The Myth of Information Overload


Yes, my email inbox is out of control.  Some days I simply can’t keep up with deluge.

I follow too many people on Twitter.  My feed sometimes resembles the falling numerals from the movie “The Matrix.”

Facebook has gone from just friends to colleagues, acquaintances and, well, for lack of a better term “others.”  So it’s become more unwieldy to sort through the News Feed.

This is nothing new.  All of us are likely facing the same challenges.

But this isn’t a problem of too much information.  Information is valuable.  It provides us with insights.  Information opens our horizons, allows us to conduct business better, it educates and stimulates and makes us smarter.  There is no such thing as having “too much” information.

The problem isn’t information.  The problem is really two other things:

1. ) Too many distractions – or too much time spent with “bad” information, and

2.) a disorganized process for filtering and sorting information.

Solve those two problems and you won’t be complaining about information overload again.

Now granted, those are pretty big problems.

But getting to the point where you don’t become distracted by trying to solve information overload is the first step.  So let’s explore the two problems in greater detail.

Distractions

If you were tasked with inventing a distraction device – the Internet would be the perfect prototype.  Oh, let us count the distractions:

  • Music videos on YouTube
  • Games
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Cat videos
  • Sports chatter
  • Celebrity gossip
  • Recipes
  • Movie reviews
  • Pornography
  • Photos
  • Shopping
  • Wish lists

You get the picture.  I find that on some days if I’m not distracted by my colleagues (meetings, email, etc.) then I have to self-distract by popping off whatever project I’m on to do something else.  This is a bad habit and one that is difficult to break.

One sure-fire method is to schedule your distractions.  Build in a 10-15 minute window every hour to cruise the Internet – catch up on gossip, watch a John Stewart video or play a quick game of Pac-Man.

You can also build in news reading to your schedule.  Rather than jumping to every news story you see on RSS, Facebook, Twitter or email – build news reading time in the morning and in the afternoon.  As social media is part of my job, I also build five minute check-ins to every hour for Twitter, Facebook and email.

So on a good day, I get 45 minutes of work for every hour (with 15 minutes for Internet, email and social media).  When I have a big project or presentation due, I extended the work period and shorten the distraction time.  This means that I often don’t answer email immediately, but most members of my team know to swing by my office or call if something needs immediate attention.

I’m not always perfect with this system – meetings and travel often get in the way, but I try to stick to it.  It also helps to simply avoid sites that you know are distractions.  For example, I don’t play games at work because I know that “Angry Birds” is a distraction.  I also don’t go to “personal” sites during the work day – such as my favorite book blogs.  Those I save for later.

I also focus on sites with real value.  I want news more than opining – so I don’t go to Politico or the Huffington Post as much as the New York Times and CNN.

Filters

Filters are your best friend – that’s why you should use them.  What is a filter?  It’s an organization tool to automatically filter out information you don’t want and filter in information you do want.

Some filters you should consider:

  • RSS feeds for news and information.  By subscribing to RSS feeds at blogs and news sites you are guaranteed to read only the news and posts that interest you.  You will also avoid visiting the site when it hasn’t been updated.  It is much easier to peruse your RSS reader than to regularly visit multiple websites.
  • Twitter Lists.  What a time saver.  By grouping your Twitter followers into groups: news, bloggers, colleagues, clients, customers, competitors, etc. you can quickly and easily peruse your streams and capture the information and data that is important to you.  Using desk clients like TweetDeck make sorting through this data easy.
  • Facebook Settings.  Facebook makes it easy to hide the feeds of friends and family that fill their News Feeds with spam or uninteresting drudgery.  Facebook also makes it easy to highlight those friends and families that are more important by pushing their content to the top of your feed and alerting you when they make an update.
  • Email Filters.  Most email allows you to color code your email inbox – by colleagues, by clients, etc.  You can also filter emails that are addressed to you vs. those that you cc’ed on.  Obviously the former is much more important than the latter.  Experiment with the different options and find filters that work best for you.

Remember that by limiting and scheduling distractions and using filters, you can help yourself to a health diet of information.  Do you have any tips to share to avoid feeling overloaded?

Links:

The Demise of Traditional Filters

Filters in the Age of Media Bombardment

2 Responses to “The Myth of Information Overload”

  1. Filters are great.

    But they are filters.

    Why not rethink why you are using the technologies in the first place — and change your behaviors? On Facebook, for instance, I have recently unfriended people who are not family nor close friends. Some who enable me to subscribe to their posts I have placed into an interest list. Others I prefer to connect with on Twitter or by email or the phone. What I do should not be what you do, but filtering is not always the best answer either.

  2. Hi Ari:
    Some sound advice, but I’d argue that Facebook and Twitter are already filters. Adding another layer to cut down on noise can be a real time saver.

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