Five Tips For Managing Information Overload
Information overload carries a negative connotation but sometimes it comes from a happy place. This past weekend, I was in Seattle leading a career change workshop for the Lean In Seattle and Lean In Women’s Veterans chapters. This all-day event featured speakers from around the country, and with the quantity of information shared, however helpful and inspirational, information overload can easily result.
When my workshop rolled around after lunch and 3+ hours of other talks already, the first thing I did with the group was to ask for favorite takeaways from the morning. By sharing lessons learned out loud, attendees got to review what they absorbed, had a reminder from others for points they may have forgotten, and highlighted for themselves what particularly resonated. A simple review and sharing of recently acquired information is one of my favorite tips for managing information overload.
Here are four more information overload best practices:
Prune subscriptions ruthlessly to prevent information overload on autopilot
The type of information you need changes over time. What used to be a helpful resource is now yet another To Do on your reading list. Look at subscriptions, podcasts, RSS feeds, newsletters or other content you are subscribed to, and unsubscribe. You can always rejoin if you miss the content.
Batch your reading — change a daily habit to weekly, or a weekly habit to bimonthly
For content you continue to review regularly, unless you need time-sensitive information, don’t read incoming news in real-time. Create a dedicated content folder, and move alerts, subscriptions and other reading material in there to be reviewed at preset times, weekly or bimonthly. This way, you avoid the switching costs of flitting from tasks to reading and back again.
Keep temptations off-limits till end of day (to prevent mindless information overload)
If you tend to get sucked into Facebook surfing or YouTube videos or political commentary and lose track of time, make these particular temptations off-limits till end of day (if ever). You’ll have something to look forward to, and they won’t interrupt other, more important activities. Also by starting at the end of the day, you hopefully minimize the amount of time you spend on these low-return activities.
Share information you learn with people in your network, turning potential information overload into a powerful networking tool
Similar to sharing key takeaways from a conference with other attendees, sharing information you read about or hear about with people in your network deepens understanding of what you learned. Sharing information also gets you back in touch people in your network, providing them with something that is helpful, and turning information overload into a win-win for both of you. In fact, I encourage all of my clients to look at all information they consume with an eye towards who they will share that content with. You curate much better when you read with purpose.
Good post, Caroline, and I agree with all of your points. One thing that I do to prevent this is the good, old fashioned "To Do" list, generated at the end of the day before. Stay with that list, getting into the habit of checking off and feeling good about items accomplished, and just mentally put off the temptations you've referred to until after the list-- or, put 30 minutes into your schedule after lunch for such surfing.
Another habit that an old manager taught me, which works well to get your day started productively (it's so easy to go off on a course of time-wasting when you have an unpleasant task to perform) than the best thing to do is to tackle that task and get it out of the way first thing. My old boss would say "Eat that frog first thing in the morning." In other words, "get that unpleasant task done first thing." Ugh.
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum
Also agree with your post! I'm with Dave with the To Do list, linked to that I use my calendar to allocate time to varied activities, so I block say and hour for one task and so one as I would for a meeting.
One form of information overload is actually Meetings! Too many of them. And attending a meeting has nearly become a surrogate for "how busy" you are! Say you have a week that's light on meetings. People look at your calendar and think.."that person is not busy" i can put a meeting or worsecase, that "person is not busy, they're not doing much". So I put equal waiting on my my tasks vs. meeting attendance when it comes to blocking my calendar and I also prune meetings (i.e. I ask what is exactly needed from me if I dont get a satisfactory answer, i.e. my value is questionable I decline). Of course there are meetings where I have no value but politically, I should be there, so I attend those of course.
Anyways, one form of information overload that's not often discussed or managed but can be very compromising to getting individual work done.....blocking the calendar for tasks (To Dos) not just meetings.
Thanks DX. I'm glad you mentioned meetings as a real "overload" function at work. I hear this from SO MANY people who I debrief about their careers and what they'd like to change. Honestly, something needs to be done about meetings to speed them up, reduce their frequency, in a work environment.
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum
A few things have been tried accross the company's I have worked to reduce meetings.
One has been demanding for certain processes that a meeting is set up 1 week in advance. Another has been ensuring an agenda of topics/with who etc. be sent with the invitation. No matter what has been tried, the all fizzel out about a 1 month later, we all go back to what we were doing before, because, well, alot of that takes time, we're all to busy and that level of preparedness becomes deprioritized..by everybody.
People want meeting control, and...don't at the same time (by behavior).
The only way I've have found to control meeting "duration" is by my meeting facitliation. For my meetings, simple, if I do put a meeting, I'm clear on what I want, when I "open" a meeting, my key objective is to "close" the meeting as fast as possible, AND getting what I want out of it. That means my meetings faciliation ability is quite top notch (leanred over time). I'm a bit assertive and I do control coversation alot, I do park people alot but the end result is time savings. I can and often do control other people's meetings as well, if I do think my and other's times are being wasted, and the environment is correct, I'll take over the meeting from a faciliating point of view, (i.e. leadership competency) - ensure what objectives can be acheived can be acheived and aim to close the meeting fast with al list of actionable points for the meeting organizer. Last week I closed someones else's 1.5 hour planned meeting in 25 minutes.
So that's one skill I did learn and it is in fact a learned skill to do it right. I don't recommend readers of the forum to do that unless you're trained and experienced like me, I had a alot of meeting faciliation training and we'll alot of experience running meetings at many levels of complexity and organization so i'm also carrying the badge of experience.
But other than that, the fact we all have outlook, virtual communication technology integrated to our email systems, room booking also in our email systems makes booking meetings a 30 second endeavor, and so meeting Mushrooms I call them. So back to, "do I need to to this meeting?" and taking that decision where appropriate (i.e. when empowered, in the remit of my authority, and politically prudent of course).
So..my advice..from an individual management perspective, learn meeting management and facilitation - its a great leadership competency to have and the only then I have found works to save me "time in meeting". Plus all the other stuff I noted "no, I'm not attending, please send me the minutes or here' my deputy".
Best as it gets.
These are great suggestions! For the more academic-oriented readers of this forum, this might be useful: I recently discovered how to set up an RSS feed for all the scientific articles I might need to glance at. https://fraserlab.com/2013/09/28/The-Fraser-Lab-method-of-following-the-scientific-literature/
This has now replaced all of my email subscriptions to tables of content and most other sources of incoming information about papers (such as Pubmed alerts). I find it very liberating that I can see exactly which headlines I have already glanced at, mark some for later reading, and stop thinking about it. Now I just need to hit the unsubscribe button for most journal TOCs!
I also like Dx's suggestions re: meetings. I find that when I chair meetings, we usually get done very quickly since I try to keep everyone on track. I haven't quite figured out whether it is always possible to gracefully step in and start facilitating a meandering meeting if someone else is in charge... I guess one takeaway for me is that I should volunteer to chair committees more. 🙂