Dealing with information overload


Every day, we’re faced with far more information to consume than we can possible manage. Ignoring the stuff we don’t care about is easy, but even the emails, blogs, magazines, newsletters and other information we do care about can pile up far faster than we can consume it.

This is an every day problem that’s made worse after an extended period away from the office. I took a week off last week with my family – no email, no cell phone, no connection to the real world – and came back this morning to an avalanche of information. More than 1,000 emails to digest, more than 1,300 unread blog posts in my RSS feed, a large stack of magazines and mail, etc.

But we all know that the problem of information overload isn’t confined to the day after a vacation. None of us can get through even the pre-filtered information that comes at us each day, and it’s quite stressful to think we’re “missing out” on something important buried in that stack.

The strategy I’m using this morning is really no different than what I do every day to manage that stack on incoming information. My simple strategy is as follows:

Know what information is required, and what’s optional. The stack of information you must consume is likely quite small, and very manageable on a regular basis.

Don’t worry about reading everything. If you’re reading just some of the information in front of you, you’re already doing far better than the vast majority of your colleagues and peers.

Read quickly. Skim headlines, flip pages of magazines quickly, and look only for content that piques your interest. Focus on just the first couple paragraphs of any piece that interests you. Continue reading if you’re truly interested, otherwise move on quickly to the next piece. Chances are, those first couple paragraphs gave you the gist of what you needed to know anyway.

Don’t worry about reading everything right away. If you find something you want to read but don’t have time right away (a longer article, a White Paper, etc.), file it in a “reading” folder. I have one in my email inbox, as well as a physical “reading” folder that stays with me at office and home, so I can easily pick something out when the time is right.