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Some folks treat conference attendance as an art form. A former colleague of mine used to spend weeks preparing for the American Psychological Association annual meeting–scoping out the speakers, planning the dining and recreation agenda, figuring out what folks he wanted to make contact with. He described his behavior at the conference:

I’m the type of conference-goer who attends every session, takes copious notes, captures every handout, and sucks up everything the vendors have to offer. Once I get home, though, I feel no compulsion to do anything with the notes, handouts or vendor swag. Most of it sits is in my official conference tote bag until I eventually chuck it out.

I take a somewhat different approach. I try to go to a conference with a few general ideas about what I think I’d like to learn and then go with the flow a bit in trying to find information or contacts that contribute to that. Face-to-face conferences generate their own energy–that’s the primary reason they continue to exist–and I pretty much try to respond and follow along. When I get home, thought, I usually do try to take all the notes and figure out how to integrate the learning from the conference into the projects that I’m working on.

In the GTD methodology, that means 1) collecting all the ideas, thoughts, and questions in a single place, 2) processing them to figure out which ones require some concrete action, 3) group the actionable ones into specific contexts (physical or mental location) where they can best be done, 4) make sure that all the items are stored in a trusted source where you’ll remember to do something with them.

I had a two hour layover in Atlanta and I used the time to generate a list of 67 possible actions that were triggered by the conference. Some of them take a minute or two (as long as I remember them when I’m in the right place); others take a lot longer. Here are some samples.

  1. Download and print Henry Jenkins white paper on Digital Media and Learning. (The context requires being at a computer with power and a network connection.)
  2. Read and take notes on Jenkins paper for inclusion in the brown bag on student attitudes toward technology. (The context can be pretty much anyplace. I store most of these long papers in hard copy in a reading file–my dogpile.)
  3. Get Postman’s End of Education from the library. (The context is physically being at the library. This is one of 5 books that were mentioned at the conference that I want to read but not buy. There are also 3 to order–probably second hand from Amazon.)

I store all the items in a Mac application called iGTD that allows me to easily tag items and then organize them by either context or by project. Now the only challenge is to develop some compulsion to actually do the things on the list.