How to avoid information overload

1. Decide not to get overloaded.  I watch many people around me get stressed out because of all the information coming at them.  I simply choose to admit that we live in an information age.  Proactively developing strategies for managing and filtering this information is a skill I need to develop and work at.

2. Keep your inbox at zero. I realize the purpose of my job is not to send or answer emails.  (Most of the tips I know about managing email are linked in that post).  Here’s two more.

  • Use filters in your mail client.  (Gmail excels at this).  I set all messages that are notifications and digests to be pre-processed by my filters.  They can be starred, labeled, marked read, deleted, or whatever action you want by Gmail.  This allows me to spend minimal time moving messages and more time getting right to the information I need.
  • Filter cc’d messages.  The CC field is way over used.  I figure if someone is CCing me, the priority is lower and filter those messages to be processed later.

3. Don’t read everything.  Don’t be afraid to mark your RSS feeds as “all read”.  Rely on your network (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) to highlight/filter important articles and information for you.  (Note: Don’t just be a taker, develop the skill of being a generous giver as well.)

4. Keep whitespace in your schedule.  This gives me margin to stay on top of my various streams (Inbox, Twitter, Google Reader, Google Wave).

What strategies do you use to avoid information overload?


3 thoughts on “How to avoid information overload

  1. I think overload is a state of mind. Chances are, we won’t ever get it ALL done, so focusing on the task at hand, and not thinking about what you’re not getting done, is a stress reducing strategy. I too keep my inbox empty and that allows me to decide on my next task rather than react to a ding of a newly received email. Good post.


  2. Clay Shirky says “It’s not information overload; it’s filter failure.” Check out his talk about it:


  3. @foleymo – thank you for the video link by Shirky. Very insightful. I especially liked the example about how information overload is not a new problem, it’s been around since the printing press made the volume of books more than you can read in a lifetime.


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