Monday, July 28, 2008

30. Information Overload


Email, Instant Messaging, RSS feeds and blogs - the number of ways that you can be overloaded with information is getting larger by the minute, it seems. These days, it seems like everyone is starting to drown in the ever-growing river of stuff that is coming at us every day. How do you cope with all of the information that is now at your fingertips? I've compiled some suggestions for combating information overload here that might help - but there are a lot of resources if the tips I'm suggesting won't work for you. Check the resources section at the bottom for links to more tips, tricks and techniques to help calm the raging river of information and to help keep you afloat!

  • Create a routine - a ritual you follow every day (check email, check feed reader, view FriendFeed timeline, etc.) will help you keep from feeling like you don't know where to begin. Everyone's "ritual" might be different - but pick one that you can live with and stick to it. No more wondering where to start - now you know! (RWW)
  • Turn off distractions - turn off the email notification window on Outlook, close out of your IM window, shut down your friendfeed tab in your browser for a while and concentrate on ONE THING. (RWW)
  • Learn to embrace distractions - while this seems like a contradiction to the point above, it is something that - once you learn to add in some distractions and live with them - can be helpful. There is a post called "Continuous Parallel Attention" that explains more about this concept if you are interested. (RWW)
  • Create your own filters - use the filters in your email program, use folders wisely in your feed reader and "filter" your time spent in Twitter or Friendfeed (or your favorite distraction on the web) yourself - set your own limits and stick to them! (RWW)
  • Get summaries - I attended a program at ACURIL this summer where the presenter said that he doesn't use feed readers or watch TV, anything that he needs to know will come to him via his friends and family. Find services, such as getAbstract, that will summarize the books you want to read, but don't have time to actually consume. Use services like AideRSS to find the best posts from your favorite blogs. You don't have to read every word of every post written to get the information! (CPU)
  • Pay attention to what you need and unsubscribe from any mailing lists, blogs, friends on social networks or other sources of information that you don't really read, but have hanging around making you feel guilty for not paying attention to them. (CPU)
  • Be realistic about what you can actually consume and don't subscribe to everything that looks interesting. (CPU)
All of these tips are meant to help you pare down your information sources and shut down the constant flow of data that needs to be processed. Check the references for more information on the concept of information overload and for more tips to help you out!

Resources
Tips
More Information
Contrarian opinion

16 comments:

Melanie Baker said...

Hi Robin, thanks for including us!

Our Google Reader extension actually works two ways to help people "read what matters" from their favourite blogs, news, etc. Feed-based PostRank is applied to individual feeds, so you can see which items from a single site have been ranked the best compared to each other.

Additionally, Thematic PostRank is applied to folders/topics/themes in Google Reader, so you can see which items on a topic from a variety of sites have been ranked the best.

Francesca said...

I can see where the email filters could come in handy here, stuff that you know you'll want to read, but don't need to pay immediate attention could be routed outside of your inbox - stronger spam filters will definetely reduce time wasted on combing through large amounts of spam. I often read my RSS feeds while I'm eating lunch (since it doesn't require much keyboard work).
I also agree with the presenter at ACURIL that anything I need to know about will come to me, via family, friends or coworkers -I just lose brownie points - "You didn't know" GASP...

Nikki said...

With Library Learning 2.0 I kind of subscribed to way too many things and just thought oh that'd be funny or neat or whatever and got a little overwhelmed. Now with LL2.1 I know better. So I think having something to kind of organize everything I want to subscribe to would let me be more willing to choose more than I do now. I usually just talk myself out of so many things because I know I'll forget how to get there or my password or username or forget it's even there. So this is nice.

Marion said...

Corey seems to do this my instict and always has - or at least as long as I've known him. He's always doing multiple things and thinking of several things at once, and yet completes them all. I learned how to do this at the branch in Linn, where I could be talking to a patron on the phone, while looking up a reference question, making change or checking somebody out and usually a mixture of all of these in a few minutes. Sometimes jumping from one person to another as the computer was ready.

I do think some people are just naturally better at this than others and some of it does have to do with age or at least exposure to multiple things going on at the same time at an early age. My dad - who remembers when his family bought a radio - never understood how I could do homework and watch tv at the same time and get a good grade. But mom always had the radio or the tv on in the background when I was little.

Bobbi Newman said...

I've found the biggest obstacle is accepting I CAN NOT keep up with everything. It's not possible. So what do I keep up with? Well one way is that in GoogleReader I have LOTS of folder - Daily, Weekly, Blogs, Library Stuff, Friends, MRRL, LL participants, etc.

I think Francesca makes a great point - your network of people is really important, they will point you towards the things you need to see. Keep that group close.

Sometimes I'm a multi-tasking champ other times, I'm focused solely on one goal. Both ways work in different ways.

sexybeast said...

Like Bobbi, I have trouble getting it through my mind that I cannot keep up with everything. Organization is a big key and allowing others to help keep me inform is important too.

eyeoh said...

The best answer for me seems to be the most simple- Paring down my sources of information. I've minimized my feeds to a core of must-haves, based on what I've used in the last couple weeks. If I've not taken the time to read a feed or use a service in that amount of time, it must not be very important to me. Weed it! I can always return to it as my interests wax and wane.

moonbeam said...

I did the same as Nikki. With 2.0 I subscribed to so much. Now I have learned to pick and choose what I do. This was very helpful. Thanks.

betterlate said...

This is helpful. I sometimes do feel overloaded. I just need to get organized!

Heather said...

Thank you for making this a lesson, I often find myself distracted by the barage of options and information I have to choose from. I'd rather have more then less to choose from.

leslie said...

I'm glad you balanced the overload of what we get from the lessons with some tips on how to deal with all of them! Of course, knowing that I don't have time, I try not to sign up for things that don't appeal to me. Or, on a particularly overloaded day, the best thing to do is crawl into bed with a wonderful, old-fashion book (and my cat helps)!

justme said...

I have found that I've already started getting rid of e-mails that no longer interest me that once did. Work at the PCC and then going home to dialup keeps me off the computer at home. I love this place!

newbie said...

while I enjoyed the post "continuous Parallel Attention" I am just not that good at it. Especially on a difficult task, I seem to have zoom in focus.

madmusing said...

I guess working the reference desk pretty much defines information overload and multi-tasking. However, there are some good tips in the referenced articles. I had to laugh at the establishment of an info overload institute--just what we need, right? A bunch of academic articles on the subject. In many ways, we bring much of this overload on ourselves.

I Don't Know How She Does It! said...

Information overload is very real. I think it is why a great many of us are so forgetful. There is simply too much information for our brains to process. Knowing how to prioritize it is key. In Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point" this brain fact is discussed at some length. The point being that our brain's capacity to retain information does have actual limitations and those limitations are being exceeded on a daily basis....interesting stuff. I recommend the book and I also recommend a simpler lifestyle. Let's slowdown...just a little.

Robin said...

I totally get the idea that our poor little brains aren't capable of holding on to all the information that flows our way - this is why I'm such a huge fan of Remember The Milk, Evernote and various other tricks I use to offload information from my brain to a trusted "bucket" that I can access easily.