How I’m Fighting Information Overload

Information Overload

My alarm jolted me out of bed. I looked over at the clock which read 5am. Before my first yawn, I reached for my iPhone.

Twenty emails.

My eyes were still trying to focus as I did my best to discern the text in the messages. A few comments from yesterday’s post. Today’s GroupOn deal. Amazon’s mp3 albums of the week…

After I scanned my email, I saw notifications from Twitter and Facebook. I checked those and began to scroll through my streams to see what I missed in the 6 hours since I fell asleep.

I rolled out of bed and plopped in my computer chair. My Chrome browser was already open with Google Reader in a tab. It seemed to be waiting there patiently for me to return. I refreshed the page and began to look through 500 unread updates.

I hadn’t even brushed my teeth yet.

Information Overload

This was my daily morning routine for the past year. In my last post, I talked about how I decided to shift into a new rhythm of life and focus on my impending marriage. I had no idea how my life would change.

Each day I found a new way to scale back and simplify. In just over a week, my life has shifted dramatically by making a few simple changes.

The biggest change was my decision to scale back blogging. I only posted one blog last week but I’ve decided to post twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Maybe more if there are some guest posts involved.

I also decided to scale back my blog reading committment. I haven’t unsubscribed from any blogs yet but I’ve definitely held back on commenting on every one of them.

In the middle of all of this, I began reading “The 4 Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferris (aff link). I’ve had this sitting on my shelf for months and I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical. I’m about half way through it right now and I can say that it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite reads of the year.

Based on some of the tips from the book, I’ve decided to incorporate the following elements into my routine. Since doing this, I’ve added a tremendous amount of time to my day.

3 Easy Strategies To Fight Information Overload

  1. Turn Off Push Notifications – I went into the notification settings of my iPhone and turned off all push notifications. This includes Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, HeyTell and more. I found that push notifications were one of the main culprits that kept me distracted all day.
  2. Unsubscribe From Everything – I probably get 40 emails per day from subscription services. Everything from daily deals to product annoucements. My inbox was constantly filled with email I didn’t need. More often than not, important emails were buried under the barrage of notification emails. I took about 15 minutes one day and unsubscribed to all of those.
  3. Fetch Email ManuallyThis has by far been the number one time saver. I tend to get between 50-100 “personal” emails per day. My phone pushes them out as soon as they come in and like a trained monkey, I check them immediately without fail.

I went from checking email 40-50 times a day to about 4-5 times a day. It became a lot easier to check less frequently without my pocket constantly buzzing. I’m planning to schedule specific times during the day where I will go in and check email.

The other big productivity killer was the email alert in my browser. Even if I missed the notification on my phone, the browser was vigilant to buzz me and put an unread count up at the top-right. I killed that and magically freed up more time.

2 Productivity Tips

Now that I have more free time, I am determined to use it wisely. Here are two things I have incorporated into my routine.

  1. Stop Multi-tasking- Without the constant distractions of my phone, I decided to stop multi-tasking all together. I have constantly struggled to stay focused on one task. The multi-tasking myth really just made me feel busy while doing a bunch of things at half-potential. Since I now have less vying for my attention, it has been easier to get things done. I recently hopped on the Evernote bandwagon and I can attest to the fact that it is an ingenious little app. Rather than stop a task when I have an idea, I just jot it down in Evernote. I can write it, speak it or take a picture and then get back to what I was doing.
  2. Increase Quality of Information- Since I scaled back reading so many blogs and news sites per day, I decided to increase the quality of information I am consuming. This has given me more time to focus on my book reading goal for the year. When I have free time online, I have been devouring TED talks. Now I feel significantly smarter in 15 minute increments. I highly recommend that site.

Redeeming The Time

All my free time in the evenings goes to my fiancé. Because I’m not getting notifications every few minutes anymore, I’m also not getting the eye daggers for having my nose in my phone all evening either.

I’m limiting my online personality and redeeming my IRL personality. It feels healthier and I feel less demand on me.

My morning routine is much more simple and I have had time to focus on spending time with the Lord…and sleeping in every once in awhile.

I’ve minimized the amount of information I’m consuming and I’ve increased the quality. I’ve discredited the balance myth and I’m adapating to this new season. I found my rhythm and I’m loving the song.

Do you have any tips to fight information overload?

