). The results are remarkable; really remarkable.

Focus your online reading
We’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again; TED Talks are a superb resource for putting you in the same room as people with great things to say, who are well worth listening to. Their talks have lessons for all of us, if we choose to listen. Here is our pick of things worth panning out of the stream of noise this month. Because they’re TED Talks, this is not reading at all, but serve the same purpose; to help you think and learn.  All you have to do is sit back, listen, and absorb the message.

Tom Hulme: What can we learn from shortcuts?
Designer Tom Hulme says the best user experience is revealed in practice, and that success involves putting yourself in the customer’ place. He says: “Empathy for what your customers want is probably the biggest leading indicator of business success.”

He asks us to imagine a park with a paved path running through it. Walkers will go their own way, and wear a new track, or shortcut. “That’s a desire path, where we choose the easiest and most efficient way of reaching a destination not out of laziness, but necessity. This is called a ‘low friction route’.

“Consumers will find new ways of using products, and it is there that companies need to recognise and act upon this trend, thus paving the path.

Response to feedback from users, he says, creates products designed for real human needs. That’s what we did by creating our Solo Expenses expense management app for the sole trader – but clients found other ways of using it, and found its versatility was great for individuals managing personal budgets, amongst other things. That’s part of the way we market our expense manager app nowadays. Having recognised the ‘low friction route’ pointed out by Solo Expenses users, we have Solo Expenses Personal Use. Don’t take our word for how effective it can be; the app is available for a free download here and now.

Tim Harford: How frustration can make us more creative
It seems insane to suggest that something disruptive or frustrating can actually inspire us to be more creative. Tim Harford says we don’t want to overcome unexpected problems, but offers a perspective that our instincts may be wrong. He shows us that obstacles that appear out of the blue and get in the way might spur us on to work harder and achieve better results. If you’re distracted and can’t focus because of an outside stimulus, then maybe you’re more inclined to “think outside the box, because the box is full of holes,” he says.

Tim’s cites the example is American musician Keith Jarrett, whose performance of the Köln Concert is at once the best-selling piano album and the best-selling solo jazz album in history. This concert was played on a piano deemed unplayable by Jarrett, but it was that very piano that forced him to radically change his style and accommodate to the flawed instrument. In this instance the obstacle helped to create something greater than was expected, because it forced him to slow down and work a little harder.

Challenges can force us to find creative solutions to problems. Faced with a mountain of expense receipts collected over the last few months, and looking for one you can’t find?  Using Solo Expenses in the first place would have this obstacle by recording all expenses at the point of purchase – and you wouldn’t be in this mess now…

Tristan Harris: How better tech could protect us from distraction
Tim’s innovative talk explores the way in which we are distracted, and invites us to consider what it means to spend our time well. He says it takes on average 23 minutes to become focused after being distracted from our various occupations. Unsurprisingly, we are most distracted by technology. Constant notifications and pop-ups take us away from the task at hand. This constant distraction is a result of the urgency in which messages and information has to reach its destination. Tristan imagines a world where technology creates a more “meaningful interaction.”

Expense management apps enable money management to be much easier by tracking and keeping detailed records of spending. That means there can be no lost receipts and lots of time is saved. A good example of how technology can leave more time for what’s important – and what that remains is entirely up to you. One thing’s for sure; the one thing you can’t earn more of is time. The best you can hope for is to make the best use of what you have…

Picture: © Robert Adrian Hillman via Dreamstime