Arment Dietrich

Five Tips (and Some Tools) to Manage Information Overload

By: Arment Dietrich | February 27, 2013 | 
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Today’s guest post is by Allen Mireles.

How do you manage information overload?

We’ve all been there and some of us are are still there.

You know, that point in time where you realize you are staring blankly at the computer screen and simply not taking in what you’re reading or watching.

Or that moment, in the middle of the night, when you find yourself trying to process everything you’ve ingested during the past few days.

Let’s face it. The volume of information we are exposed to on a daily basis is staggering.

The data we have to review, the posts and articles we need to read to stay abreast of changes in our industries, the updates on social media, the emails clogging our inboxes.

It’s out of control. And it’s not likely to slow down.  The Cisco Visual Networking Index, predicts by 2015, there will be three billion Internet users transmitting 245 terabytes of data per second.

The Enemy Within

According to InformationManagement.com, a Basex report called “We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us,” states on a daily basis some 300 billion emails are sent, two million+ blog posts are written, and 532 million status updates are posted on Facebook.

And that’s just a fraction of the data being generated and consumed daily.

Information overload has become a major concern for companies, costing untold dollars in lower productivity, hampered innovation, and possibly even lowering worker comprehension levels. As the Basex report states, “Defining the problem…isn’t that simple either. It’s not just a case of too much e-mail, too many interruptions, too many projects, or too many instant message sessions. It’s how these things all mesh together–sometimes like an orchestra without a conductor.”

Monitor and Measure

Companies such as Morgan Stanley recognize the problem and have been monitoring and measuring employee outcomes for the past four years as a means of understanding how to create systems to better manage information. Their management realizes the costs of information overload are real and can be expensive.

However, most businesses simply assume managing information is part of the job and leave it to the individual to deal with as best they can.

Which brings it back to you.

In the end, managing information overload comes back to practicality and self-discipline, as so many things do.

Following are some tips to help you better manage the volume of information you deal with every day.

  1. Make time to focus.
    Identify when you are most productive. Some of us are sharpest first thing in the morning, filled with energy and zeal to jump in and get the job done. Others of us are night owls and work better when left to function in the wee hours of the night. Whatever it is for you, use that time to focus on what you need to do and create your plan and task list.
  2. Prioritize.
    Take your plan and task list and prioritize the things that simply must get done during your work day. Stay true to the plan you have created (to the best of your ability) and reward yourself later for a job well done.
  3. Schedule uninterrupted work time.
    Multi-tasking doesn’t always get the job done. Most of us have some amount of work that requires periods of uninterrupted time for concentration. Identify which of your responsibilities fall into that category and schedule the time you need to work without interruption. A short, but concentrated burst of work can generate powerful results.
  4. Stop checking email, Twitter, and Facebook updates every few minutes.
    This one may hurt. We’ve become so accustomed to checking and responding to email and updating our Twitter feed and Facebook profiles, we almost don’t see it happening. Yet each of those pull you away from the task at hand and provide powerful distractions. Schedule breaks to check back into your social networks and save emails in online folders for response at regular points during the day.
  5. Escape.
    Finally, take time away from the digital world and escape. Give your mind a rest. Read a novel. Play with your kids. Paint a picture. Refinish the den. Visit your friends.

Do any and all of the things that pull you away from your computer, from email, blogs, social updates, videos, forums, and texting. Give it a rest. It will all be there when you come back (and will have multiplied like the single socks under the bed). But you’ll be able to cope better after your escape.

Some Practical Tools that May Help

There are also some really handy and practical tools available to help you manage information overload.

Following are a few of my favorites.

  • Dropbox. The easiest way I have found to share online files. Truly.
  • Evernote. I’m a digital hoarder. Evernote enables me. It lets me quickly and easily clip and save articles, posts, images, documents–you name it. All there for me to pore back over when I need them or make time. I never worry losing something that seemed important at the time (and may well have been).
  • Mailstrom. Who ever thought emptying your email inbox could be fun? With this cool tool it almost is. You can quickly wade right through those email and delete, archive, and unsubscribe to your heart’s content. I love it. (Thanks for the intro, Jason).
  • BusyCal. I work on a Mac so this calendar and task organizer is a godsend for me. It has true functionality and I can even color code events and tasks to my heart’s delight. I also have the iPad app so I can sync my task list to my iPad and plot and plan when I’m not on the computer.

So, how do you handle information overload. What advice would you offer us? Please tell. We all need help!

Allen Mireles is vice president at Arment Dietrich and is based outside of Toledo. She has diverse expertise in healthcare IT, manufacturing, and education. You can follow her on Twitter at allenmirelesadd her to your circles on G+, link to her on LinkedIn, or friend her on Facebook.

