When I started work there was no internet. I had four lever-arch files which I put the infrequently produced documents into. There were three television channels and at the local library we were allowed a maximum of four books each (and that was frowned on!). Information was limited.
Now information is everywhere and immediate. From blogs to tweets to emails to web sites to posts on facebook - information (most of it not useful) is taking over.
So what are the most common ways we handle information overload?
Here are the most common:
- Ignore it. Great until you miss something important.
- Put it aside for later review. Later being a time that never comes so this is just a more sophisticated way of ignoring it.
- Skim it. Skimming leads to errors. You will think you understand when you don't really.
- Delegate it. Bad advice because as you delegate down so someone could delegate to you
None of these techniques actually deal with the problem. They are versions of running away from information overload without actually tackling the root cause.
What should you do instead?
The technique I use requires discipline but even if you drift away from it at times it is easy to correct yourself and cut down on the quantity of information you receive.
- List your key areas of interest. These will be your professional areas and your key performance indicators. Have no more than ten altogether. It is better to get this down to six if possible. But never more than ten.
- For each area of interest identify no more than three primary information sources. These could be blogs, individuals, magazines, or other information source.
- For each primary information source, rate it either daily, weekly or monthly. This is how often you need to check this source.
- Set the amount of time you will dedicate to reading this resource. Usually what happens here is that you have no time left for sleeping and eating let alone working. Go back and cut the regularity and the amount of time spent. Don't think in hours. Think in ten minute bursts. Keep your total time to under an hour a day. Yes really!
- Cut one information source from each area of interest. Often they are saying the same thing just in different words.
- Plan your information reading time at low energy points in the day. Some people sag after lunch. others take a while to get going in the morning.
- Review regularly. You will slip from this. Don't fret. That's normal but having an approach to cut information overload is an important step to a more productive and happier life.
How do you cope with information overload?