How to Reduce Information Overload

Posted by Eric Bastholm on September 13, 2011
Sep 132011

Update: I have been doing this for over two years now and convinced colleagues to do the same. I haven’t looked back.

Information is flooding our lives and it is hard to manage. It’s like you are being force fed and it’s often overwhelming. Recently, I changed the way I eat information. I wanted one place where I could dine from a menu of my own choosing.

I had a plethora of conduits of information: news, blogs, email, rss, etc and I bookmarked interesting things either to read later or to access later as a reference. And you know what? I didn’t. You bookmark this and you bookmark that and you never read it. You are wasting your time doing it.

In the old days when the net was new, information was much more sparse. There was a lot less content. Now there is a lot more and it changes very rapidly and its value is very transient. Google (or insert your favourite search engine here) is your bookmarks. Just search for what you want and often you find the pages you would have bookmarked anyway or, more often than not, you find other, perhaps more interesting, pages. You have to search your bookmarks anyway, so why not just search the web instead? Even common sites that you do use end up being committed to memory and modern browsers seem to know what you want when you start typing in the address bar, so you don’t have to remember much.

I was an avid Google Reader fan and had heaps of RSS feeds that I read everyday. Then I got Flipboard. Then I created a Twitter account. Then I realised that most of the sources of information that I read posted the same articles to Twitter and to RSS and to a weekly newsletter and to whatever else is out there that constitutes a channel to push their stuff.

Here’s what I have done to create a single stream of information that I can access in the one place. All of my information now comes through Twitter, which is inherently stream-like.

Salmon Jumping Up the Rapids by Dave Bezaire & Susi Havens-Bezaire, on Flickr

Credit: Salmon Jumping Up the Rapids by Dave Bezaire & Susi Havens-Bezaire, on Flickr

Delete all of your bookmarks. Like me you probably don’t use them anyway. Bookmarks are dead. Smart browsers with features like Chrome’s omnibox and things like Google Instant along with the seemingly fleeting relevance of information on the web make it so. It’s almost like the internet is developing an emergent sense of knowing what you want. So you don’t have to.

Create a Twitter account. Most content creators have a Twitter presence and they tweet links and headlines which largely mirror what they put in RSS feeds or email newsletters or any other channel. Follow anyone you have a subscribed RSS, or newsletter for, or anyone whose information you get some other way.

Delete your RSS subscriptions. RSS, as a information feed for humans is dead. Sure it’s nice to be able to organise content and read teasers that are more than a couple of dozen characters. But it takes more time than it is worth and the stream needs to have everything if possible. A lot of information sources still don’t use RSS.

Unsubscribe from email newsletters. If that info is going to Twitter now, you don’t need it. I used to have a bacn folder where my not immediate, but not spam email went for reading later. But a lot of the time I didn’t get around to reading it anyway.

Find alternatives for non-Twitterers. If some source of information that I was reading did not have a Twitter feed I simply found an alternative. There are heaps out there and quite often the content is pinched … err … syndicated from a common source anyway.

Get a Twitter client. I run a Twitter client (there are heaps of them, pick one you like) constantly on my desktop and mobile devices. For your iPad, get Flipboard. You can run Flipboard off your Twitter account and it has a really nice interface.

Now I am a fish swimming through the stream picking and choosing what I eat and ignoring the rest. I don’t worry about missing something because further up the stream it will be there again or something equally as tasty. I have found that my information is more up-to-date, easier to digest and way less stressful to keep up with.

Let me know your tips and tricks for handling your information overload in the comments.

One Response to “How to Reduce Information Overload”

  1. Nice article on dealing with the overload of data we all receive. I’m glad that you found my photo to be appropriate, and appreciate your link back.


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