  • “A digital hoarder.” LOL!! You already know how I feel about this. I agree one gazillion percent. Wholeheartedly. Yes, yes, yes! I think it’s worth mentioning we do this internally. How often do one of your colleagues (or you) send a note to everyone saying you’re shutting off distractions for a couple of hours? Of course, if others implement this, it’s absolutely pertinent you implicitly trust your colleagues. After the news at Yahoo that Marisa Mayer is shutting down remote work, it seems like not every organization has that kind of trust.

  • I turn off my social networks completely on weekends…and I’ve missed a few birthdays because of it (FB is my birthday reminder…sad but true). But I need a break and if I want to talk to someone, I’ll go see them or call them.
     
    And like @ginidietrich said, our team does send emails that we are shutting off all distractions to get work done. In fact, I do this every single morning so I can have a block of solid writing time.

    • PattiRoseKnight1

      @yvettepistorio  @ginidietrich I shut down the CPU on the weekends but will check the iPad periodically during the weekend.  Sometimes a Client can’t wait until Monday.

  • Let’s see: 
    mailstromapp is my saving grace. I don’t use it every day, but when I do, it’s brutally efficient at slaying graymail.
    Like you, I’m a digital hoarder, and Evernote lets me grab things all day long. The OCR functionality is especially helpful. 
     
     3rdidea is a completely virtual agency, so we use a combination of Basecamp, Skype and Google Hangouts for meetings and project management. When I’m doing other client work, Google Docs, especially if things need internal review before moving on. If I’m going to be out of pocket or invested in a project all day, out goes a quick email alerting the rest of my team. A text is invariably the quickest way to catch me.

    • @jasonkonopinski  mailstromapp  3rdidea Or I can stalk you on Facebook. That works well too, I have noticed. 😉

  • PattiRoseKnight1

    I have huge success with scheduling work time….it is such a simple thing and really works well for me.

  • Yvette Hamlin Pistorio

    I tend to shut down my social networks and avoid reading anything. I play mindless games like solitaire or watch mindless television (hello Kardashian’s!!)

  • Lindsay Bell-Wheeler

    Me too. Hoarders and Intervention. LOL

  • Drop box is great and it’s become my place to dump stuff I want to deal with in the evening, oh and Evernote is great for that too 😉 Not checking email first thing in the morning usually saves me, because morning is my time to focus. I’m worthless after 2:00 pm.
     
    I love Jason’s terminology: Digital Hoarder … is that a good thing or a disorder? 😉

    • @Craig McBreen I started using the term “digital hoarder” after hearing someone describe herself thusly in a meeting with Dell. I thought it perfectly apt and hilarious at the same time. As far as being good or describing a disorder? Not sure…depends on the day, maybe? 😉

    • John_Trader1

      @Craig McBreen Dropbox is my savior.

  • Great article @allenmireles , dood to see you writing.
     
    I love Mailstrom. I also think that dealing with all the social media, texts, phone calls and email influx is a critical issue that needs to be addressed according to how you work. For me, I can’t have the Facebook toolbar installed, pushing information to me every second about what I’m missing that just happened.
     
    I can’t have regular Twitter open with the nudge that 2 new tweets are in the hashtag or 100 new tweets are in my main stream during the last second. 
     
    Now, during the part of the day when I’m waiting for a meeting to start, waiting in line for lunch, waiting for… anything… that’s when I insert social media. That way I’m in and out with the deadline already prepared for me. I’ll have to place my lunch order, go to the meeting, start the teleconference.
     
    For email, different system but similar.
     
     I know I work best in several hours uninterrupted by outside influences when I’m producing content of any kind. If it’ doesn’t involve video or audio, I’ll even listen to Alpha and Theta waves while I work to the exclusion of everything else. This does Not work for everyone.
     
    I’ve learned to recognize that some people need to have five minutes an hour of interaction. Others need to get up and take a walk at lunch. I need to exercise in the morning and look at trees or a body of water at some point.
     
    Know thyself.

  • JohnTJackson

    Sound advice! RT: “@MrTonyDowling: Five Tips (and Some Tools) to Manage Information Overload http://t.co/piyCVsV6qa via @ginidietrich”

    • MrTonyDowling

      @JohnTJackson oh! And thanks for the share!

      • JohnTJackson

        @MrTonyDowling You’re welcome!

        • MrTonyDowling

          @JohnTJackson hey John, could you tell @Michaela_weller what you think of @oiconf please?

        • JohnTJackson

          @MrTonyDowling Done and a pleasure to do so!

        • MrTonyDowling

          @JohnTJackson thank you VERY much!

        • JohnTJackson

          @MrTonyDowling My pleasure Tony, always happy to help!

        • Michaela_Weller

          @MrTonyDowling thank you Tony

        • MrTonyDowling

          @Michaela_Weller you’re most welcome, hope to see you there!

  • JohnTJackson

    @MrTonyDowling Thanks Tony! Info overload a real challenge when there is so much amazing content happening every second of every day!

    • MrTonyDowling

      @JohnTJackson it was a useful piece !

