Information Overload: My Techniques for Avoiding it

Reading time: 3 minutes

These days, information is everywhere. Everything fights for your attention, from the huge billboards and signs on the roads and motorways, to the small inconspicuous to-do notes that you have inadvertently placed on your phone’s calendar to remind you about all sorts of things. Now an important issue is how to filter the important information out of the garbage without being overwhelmed and overloaded?

I am using some very basic, but effective techniques to absorb the most important and valuable information without reading or working through piles of non-relevant information.

  • Make a plan.
  • As obvious it may seems, many people do not have a plan. First, when I wake up I try to make a plan for the day and divide it into several relevant sections which correspond to the tasks I need to have completed until the end of the working day. Then, I have a breakfast or check my electronic mail quickly, without reading the whole messages, just scrolling through all subjects trying to see what’s relevant and what’s not. After I have finished this, I concentrate on my first daily task or activity and I do all subsequent tasks or activities in turn.

  • Stay Focused.
  • Being able to concentrate on one and only one activity or task at a time is 90 % of the effort required to eliminate the junk out of your mind. I know it is easier said than done , so I would recommend you to consult the following technique to help you with the process: Read about the Pomodoro Technique.

  • Have a rest frequently.
  • It is important to note that a small rest between each activity and task is advisable. More specifically, you need to have a 15 minutes break for every 60 minutes of work in order to be effective. Don’t ask me why this ratio is important; refer to the technique I mentioned above or ask your psychologist for more details. A good music track or a funny video that causes hilarious laughter won’t hurt you and even might make you the person with the best joke of the day at the office. By giving yourself a small rest, you would enable your brain to better process the already absorbed information (the computer techies and geeks call this process defragmentation).

  • Learn how to skim.
  • If your job involves reading through news or gathering huge amounts of technical or scientific information, try to skim through the titles and the first few lines of every document, leaving the details off the picture. I have noticed that most professionally written publications, newspapers and magazines tend to name their articles and news such that by reading the title, you could get a pretty good picture of the main content or at least of the significant points. Read Mastering the art of skimming through for more information about this technique.

  • Avoid the clutter by categorising.
  • Try to avoid clutter and categorize the topics you would like to read about. For instance, if you are a financial expert, you could subscribe only to relevant publications such as Yahoo! Finance, Financial Times, etc., leaving the general information sources such as Guardian, CNN, Washington Post, or Gizmoto off your daily reading list. Surely you might want to read the latest world news, but why don’t you leave it for later in the day? You would find out what is happening from your colleagues, friends, and the radio or TV anyway.

  • Experiment.
  • Last but not least, be prepared to experiment. One technique may work for me, but it is not a rule of thumb that the same technique would work for you, so be persistent and try different techniques until you find the perfect balance that would enable you to become more productive and ultimately, happier in the longterm.

Don’t forget to share your best techniques for avoiding information overload in the comments section and let me know which ones give you the best results.

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