How to deal with information overload

How do you manage information overload?

As obvious as it might be for you, I have to admit that, only recently, I have realised that “information overload” is the right name for the challenge I am experiencing.
Whenever I want to find a new solution for my business I turn to Google and Amazon books and search precisely for the question I want to be answered.

  • Where to find a freelancer I can trust?
  • Which insurance suits me best and is also cheaper?
  • How to use this new app I just downloaded?
  • Which software is better for my needs?
  • How to write a business proposal?

… and so on – this list is endless!

And then – boom! – I got so many options that, anxious to miss something important and striving to find the “perfect one”, I start powering through all of them, until eventually I get myself into a state of confusion, mental depletion and not wanting anything anymore!

Does this ever happen to you? If you say “no”, I don’t believe you.

I don’t know how about you but my mind derails from the original question so easily – because there is so much interesting stuff out there! For some time, I have been playing a victim about this. I was thinking: “Oh, that’s just my poor brain which cannot focus or multitask…” I allowed myself to feel overwhelmed and resigned. But recently I realised that this is like a war – an information war that feeds on my mind’s gluttonous tendencies. Internet was a godsend at first, but now it turned into a monster that steals my attention. And, if this is a war, I have to approach the whole thing differently. I have to be prepared for the “attack” and have a strategy to protect myself. I have to get my mind organised and stop it from behaving like a monkey jumping from one tree to another.

Again, I turned to the mighty Amazon to hunt for a weapon. I want to share with you here some great suggestions for what to do about information overload from Daniel Levitan’s brilliant book The Organised Mind:

  • Use satisficing to choose from among an impossible amount of choices. Satisfying is when we make a ‘good enough’ choice, knowing that we might be overlooking better choices, but valuing our time too much to research through every possible option. Most of the time, unless the stakes are really high, satisficing works fine. This can help you avoid lots of unnecessary overload.
  • Externalise information. If you find there is too much information to hold in your head, externalise it by ‘dumping’ as much information as possible into to-do lists, files/folders, into brain-storming diagrams etc. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just find a way of externalising information which works for you, and which enables you to easily find and work with the information later on when you need it. If you don’t unload your mind, it becomes cluttered and overwhelmed.
  • Do a “brain dump”. Carry around with you a little notebook, where you can jot down any ideas which come to you during the day. This way your mind doesn’t have to run in circuits trying to remember the myriad things we need to think about. Look back at them or tidy them up later on.
  • Interrupt yourself. Our mind gets tired since thinking and switching attention uses up energy just like physical activity does. So, when your mind gets tired, don’t try to power through. Take a short walk or do something completely different. This allows the mind to switch from the “contracted” state to a more relaxed one. When you come back to your task it might be that you see the things you didn’t see or understand before.

I personally liked the idea of satisficing the most. It helps me to remember that progress in my business is more important than finding a perfect solution.

I also came up with an additional “life hack” with regards to dealing with information overload. Before looking for anything on the internet, I pose and write down exactly what I need, and then ask myself whether I actually need this right now. Having this written in front of me really helps. And, on many occasions, I just decide not to engage with information. This strict focusing and elimination process leaves me with more time for what matters most – people and real-life connections.

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