Organize to Decrease Information-Overwhelm

Where do you get your information? You may deliberately watch news on TV and read certain websites. On the other hand, you might read the newspaper or specific magazines to get your news. Of course, while there is some information you definitely want, there is other information that you just get. You are purposeful in reading about certain topics, but at the same time, you glance at another article that catches your attention and soon you have more data.

And then it sneaks up on you…information-overwhelm! Pretty soon you have more information that you could ever need or want-and certainly more than you could read in a lifetime!

So how can you decrease information overwhelm? There are a number of ways. Here are three of my favorites.

Manage Your Intake

With the full force of the Information Age assaulting you from every angle, it is crucial that you manage your intake. This means making conscious choices about what you will read, watch, and listen to.

With every exposure to an information channel, you should ask: “What is the purpose of this information? Is it produced and distributed to inform me, sell me, scare me, or manipulate my behavior? Be discriminating.”  ~ Dan Thurmon

In the language of our Flexible Structure Method: Create Real Boundaries. Here are some examples:

  • Limit intake of news. You might watch one hour of news (30 minutes local and 30 minutes national) versus watching the news on a continuous basis. You might get one newspaper (whether in print or digital) versus several newspapers and magazines. You might set a timer to read news on the internet for 45 minutes.
  • Cap other information sources. You are interested in needlepoint or woodworking, but that doesn’t mean you have to subscribe to four magazines on the topic in addition to your overflowing bookshelf of related books. Remember to Make Smart Choices. With all the potential information, it’s hard to remember what you have, much less to find a specific article or pattern when you need it. Instead, decide to subscribe to one or two magazines. Only keep the number of books that will fit on your bookshelf. Unsubscribe from electronic newsletters that you don’t read regularly.

    Image by via Flickr.

    Image by via Flickr.


Create Information Flow

The word “flow” implies movement. Unfortunately, we are really good at permitting data to flow in, but we’re not as good with allowing it to flow out. There are several reasons for this logjam. One is that we don’t process information in a timely fashion. This will be addressed in the next section. Second, we fall victim to our brain chatter that says things like, “I’m going to need that someday” or “Somebody might ask me about that.”

So let’s talk about how to Minimize Inside Clutter. When that voice says, “I’m going to need that someday.” Ask yourself, “When and will I use it?” If you don’t have a specific answer (not “someday”), then it’s time to delete.

Another way to generate information flow is to create boundaries. For instance, each time a magazine or catalog comes in, you recycle its’ predecessor. If you haven’t read it or looked at it, that’s an indication that you may not need it at all. Now if you can’t bear to delete a magazine, another boundary might be the one year rule. So when your January, 2014 Needlepointer magazine comes in, you recycle the January, 2013 issue.

On a side note, if you graduated from college more than five years ago, I’m guessing that most of your college textbooks are out-of-date and could be deleted.

Systematically Process Information

Processing data is crucial to decreasing information overwhelm.

Magazines. Photo by WordRidden via Flickr.

Photo by WordRidden via Flickr.

  • First, you need to establish (limited) capture points. Magazines and catalogs come in and go where? When do you read them? Emails are received. How many different locations? How do they get processed, especially emails that require further action? What happens to the paper when you print out an email? Texts and phone calls come in. How and when do you proceed if you need to gather information before you respond?
  • Second, you must regularly empty those capture points. The best way is to plan time in your schedule to read magazines, process emails, etc. Just reminder, “someday” isn’t a day of the week!
  • Third, you need to create systems for easily accessing information later. This might be a paper or electronic filing system. It could be using a searchable program such as Evernote to store internet articles and other types of data.

The most crucial aspects to systematically processing information are to Develop Meaningful Habits and to Select Success Tools.

Remember, processing information will automatically include methods of deletion!