June 2010 Newsletter

Tip of the Month: Avoiding the feeling of information overload

Stop talking about information overload. That term is for weaklings. … Information overload is actually the feeling that you cannot sort through the resources in the world in order to figure out what’s important. … Information is not something you have time for or don’t have time for. Information is either helping you meet your goals or not. — Penelope Trunk

What Penelope writes reminds me of what Clay Shirky says: “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.”

So how do we filter all the information coming at us — from newspapers, magazines, books, newsletters, blogs and more? Part of the answer is simply realizing that we do need to filter — and, as Clay says, we need to keep adjusting those filters, because what works today will stop working at some point in the future.

Like many people, I need to carefully monitor my reading in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed — and I do indeed make frequent tweaks to my reading plan. For me, it also helps to ask a few questions:

1. What roles do I play, and what information do I need to support each of those roles? This is my way of addressing Penelope’s point about goals.

2. Will I actually do something with this information? Or is this something I want to read for the pure fun of it? If not one or the other, why am I considering spending time reading this?

Sample Role: Citizen of my city, region, state, country, the world
Local news affects my day-to-day life, so it’s crucial to me. But while I also want to be an informed citizen of the world, I don’t really need to know a whole lot about the Wimbledon matches or the Twilight movies. I don’t even need in-depth information about most of the more serious world news topics.

Sample Role: Traveler
I love to travel — but I don’t really need much information on possible destinations until I’m ready to plan a trip. So I may bookmark an interesting story for future reading, or a good web site for future research, but I won’t spend much time on travel-related stories on a day-to-day basis.

Sample Role: Friend
When my friends (real friends, not simply Facebook-type friends) update their blogs, I want to read what they have to say — every last word! And when I’m scanning through my daily news sources, I note any articles I think will interest my friends, and pass them along. (But I’m very selective here, so I won’t add to someone else’s feeling of overload.)

Sample Role: Organizer
Here I’m searching for information that will be useful to my clients, or information that will make an interesting blog post or newsletter item. I skip the basic how-to articles — and those that deal with aspects of organizing that aren’t my primary focus.

Beyond the Roles: I’ll also read some things that don’t fit any role; they’re just things that make me smile.

Once I know what information is important to me, I can carefully select a range of sources to provide that information — and let the rest go.

Organizing Poem of the Month: To-Do Haiku

Pick up dry cleaning.
Where are my black boots? At work?
Did we pay that bill?

— Kristin van Ogtrop, Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom