I was a full time, professional blogger for four years, and in that time, I had my fair share of information overload. Each day, I was dealing with around fifty to one hundred e-mails that needed my attention, scanning through over a thousand blog posts in my RSS reader, managing comments on upwards of forty different blogs, and providing thousands of words of content each day. It wasn’t easy by far. Some people envied my job, but there can definitely be a horrible side effect of being a professional blogger, web work, or any number of the increasingly technical information management careers out there today.
By the end of most days, I couldn’t tell you anything about what I had done that day because my brain was just overwhelmed. Sometimes my wife would feel a little slighted because I couldn’t even remember conversations or events during weeks where I was intensely busy. It was a rotten feeling and tiring. I was waking up each day feeling like I was multiple days behind in my job, and that the To-Do list was long enough to crush me under its weight if I printed it out on paper.
Then I started to realize that it didn’t have to be that way.
The simplest way to deal with information overload is just to start removing things from your list each day. Do you really need to check e-mail every time you receive one? Do you really need to read all the articles on that blog you are subscribed to, or better yet, do you really need to be subscribed? Start removing things, one at a time, until you reach a point where you can list all of your must-do daily tasks on your fingers. No using toes to lengthen your list!
Many blogs allow you to subscribe to a single author or category. Take advantage of this feature to reduce your daily reading list.
There are some things that you don’t really need to remember because you might just have a low-level connection with them. Things that usually fall under this category for me include Facebook and most other social media sites like it. I combine these into a “single” task for the day, and go through them all quickly. I usually leave it as one of the last things on my list, so that if I run out of time in the day, there is no real harm.
Combining tasks to streamline and optimize your work day is never a bad idea. Much like remove, you can put all your e-mail checking as something you do at the start of the day, and then at noon and one last time before you finish your work day. Combining your e-mail checking (especially if you have multiple accounts) into blocks of time, rather than reading, responding, and organizing e-mails throughout the day will allow you to focus on important things, and not feel like you spent your whole day in your e-mail inbox.
Outsourcing can seem like it is out of reach for some people, but the biggest limitation on your attention and resources is usually you. I’ve had my own experiences with hiring virtual assistants, some good, and some bad, but in the end, it usually saved me time, energy and allowed me to focus on more important tasks. If you take your time to find a good assistant, or some people you can trust to do good work, you might just free up the time you need to take a break between tasks and get your thoughts more organized.
I’ve even outsourced things that I am good at so that I could focus on potential problems and pitfalls, and with so much competition online, there are many savvy web workers that can help out for a reasonable cost. A great example for me is WordPress themes. I can code them myself, but the time it takes me to do it right, and make it work on all browsers can eat up a few hours. If I outsource it, I get that time back and the cost is less than my hourly wage, so in actual fact, I saved myself the difference and am not distracted by another item on my extensive to-do list.
Single Task Processing
Multitasking is bad. I know some of you will cringe when I say this, but increasing medical and psychological evidence points to the fact that other than the few exceptions to the rule, people are horrible at multitasking. I used to think of myself as a master of multitasking, but this only contributed to my issues with information overload.
Selecting one task and seeing it through to completion before beginning the next allows you to focus all of your time and energy onto that task, speeding up how long it takes to complete, and allowing you to let the depth of any problems or issues you may have to deal with really sink into your mind, helping you remember the task more vividly later on when you might need to recall details regarding it.
When I first started, I just pushed through the days quickly, looking forward to getting paid, and didn’t give much thought to the tasks I had completed in the course of any given day. Days melted together and projects started to get a little disorganized. I realized fairly quickly that at the end of each day, I need to think about how I did and reflect. I also used this time for self managing, asking myself “did I get done everything that I could have?” Usually the answer that my brain quickly shot back was “No, but you did everything that had to be done today, and there is always tomorrow.” Without labeling this time as reflection time, I was still conscious of the need to have it, and its benefit. It helped me unwind, relax and see my accomplishments.
Of course this brings me to the most important way to deal with information overload and that is to relax. There is no single person or job where one bad day will traditionally bring the end of the entire world (save for the guy with his finger on that nuclear missile launch button), and so reminding yourself that while everything you had to get done was important, it isn’t the end of the world if you miss something, forget something, or don’t complete something. Making sure to find time to relax will help you remember things, organize your thoughts and not feel so worn down. You might not be able to take a vacation in Europe, but you can find small things that bring happiness and relaxation to your life, thus helping you battle the stresses of work and life more effectively.
In the end
In the end, it is up to you to decide how you want to live your life, but being in a constant state of overload will eventually lead to things breaking down. If you want to stay passionate about your work and life, you need to find coping mechanisms, systems and strategies that work best for your life. If you can take one tip from this list and effectively apply it to your own situation, you’ll be a step ahead of where you were, and that’s better than where you’d be in a year if you didn’t take some of this advice.