Six Smart Ways To Beat Information Overload

By Abhijeet Mukherjee

July 7, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man


Someone has rightly said – ‘ information is power ‘. There’s nothing more valuable than getting the right information at the right time. And as always, the internet, with its abundant sources of information, is there to satiate as well as increase your desire for information.

I’m sure you’d agree that this power seems to overpower us everyday. How many days have you felt that you could have been more productive if you had not been twittering or checking emails or reading feeds the entire day? How many times has it happened that you completely lose track of time when you are watching news or browsing through your friends’ updates in Facebook?

The truth is that you need information. Avoiding reading feeds or logging into Facebook isn’t the solution. You need to filter and use information effectively. And that can only happen when you are more systematic in your approach towards dealing with the plethora of information you get everyday. Here are six tips to help you get started.

Know what’s causing it

It’s important to know what’s causing the information overload. Most people would go about checking their emails ten times everyday without realizing that it is a part of the information overload which they are facing.

Analyze your work day and decide on the activities which are essential and the ones which you could profit from doing less. For different people, it could be different things. It could be twitter for you and RSS feeds for someone else.

Manage email

I have talked about managing your email before on this blog. It’s true that a lot of us are addicted to checking email every 10 minutes. I was once too. Here’s a tip – if you get less than 50 emails per day then check your email 3 times per day and allot 20 minutes to each of those time slots. Make sure you evenly spread those time slots throughout the day. And whether you check it on your PC or iPhone, stick to those time slots and resist the temptation to check email during rest of the day.

Those who get more than 50 emails per day, delegate the task to someone else. Set up auto-forward rule and train your virtual assistant. You may not want every email to reach your assistant’s inbox so you may set up filters in your email based on the sender’s email address.

Seriously, if you are someone who gets more than 50 emails per day, you need to start looking for an assistant to handle them.

RSS feeds

The main intent behind the invention of RSS was to let people have access to information at one place and save them time. However, it could easily turn into a potential source of information overload which would suck your time instead of saving it.

When it comes to managing RSS feeds, prioritization is the key. Here are 8 useful tips to manage and avoid RSS overload. If you are a Google Reader user like me then here are some more tips to make you more productive while using it.

Set time frames. Use a timer

It’s really easy to lose track of time when you get sucked into one of the myriad sources of information on the net. It could happen to you when you are on twitter. It happens to me when I am watching Youtube videos. I vow to do it for ten minutes and end up spending an hour on it. Sounds familiar ? I’m sure it does.

Setting time frames for work and play is a good approach towards solving this problem. And to make sure you respect that time frame, use a timer. It could be a physical timer device or a software like this one.

Avoid immediacy

Most of the time we get distracted by a random source of information like a twitter message, a breaking news, a video or an excellent article we come across while searching for something else. These things tempt us to give them immediate attention. And that’s what we need to avoid.

Learn to save for later. Consume the information later, not instantly. Again, that’s when setting time frames does the trick. When you know you would have the time later for fun, you would hesitate less while saving things for later.

Don’t go after every source

Filtering information sources is an important step towards beating information overload. Identify the type of information and associate one major source with it. And refer only to that source. For example, I have stopped reading newspapers and watching news channels. I have identified certain sources on the internet where I read all the news I want. Get the picture ?

Have some other great tips to deal with information overload ? Lets hear them in the comments.



Abhijeet Mukherjee

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