  • What I find extremely difficult is stop following other blogs and reading all those pdf files I download. So when emails and ebooks reach the roof and I’m on the floor I either press delete and unfollow some blogs or stop for a while until everything has found the right place.
     
    Not the best policy for sure as at least for ebooks the best thing to do would be to scan them immediately and read them later, but who has the time to go back reading? And I can’t print them all. And there are so many new things to know.
     
    Well, I do my best and hope for the rest. 🙂
     
    Good article and really interesting.

  • I am very interested in the Mailstrom tool and have just signed up for their beta. I am 9896 in line but hoping they work in 10,000 blocks at time 😉 Thanks for the tip @allenmireles and @jasonkonopinski

  • belllindsay

    I seriously get overwhelmed by information overload – to the point where I sometimes shut down. Love these tips and tricks, especially for saving/managing posts and articles you want to get back to, instead of having 20 tabs open at a time (like I used to do! LOL)

    • @belllindsay Only 20 tabs at a time? 😉
       
      This sounds silly, but I remind myself sometimes that…… “you don’t HAVE to know everything”

      • belllindsay

        @JoeCardillo My *mantra* Joe. Seriously.

  • allenmireles

    @jeanniecw @ginidietrich @SpinSucks Thanks for retweeting the post, Jeannie. 🙂

  • Excellent post, Allen! I’ve just started digging into BusyCal … I need to explore it more. I’m trying to move from a paper to-do list to digital but it’s proving difficult.

  • allenmireles

    @MargieClayman @ginidietrich Thanks Margie. xoxo

    • MargieClayman

      @allenmireles you know it! how are you anyway?

      • allenmireles

        @MargieClayman Things are good here, Margie. How about you? 🙂

        • MargieClayman

          @allenmireles Good ‘n busy. I’m getting to that stage where I’m desperately in need of spring though. We haven’t seen the sun since Sunday.

        • allenmireles

          @MargieClayman We have some sun breaking through right this very moment. And it feels like Spring outside. The birds seem to think so. 🙂

        • MargieClayman

          @allenmireles Yeah, I have heard some crows and cardinals. No robins yet tho. They’re like, “heck naw.” 🙂

  • These are great tips, I’ve never used Evernote but I’ll have to check it out. Getting overwhelmed by information / data is not only bad for productivity but also bad for creativity / being a good human. 
     
    I did start doing something different a couple of months ago. Part of my frustration with bookmarking is that it doesn’t really explain the connections between things that I’m interested in. Even curation services like Peartrees don’t quite address my need.
     
    I tend to operate on a “this reminds me of that” scale and not so much “these two articles are both about politics.” So I basically started dropping everything I like into spreadsheet form with cross references and then running data visualizations (scatter plot, bar graph, geographic locating, etc…) as a way to help me easily see how I got somewhere and what else was in / on the brain at that moment. Probably there’s a more efficient way to do this than what I’m undertaking, but I suspect this will be where we go in the future (does anyone know of a start-up that does this? I would gladly pay money for something like it…)

  • TermInsurance_

    RT @JeffSheehan @SpinSucks 5 Tips To Manage Information Overload via @spinsuckshttp://bit.ly/WthYXP #productivity #marketing #smm

  • MrTonyDowling

    @richmistkowski thanks for sharing!

    • richmistkowski

      @mrtonydowling You’re welcome Tony. I always appreciate reminders on focus.It’s so easy to get distracted. Have a great night.

      • MrTonyDowling

        @richmistkowski you too!

  • mattlindner

    @seanmcginnis I swear to God, you sleep less than I do

    • seanmcginnis

      @mattlindner I’ll take “overrated” for 800 Alex.

      • VeeckAsInWreck

        @seanmcginnis @mattlindner *ding ding ding* and you’ve found a daily double! “This person said ‘ill sleep when I’m dead” #overrated

  • I am SO GUILTY of No. 4. SO GUILTY. 
     
    On Evernote, I feel as if I should be using it, but I don’t know how or why.

  • Shonali Burke Consulting

    Very useful tips (especially #4.) I think we all suffer from information overload daily! ~KL

  • allenmireles

    @ProfessorGary @ginidietrich @margieclayman Thanks for the retweet, Gary.

  • keewood

    @glenn_ferrell thanks for the kind RT!

  • I could really afford to work on #3 and #4 more. As for #5 Escape, I do get away to workout, play tennis, watch movies and have dinners with the family. My issue is that I come back!! I get all decompressed, and then pull out the mobile device while taking the dogs out, and I’m amp’d up again.
     
    I need to do better – especially on weekends – of not checking mobile devices and social networks/blogs!

  • allenmireles

    tressalynne SpinSucks Thanks for that retweet, Tressa. Really appreciate it.

    • tressalynne

      allenmireles Sure thing — good stuff!

  • Pingback: Work/Life Balance: The Cost of Always Being On by @jasonkonopinski Spin Sucks()

  • Pingback: Content Overload: Get "This." to Help That by @belllindsay Spin Sucks()

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