If you’re like me, you get flooded with information. Between Twitter, Facebook, and email, we probably see thousands of messages each day. Some of it is junk (what I ate for lunch), some of it is important but outside your focus area (a message about saving the Lemmings), and some of it is vitally important to your work (budget information related to your department).
According to TIME, each day the average American spends about 12 hours consuming information, taking in more than 100,000 words that total 34 gigabytes of data.* While it may seem that information overload came to prominence with the Internet age, it is by no means a new phenomenon. (Think of the Encyclopedia Britannica sets that got updated every few years or the shelves of microfiche available at the library.) In her book Too Much to Know, Ann Blair writes that sixteenth century European scholars complained about information overload.
So if lamenting the rise of information overload isn’t the right approach, how do we frame it? In the wise words of Clay Shirky, “Thinking about information overload isn't accurately describing the problem; thinking about filter failure is.” (emphasis added) Barring the possibility of a December 21 apocalypse, we’ll never be able to do away with all the information we wrap ourselves in each day. We may, however, be able to combat its distracting effects. Here are some vital tips on managing your filter:
Know you’re in control.
Diane Tran of Minnesota Rising says being overrun with and overwhelmed by messages and information doesn’t have to be inevitable. The first step in addressing this topic is to know that we are in control and have the power. Knowing that, the second step is to know our individual or organizational purpose and mission. Knowing what information or people or connections we need in order to get where we are trying to go allows us to select the right channels of communication and type of messengers we look to hear and learn from.
Stay on top of it.
Leah Lundquist, Grad Student in Public Policy and Nonprofit Leadership and YNPN Board Member, offers a few tips and a word of caution:
- If you filter, I've found you really have to start a discipline of checking certain folders at frequent intervals. I was filtering my YNPN emails into a folder for a while and had to cancel that practice since I felt unresponsive. I've also put an A in front of the names of certain important folders so that they show up on top of my folder list and I could tell when there were new emails.
- According to David Allen, the Getting Things Done guy, if you can answer an email or do anything in under two minutes, just do it. Don't procrastinate.
- Setting up Twitter lists and Google Alerts were both revolutionary for me. Google Alerts go to my Google Reader (not my inbox!). And, in general: Love the Google Reader!
Ed Kohler of The Deets offered these words of wisdom: “One tip I like is to search your inbox or trash for the word ‘unsubscribe.’ You may find quite a few email lists that are worth reconsidering.”
One of my tips for Gmail users is the “Mute” button. If you are on a listserv that has a conversation you are done with, click “Mute.” You might also consider filtering the listserv or leaving it altogether.
Do you have any tips to share? What do you think about the idea that we set ourselves up for over consumption?