The Non-Geek/Nonprofit Guide to Keeping Current with Technology

Front cover of NTEN change journalNTEN: Change is a professional journal about technology designed especially for nonprofit leaders.  The journal is published quarterly by the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN).

The October 2013 edition featured an article by the Bayer Center’s own Cindy Leonard, Consulting Team Leader and resident geek (her words).

Here’s an excerpt:

The Non-Geek/Nonprofit Guide to Keeping Current with Technology

I’m a geek. I’m supposed to be. I manage a technology assistance program for nonprofit organizations. As such, I spent a lot of time tracking technology trends, particularly where they apply to nonprofits.

Recently, someone asked me how a “non-geek” working in the nonprofit sector might keep up with technology trends. Especially if there is no techie on staff at the organization to do it.

In other words, how can one sort through the vast amounts of information about tech and keep current without going bonkers.

Excellent question. One that I struggled with personally when I started in this line of work years ago. When I started, I subscribed to dozens of e-newsletters, ordered books and magazines (various formats), followed hundreds of fellow geeks on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, added dozens of RSS feeds about technology to an RSS reader, saved tons of web pages and PDF articles to my Evernote, watched countless software demos, attended conferences and joined online groups and forums.

Right about now, you’re probably wondering “how did she get any work done?”

The answer: I ended up ignoring about 95% of the information coming at me. And had a ton of guilt about all of the stuff I wasn’t reading.

At first, I compensated by trying to get more organized about it. I created a “To Read” folder in my email account, saved things in a similar fashion in Evernote and Delicious, made a “To Read” folder on my hard drive and had a pile of paper stuff on my desk. I consumed information during morning coffee, on the bus, over lunch breaks and on evenings and weekends. I still couldn’t keep up.

Two things happened a few years later that changed my approach.

First thing: I discovered the concept of de-cluttering through a blog called Zen Habits. At first I worked on physical clutter at home and work. Then I learned that clutter could be digital too.

Second thing: a friend observed the amount of “To Read” stuff I had piling up everywhere. She gently pointed out that much of it was years old and likely outdated. Her advice: ‘If you don’t read it within two weeks, you’re never going to read it. Get rid of it.’

It took time, but I began a digital de-cluttering process until I felt I had reached a place where I no longer felt constantly stressed and overwhelmed, but still getting the information that I need about technology.

Here’s the four-step method I used…

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