We’re all feeling the pressure from so many sources of information. I love the fact that I can find information about almost anything on the Internet. The only problem is that I find too much information – in other words, I face information overload. Then there are all the Tweets that I miss, the newsletters that fill my inbox and never get read.
Did you know that we send over 2 million emails every second? There is a reason why you feel overwhelmed even if only a tiny fraction of them come to your inbox. Okay, you say, but what can I do?
This article is just the beginning of what you can do to make the tidal wave of information overload, that pours over you every day into something that is manageable for you. You can’t stop the wave, but you can learn to ride the current. There are lots of strategies, but they all begin with these three steps.
1. Get Over It
The first step to managing that tidal wave of information for yourself is to recognize that you don’t have to know it all. Today, we have the Internet which offers information, wisdom, knowledge on just about every imaginable subject.
By the way, I’ll talk about reading when in fact, the experience of the Internet is one of watching and listening as well. Let’s face it, it’s a terrific resource to all of us, and we still have all the traditional forms of information, too – books, magazines, journals, newspapers, radio, TV, and our next-door neighbour.
Okay, so we know that what has happened has just increased the flow. But who would dream of drinking from a fire hose? No one. Yet, we are constantly berating ourselves for not being able to read all the books on our shelves or all the magazines or newsletters we receive, electronically or in hard copy.
And who has not tried to watch as many TED videos as you can squeeze in? It’s time to feel okay about not doing it all. Take a deep breath and say to yourself, “I don’t have to know it all. No one can, so why should I feel I must? I don’t have to know it all.” You’ll feel a lot better about a lot of things if you are able to let go of this burden.
2. Choose the Juice
The fact that you can’t read everything that comes to you let alone all the things you ‘should’ be reading demands a second step. It’s time to decide what topics are really important to you. It’s time to think about the topics that give you information and knowledge that helps you do whatever you do or like to do. Check what you always read.
Does that give you a sense of where your interests lie? And do they give you what you need to bring fresh knowledge into your work? Do they prepare you for the next opportunity in your career, your business, your life? If there’s a match on all these questions, then you’ve already determined the right topics. If not – and here’s the rub – you’re going to have to do some work.
Finding the right topics begins with thinking about what opportunities you may be missing because you lack the up to date information. You’re going to have to think about the trends in your field that you may have been neglecting – not too bad for the moment, but in the future, it may have a negative impact.
Now is the time to look carefully at what you need to know – to get ahead, to beat the competition, to enjoy your hobbies more – and decide where you are going to spend your time – or not. As you make the list of juicy topics for you, make sure the list is long enough to meet your dreams and small enough to carry. Which leads naturally to the third basic step.
3. Clean Out the Closet
I remember when I first followed my own advice and realized that I got more journals than I ever read. Oh, I looked through them and read a few articles a year. Was this worth my time to even review the titles if I only got two or three valuable articles in a whole year? Okay, it was clear. I had to stop that subscription, and I did.
In one of my workshops where I talked about cleaning out the closet (I always talk about this), a participant emailed me afterward and told the following story. “When I got on the train, I decided to ‘clean my closet.’
I spent the trip from DC to New York going through all the newsletters I subscribed to, all the listservs to belong to, all the RSS feeds I was trying to read each day, and more.
By the time I got back to New York, I had eliminated half of the entire list. Today I get more information out of the remaining ones than I ever did when I tried to ‘read’ them all. And I spend less time on it. What a life-saver!” Okay, ready? Clean out that closet.
4. Get Some Help
None of us would think of doing something for the first time without finding someone or something to help us. I love Indian food, but I haven’t a clue how to cook it, so I got myself a book. Actually, I got several books at the library to see if I could actually learn from a book. In the end, I found I had to call upon a dear friend who did know how to cook Indian food to give me pointers. You don’t cook? How about driving to Helena, Montana from New York? Would you try it without a map or a GPS?
What makes us think we can learn all we need to learn by ourselves? Now I’m not talking about a teacher or a tutor. I’m talking about someone who will encourage you, prevent information overload, ask you questions that will help us discover your assumptions. Now, this last point is important.
Did you know that your assumptions get in the way of learning new things? Check it out sometime. Have a friend keep asking you ‘why’ until finally, you realize (or they tell you) you have been assuming something that may or may not be true. It’s actually fun – with a friend. Those assumptions are important. Get some help.
5. Find Your Strengths
We all have strengths. Some of them are aware of it. Let’s say that you’ve been told since you were little that you have a great singing voice. While you know about that strength, what strengths are you unaware of? If you can’t answer this question, then that’s what I mean. For example, when I asked a colleague why he comes to me for information, I was stunned to hear him say that he always asks me about how to manage tough situations.
When I asked him why he said because I always have given him advice that worked. Well, that was news to me. So, I added it to my list of strengths that I now know. Others see us from a different angle and often see what we can’t. So, we have to ask them.
Once you have a sense of your strengths – especially the ones that other folks rely on – you are ready to use them as you deal with overcoming information overload. Someone once told me that I was good at summarizing a conversation. Well, I immediately began taking notice of what I said at the end of conversations. It turned out that they were right. I was able to learn from my own observations and summarization once I paid attention to them.
Getting some help involves thinking about our buddies who work with us, our friends who enjoy our company, our bosses who evaluate our work. You may be surprised, but each of them sees us differently. They can give us insights into our strengths – yes, I said strengths – that we may never see in ourselves. Strengths help us deal with information overload, and just feeling encouraged by our strengths does so, too.
A word about strengths rather than weaknesses. How many times has someone given you feedback and only mentioned what you needed help in? I like to say thank you, but would you also tell me what I did well? In fact, if I can control it, I ask about what I did well before they get into the negative place of my weaknesses. I really don’t want to focus on them. I want my mind to see clearly all the strengths I already have and my own. Those are your best tools – why not use them with purpose? Find out about your strengths.
6. Leverage the Resources at Hand
Do you like to read? Are you leveraging this capability to help you overcome information overload? How much are you reading? What are you reading on a regular basis? I discovered that I really don’t like to read. I have to do a ton of reading in my work, but if I can avoid reading, I do. So, when I learned about TED and YouTube, I found a great source of information that comes to me in video format. How great is that?
And then there are PodCasts you can listen to. Lots of great information without the stress of getting it with a tool that isn’t your favourite. That said, I really envy those who just love to read. If you’re one of them, keep on reading. If not, use the resources that work for you.
Do you know all the periodicals you already receive? Do you know which of them you actually read? Enjoy? Learn something new from? When I did this for myself, I realized I was missing an important periodical. I never read the newspaper, yet in my work, it’s important for me to be up on current events. Thank goodness for the Internet.
Now, I read the paper every day online. I thought at first that it would be too much to read, but thanks to the format of every newspaper – hard copy or online, you can read the headlines and then pick and choose only what looks valuable. I never realized I had such a resource right at hand until I had to look. What resources do you already have at hand?
Helping others is very satisfying for the giver. It may feel strange to ask for help but think of the pleasure you will be giving them. Identify your strengths by asking others why they come to you for information when they do. Oh, you’re going to be surprised if you ask this question, and surprised in a good way. I’ve had people tell me they never realized what they were bringing to the table until they asked.
They were holding their head up very high after the answers to that question. Lastly, check out the resources you already have at hand. Which of them do you use today, and which just might serve to make handling information overload much easier – and maybe even fun.