10 Tips for Managing Information Overload

Posted by on Sep 25 2012

Do you ever have that disturbing feeling that trying to squeeze one more piece of new information in your brain will render you senseless?

Information overload causes stress and a loss of productivity. We’re so busy gathering information that we never seem to get into action around implementing all these great ideas. And we can’t seem to put our fingers on the important information that we’ve gathered!

Here’s even more bad news: when you take in too much information, according to a Temple University study, you begin to make more errors, and worse, make more bad decisions. Can your business really afford that lack of clear thinking? (Don’t even get me started about how a hyper-connected lifestyle is bad for your physical and emotional health!)

Here are 10 tips for managing information overload so you regain control of your brain, your time and your tasks:

  1. Remember the most important rule: YOU are in charge of your To Do list and YOU are in charge of your calendar and YOU are in charge of how much information you’re willing to receive each day. Don’t set yourself up for information overload by trying to take multiple classes at once, or trying to read more than one book at a time without setting up “assimilate and implement” time. Be selective and base all your decisions on achieving your goals while mirroring your values.
  2. Get things out of your head and on to paper. When you take in a lot of information, your brain naturally tries to process it, to make connections, and apply it to your real life. When you try to keep all that thinking in your brain, you feel muddled, anxious, confused. Doing a brain dump and writing down your ideas, even in a quick list format, will help clear things out.
  3. Practice OMD: Off My Desk. I have a bad habit of collecting thoughts on bits of paper, which form massive piles on my desk. Once a month, I have an OMD hour…every bit of paper gets looked at and acted upon, and then the paper gets filed or tossed, clearing space on my desk and in my brain.
  4. Take the most recent class you’ve attended or the most recent book you’ve read, and create a Top 3 Action Items list. Don’t create a massive To Do list of every great idea from the class or book. Instead, choose the top three things that you can take action on within a month, and put only those three things on your Action Items list. Once they’re done, you can always go back and choose three more. The point here is two-fold: start implementing what you’ve learned and do it in such a way that you don’t overload yourself.
  5. Make a decision to make a decision. I know, it sounds silly, right? But if ideas and information are running around in your head and you’re not willing to either act on them or let them go, you sabotage yourself and hold yourself in a perpetual state of overload. Stop doing that to yourself. Instead, tell yourself, “Today I will make a decision,” then do it. You’ll feel immediately better.
  6. Stop saying, “I’m too distracted to focus.” Choosing to focus on one goal or one task is a decision you make. You are perfectly capable of focusing and getting things done, but you’ve got to train yourself to do it. It takes practice, and reminding yourself that you are choosing to focus on one thing instead of allowing yourself to get sidetracked. Don’t buy into the cultural slide of “I’m too distracted.” You’re better than that. Step up to the plate. If you want to be successful, you have to do what successful people do: focus. Focus is a decision. Focus is a skill you can learn and enhance.
  7. When you are drowning in information, stop piling on more. It’s okay to stop watching the evening news. It’s okay to stop reading articles or checking social media sites several times a day. Each time you interact with an information delivery system, guess what? More information is shoved in your face. By taking a vacation – even a short one – from any information delivery system, you get immediate relief from information overload.
  8. Use tools like Evernote or One Note to have a central location for storing information. As important as storing information is, retrieving it easily is even more important, which is why I moved from paper notebooks to Evernote for storing notes when taking classes, reading books or perusing articles. Evernote allows you to tag each note with keywords and sort them into folders. Notes are completely searchable, so you can have all the information and ideas you’ve accumulated at your fingertips.
  9. Make a conscious choice to prioritize the information you allow into your brain. Let’s say for a moment you’re on Facebook and you see a link to an interesting article. STOP RIGHT THERE. Ask yourself: Is this article merely interesting or is it really, truly important? Do I have time to read interesting-but-not-important information right now? How will this article help me achieve my overall goals? By making choices about what to pay attention to, you automatically take yourself out of information overload. The beautiful thing about information is that it’s always available: whenever you are ready to read about a certain subject, information about that subject is just a Google search away.
  10. Do you have competing goals? Work on one at a time. For instance, today I wanted to accomplish three things: write this blog post, create my class schedule for the next nine months, and work on a class agenda for a new program I’m designing. All of these things are exciting, and all need to get done and all required research and paying attention to incoming information. But only one of the three had a deadline: writing this blog post. So I put the other things on the back burner, and focused solely on writing this blog post. Once it’s done, I’ll choose ONE of the other two projects to work on next. You have to be willing to let go of some information, even exciting information, so you can focus on your priorities.