Comments

  1. Excellent website you have here but I was curious if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics discussed in this article? I’d really like to be a part of online community where I can get feed-back from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Bless you!

  2. Paula Holt says:

    The fact that I can’t do everything I want to do has been the main reason why I allowed myself to get overwhelmed. It seems our culture equates suffocatingly busy with success.
    Paula Holt recently posted..Cancer Tattoos Tumblr

  3. Araceli Tate says:

    I recently did this myself. For example, if I allot one hour a day for blog reading, then I can keep doing that and still maintain boundaries around it. I was just talking to a co-worker about how I can be slammed all day and then leave at the end of the day feeling like I didn’t accomplish anything important. I like the idea of having different email addresses for specific usage.

    • I know exactly what you mean, Araceli. Busy work is definitely not synonymous with productive work. Once I learned the difference, I had to start being more intentional about how I use my time.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Really great points, Tony! I especially resonate with the multitasking and lessening the online interaction.
    Alison recently posted..Our generation’s watershed moment

  5. I struggle with the “all or nothing” attitude. I blog and read blogs regularly and then I suddenly just stop (like I have recently). I’m going to try to get back to regular blogging without letting it take over my life. And I love the idea of folders in Reader that a few people have mentioned. I’m going to do that right now.

    Since I haven’t read anything in my Reader in a month, I’ve been clicking “mark all as read” on quite a few blogs. I’m just going through and trying to get the highlights from my favorites. (Congrats, that makes you a favorite.)

    I don’t have to worry about notifications on on iPhone since I’m a poor college student that still has a flip-phone. I actually have to turn my computer on to see emails or facebook or anything else. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s inconvenient.
    jenn recently posted..* sniff sniff *

    • Hey Jenn, I completely understand what you mean with the all or nothing attitude. I’m much the same way. And yeah, the folders in my Reader keep me sane! :)

      Thanks for making me a favorite!

  6. I LOVE Evernote. Very insightful post. After the first few paragraphs, I was thinking, “This is my life!” Information overload. Not to mention, I get paid to sort through massive quantities of information (data-mining/forensics-related work) all day long, and I develop great solutions to condense the data into understandable information. But once you involve people (and consequentially relationships), the game changes. You can’t condense people’s thoughts and aggregate them while still engaging them as individuals (instead they all blend together).

    I decided to start organizing my personal information (inspired to do so by this blog post) by organizing my Google feed reader subscriptions into folders by category and/or relationship. I have a small group of core blogs I will now read daily because I know the authors personally and want to extend my relationship with them into the blogosphere. Almost everything else is organized topically, and I’ll be free to check it as I please.

    Thanks for sharing, and for motivating me to organize my own information better lol

    • “You can’t condense people’s thoughts and aggregate them while still engaging them as individuals (instead they all blend together).”

      That’s SO good, Dan.

      The categories feature is a huge help for me in Google Reader. I put in a handful of sites in my “Can’t Miss” folder. Everything else is categorized by subject and gets read at my leisure. That’s the only way I can do it and not let myself get overwhelmed.

      I’m glad I could help and thanks for stopping by!

  7. good reminders Tony, Evernote is a true gem, Loving it!!
    chris vonada recently posted..Unity, Chan and Paul’s Change of Plans

  8. Jules Gennari says:

    Hey Tony~ I have only read a few of your blogs but I absolutely love them. This one spoke to me today and I am embarrassed to share that I go through this “overload” breakthrough about every 3 months! However each time it is getting better and better. Unfortunately, I foresee “technology” addiction groups forming in the near future. Anyway, my boyfriend is big into the 4 hour work week and highly recommends it as well. SO keep up the good work and keep writing what the Lord is laying on your heart:)

  9. Love these insights, Tony. I’m finding it so difficult not to check email and social media first thing in the morning. It’s the first think I want to go to, but it’s just not necessary and kills your momentum.

    Also, like you said, sometimes a little unsubscribing is the best thing you can do :)
    David Santistevan recently posted..What Does A Worship Leader Do All Day?

    • It’s amazing how a little discipline goes a long way. I’ve incorporated just a handful of techniques and I’m already seeing the benefits.

      Now it’s just a matter of sticking to it!

