One of the things a lot of people are discussing recently, particularly related to the Internet, is information overload. Many of us have enormous numbers of inboxes, all of which do nothing but present us with information: RSS, email, IM, Twitter, Facebook, and countless other examples.
Ruud Hein, a blogger I like a lot, wrote on this subject a while ago:
My main reaction to the idea of information overload is one of disbelief. David Allen does a wonderful job giving words to that disbelief:
“If information overload was the issue you’d walk into a library and die. The first time you surf the web, you blow up.”
If someone is clutching his stomach complaining about “food overload” caused by there being too much food to digest, you’d ask “but why in the world do you try to eat it all at the same time?!”
I, personally, have struggled a great deal with trying to figure out how to manage all this information. There’s a constant stream of Twitter updates, RSS feeds, Facebook posts and invites, emails and voicemails for me to deal with; I’m rapidly figuring out that, try as I might, I simply can’t deal with it all.
My solution to this problem came from Leo Babauta over at Zen Habits. I can’t remember the post or the context, but the takeaway point was this: in a world of infinite information and finite time, we manage information best by wading in the stream, getting wet, and getting out.
A great way to think about the information coming at us is like a Lazy River (again, I’m paraphrasing someone else here, but for the life of me I can’t remember who). Whether or not we’re in it, it continues to go around at the same speed. We get in, participate for a while, and then get out when we’re done.
There’s too much information out there to be digested, so don’t try and digest it all. Instead, step into the stream, see what’s new at the moment, and get out. Sure, you’ll miss something every now and then, but anything important is going to be in the stream when you are.
Practically, this applies most to things like Twitter and Facebook. If you follow more than about 25 people on Twitter, you’ll be overwhelmed trying to keep up with everyone. When you log in, rather than trying to catch up on all the things you missed, pick a set number and go back only that far. For me, it’s the last 40 tweets. I read those, reply to or take action on the ones I find interesting, and then I get out.
We have to understand that the stream is never-ending, and will move without us no matter when we get out. There are always some “can’t miss” things, but those are easy to weed out – I have an “A-Listers” RSS folder that I always read all of, and a “Close friends” Twitter group that always gets read as well. Try as we might, we can’t read, learn, and be on top of everything – so we have to stop trying.
The key to beating infosaturation is just that: wading in the stream. Hop on the Lazy River, ride it for a little while, and then get out. Don’t try and process or read everything, because you can’t (no matter how hard you might try).
Instead, weed out the critical stuff, and hop into the stream for the rest. Deal with the most important, and trust that the most important will find its way to you.
How do you manage all the information that comes your way?
Photo: Will Lion