I believe in you. I believe you are capable of learning what you need to learn in order to have a successful business. I believe you will find time in your day for all that needs to be done. I believe your dream is so important that you’ll move mountains to get it. I believe you can move mountains, with focus, perseverance and strength.

I’d love to hear from you: how to you cope with information overload? Are there techniques or software products you use to help you manage absorbing, processing and retrieving information?

   

15 comments for now

15 Responses to “10 Tips for Managing Information Overload”

  1. CarolineNo Gravatar

    One way I deal with information overload is to turn off the TV news. And I sleep better at night. :)

    25 Sep 2012 at 1:23 pm

  2. Margaret LaplumeNo Gravatar

    Great list, thank you! I needed this. I feel like I am going crazy sometimes with trying to learn everything I need to learn to run my new business.

    25 Sep 2012 at 1:31 pm

  3. Jennifer BradleyNo Gravatar

    Interesting vs. Important. Love this distinction.

    25 Sep 2012 at 1:57 pm

  4. Karen BrockmanNo Gravatar

    I needed this too! And I just discovered Evernote and what it can do and am now using it. It might become my other brain! :) Thank you for your thoughts on this.

    25 Sep 2012 at 2:20 pm

  5. Jen McGahanNo Gravatar

    Hi Karen, this is important info for us small biz people, esp those of us who work from home! I hope you don’t think I’m being snarky when I say started managing info better when I started getting up earlier. My early morning hours are the most productive time of day. Because the rest of the world is not up yet, I’m not tempted to engage. Instead, I get my work done and prioritize my day.

    25 Sep 2012 at 3:46 pm

  6. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Jen, I have a friend who gets up each morning at 4AM, so that she can get two solid hours of work in before her kids wake up for school. She says she LOVES those two hours! :)

    25 Sep 2012 at 4:36 pm

  7. Clinton WuNo Gravatar

    This is a great actionable post Karyn. Many of your suggestions revolve around self-discipline like “It’s okay to stop reading articles or checking social media sites several times a day” and “STOP RIGHT THERE. Ask yourself: Is this article merely interesting or is it really, truly important?”

    I completely agree but I also think that many of these information sources are engineered to drive addiction. We feel the compulsive need to check maybe so we don’t miss out or simply cause neurologically our brains are seeking the variable rewards that come with email, new info, etc. For those of us who don’t have the self-control that we really need to be truly productive there should be some content consumption platforms (info delivery system as you call it) that encourage a healthier relationship with one’s tech and info.

    It’s a personal problem I’ve had and the reason why I’m working on Skim.Me (http://skim.me). We’re building the only experience that encourages always-connected users to consume info in a few full meals per day rather than compulsively snacking on info every chance they get. Hope you give us a try when we release.

    26 Sep 2012 at 8:11 am

  8. Debra CarrNo Gravatar

    What a great article Karyn! TMI happens to everyone, and the timing was perfect for me to get on track again with a few things.

    I love the OMD, which I have done haphazardly… and will now schedule it. Also thank you for evernote. I’ll certainly check into it.

    Debra

    26 Sep 2012 at 9:36 pm

  9. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    You’re welcome, Debra. Enjoy your new-found freedom! ;)

    26 Sep 2012 at 10:19 pm

  10. Diana SchneidmanNo Gravatar

    I’ve started using Delicious to save links to articles. In the past I printed stuff off but didn’t maintain my files well enough to find information when I needed it. So all the activity was a waste. Now I’m saving paper and I never need to actually file information.

    -Diana

    27 Sep 2012 at 8:33 pm

  11. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Great suggestion, Diana. I tend to print articles to PDF and store them on my hard drive, so I can search for keywords and use the highlight feature in Adobe Acrobat while I’m reading them.

    28 Sep 2012 at 4:34 pm

  12. Helga MatzkoNo Gravatar

    Great reminders facing our own limitations by trying to do too much, Karyn. Thanks for that.
    Helga

    02 Oct 2012 at 11:52 am

  13. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    I’m trying to think of one person, just one person I know, who doesn’t try to do too much. I can’t think of one, Helga. :)

    02 Oct 2012 at 3:26 pm

  14. Ellen DelapNo Gravatar

    Love this article! Information lovers accumulate much more info than they need for a project. One suggestion I give clients is to choose a number for how much information they need to gather for a project. It could be gather 3 or 5 sources then make a decision. This way it pulls together what they have gathered and gives them a point to stop gathering.

    21 Jun 2013 at 7:46 pm

  15. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    I’m glad you liked the article, Ellen. I love your idea for setting a limit to how much info you’ll gather for a project. Great idea!

    21 Jun 2013 at 9:02 pm



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