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6 Ways to Manage Information Overload

How to make information clarify your purpose—rather than clutter it.

With the rise of the Internet, electronic books, blogs and mobile devices, we're in a time with more information at our fingertips than ever before. Ideas are everywhere. In fact, studies show each individual now receives five times as much information daily as we did a quarter-century ago.

At first blush, the idea of improved and increased information sounds like good news. But it might cripple our productivity and creativity if not handled properly.

In this endless sea of information in which we find ourselves, we sometimes need lifesavers. Here’s six ways you can stay informed without sacrificing your creativity and productivity.

1. Define your life purpose in a paragraph.

The Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, every wind is the right wind.”

It always comes down to this question: Where are you going? Where exactly are you heading in life? Because that determines the knowledge you need to get there. Our life direction can slowly change course according to the information we carry with us. For example, do you want to be a professional writer? Then this isn't the time for 10 books on cryogenics to be on your reading list. Or maybe you want to be an estate surveyor—but you are only subscribed to Sports Illustrated.

Knowing our life’s purpose helps us focus it. Take some time to think through this, and then write it down in a line or a paragraph. For example, “I am a writer who speaks and a speaker who also writes.” Challenge yourself to write out your life’s purpose in just a few sentences. Consider who you are, how God has gifted you, where He is calling you and how you want to be remembered.

Make it your goal to go deep, not wide.

Having this purpose statement in view will help you to sort out any knowledge filling your life that doesn’t fit, or that is secondary, to why you are here. Getting your priorities in order is the first step to navigating well in the age of information.

2. Streamline your timeline on Twitter and Facebook.

As simple as this sounds, it is essential to streamline your social media life if you're to stay afloat in the sea of information. Choose those you follow intentionally—and even sparingly. Take time to select the people on social media whose status updates you actually want appearing on your timeline.

Hootsuite, TweetDeck and many other programs and apps have filter features you can use to curate who you’re reading instead of just scrolling through a large crowd.

3. Let books in your field of interest be a priority.

When you go to your local library, you don’t spend time browsing through every shelf—you gravitate toward one section where you find your favorite books of interest. Make it your goal to go deep, not wide.

What is your field of interest? What is your purpose statement? Let your answers to these questions guide you to the right area of study—then discipline yourself to stay there.

4. Make use of RSS feeds to develop your personal web hub.

The Internet, as much as it is a gift, can be a crazy place. From the moment you log on to Facebook, a hundred links are calling out for your attention. It’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole of distractions. If you are an avid blog or website reader, set up your own personal hub of interests via RSS on your browser (and if you use the iPad, the Flipboard app could be put to very good use in doing this). This way, you will only go online with a purpose—and will focus on the information you want rather than information that is merely available.

What are you doing with the information you are coming across on a daily basis? Don’t just ingest knowledge and then let it stagnate.

5. Practice reading and Internet sabbaths.

If you’re an avid reader, it’s easy to pride yourself on quantity. But there is equal value in slimming back your reading list for a period of time. Go ahead and dive into great books and quality online content—but then give your brain time to unwind and process. Let it sit for a while instead of immediately moving on to the next book or the next blog post.

Create a pattern, take some time and stay away. You will survive—and you might even be better for it.

6. Write, share and discuss.

Here’s a question for you: Are you a consumer or a contributor? What’s your information digestive flow like? How much do you take in? What are you doing with what you take in? What changes are you making due to your new enlightenment? What research papers are you writing? What hard discussions are you tackling? What tribes are you leading?

This is not meant to condemn but to challenge. What are you doing with the information you are coming across on a daily basis?

Don’t just ingest knowledge and then let it stagnate. Share it. Act on it. Discuss the new thing you learned after a long day at the dinner table with your family. Start a conversation.

The beautiful thing is that discussions compensate for what we don’t know. Somehow the blank spaces are filled and learning becomes so relational. Try writing something, too, even if you aren’t a writer—it helps you process your thoughts and what you know. Choose to be not just a consumer but also a contributor.

As philosopher Peter Kreeft says, most of us are not really living because we don’t know why we’re here. He writes, “How is it that the society that ‘knows it all’ about everything knows nothing about everything? How has the knowledge explosion exploded away the supreme knowledge? ... We must retrace the steps by which we have come to this dead end; to recapture hope we must diagnose the cause of our hopelessness before we begin to prescribe a remedy.”

2 Comments

Chris Burfield

2

Chris Burfield commented…

I'm a huge user of RSS feeds. So I find it odd that in an article suggesting use of RSS feeds I take a look at the website and I don't find an easy way to see all the RSS feeds Relevant has available. Help me out if I'm just not seeing it.

Chris Eakins

1

Chris Eakins commented…

I've seen a number articles on this topic recently and this one proves timely as well with good practical recommendations. However, as information exponentially explodes upon is we also have to look to stronger technologies that can help us get a better grip on consuming, processing, curating/managing, and utilizing our information better. Here's a couple articles I've written about my own experiences in with the evolution of personal information technologies, as well as information overload:

Information Overload
http://grappledata.com/aikin/News.aspx#InfoOverload

Improvements in search
http://grappledata.com/aikin/News.aspx#SearchEvolution

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