  10. Good for you! I don’t subscribe to ANY ONE’S BLOG – and that is the reason. I’m starting to see it was very wise – that I choose when I read – or why – not when I get a notice. I manually push my mail on my phone but I do still get social media notifications – that doesn’t bother me – because I play “words with friends” and have lots of people I play with – keeps my mind sharp :) We do need to be in control of how we use our time. Connect – make a difference – and feel NO GUILT.
    Cindy Holman recently posted..Music Of Your Life

    • How do you check blogs? Just when you see them pop up in your social media streams? Still use book marks? I like Google Reader because it’s a one-stop shop for blogs and I can categorize them. Even though I’m scaling back, Google Reader helps keep my blog reading focused.

      But like you said, no guilt is key to finding rhythm.

      • If you go to my blog site – you’ll see that I have about 10 or so blogs that I feature on the right side of my page – and the last 3 blog articles that each author wrote. This is how I tell if someone has something new. There’s only a visual if I want to see it – and most of the time – I do :)
        Cindy Holman recently posted..Music Of Your Life

  11. Great tips, Tony. When I “broke up” with Facebook, I couldn’t believe how much more time I had to do other things IRL and online. Also, no matter how much I enjoy “hanging out” with my online buds, I’ve made a decision ,to place my real life friends and family first. I haven’t quite figured out what this means for my blog, but I’m pretty certain I am going to reduce the amount of times I post to 2x a week. Read 2 awesome posts last week by Jeff Goins on writing good content and about the amount of rest creatives need to do that-this played into my thought process about reducing the amount of times I post. Def check those out if you have time for a little more information. :)
    Keri recently posted..Cage The Elephant Sings Isaiah 26

  12. Jeremy Walker says:

    I’ve struggled in the past with excessive use of all kinds of different media. My mind is easily distracted by the “shiny” lights of a push notification or new email alert. And honestly, sometimes I can find myself being very anti-social with the world…this can include my family and friends.

    Realistically, if we are not careful, we all end up building this kind of world where we view people’s lives (through their blog or twitter updates) like their fish in an aquarium…we watch and occasionally tap on the glass…but we never take the time to actually interact. This totally robs us of the interaction we all need with other people, and the ability to better know who they are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve interacted with friends and family via their blog or facebook, and they literally live 5 minutes from me…it’s just crazy….and at some point you just have to stand up and create some boundaries for yourself.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents…thanks for the wisdom Tony!

    • Wow, that’s a great analogy Jeremy. I sometimes feel like a fish in the glass and sometimes like the human tapping on it.

      One of my main goals is increasing the quality of interaction. Tons of updates does not equal quality connection.

      Thanks for sharing bro.

  13. Social networks has created monkeys out of people. Robots per say. Multitasking has never been an efficient productivity system. The brain wasn’t created for that. This brings up stress really high and all the other aspects of our lives suffer.

    I live and breathe by my calendar. I schedule everything. And if I have (30 minutes: Respond to voicemails) that’s exactly what I do. I go somewhere and do just that. Nothing else.

    I also use Flow (moved away from things – need the cloud support) to work based on contexts. I have a context called “Computer” So if I’m in front of my computer, I can see all my tasks that are done in front of computer and schedule time just for that. No phone, no other distraction. I also have one “comment on blogs” and I schedule a 30 minute timeframe where I go on a comment spree, no other distraction. And so on and so forth.

    I’m glad you are doing this Tony. Keep up the good work.
    Moe recently posted..The Usual Suspects: Hannah

    • Have you tried Evernote yet? I just downloaded it last week after much speculation (I hate when everyone worships a new app) but it really is fantastic. Cloud-based too.

      You are definitely a productivity beast. I could learn much from you master yoda.

  14. Wow. This is some really good stuff. I think we all battle this, no matter what we do. I think the increase in quality information is key. Also the increase in quality work… not busy work. thanks man.
    Jonathan Pearson recently posted..Crave or Cram

    • Busy work is a killer for me. I was just talking to a co-worker about how I can be slammed all day and then leave at the end of the day feeling like I didn’t accomplish anything important. I want to completely get rid of that feeling.

      This morning I made a list of things that I needed to accomplish. It is a short list of 4 things and 2 of them are done. If I get the last two completed by the end of the day, I’ll have had a productive day. I can leave knowing that I was productive on those 4 tasks.

      That’s a good feeling!

  15. I have been forced in recent weeks to scale back dramatically (reading/commenting on blog posts and other social media) because of sheer ministry obligations and opportunities that God is placing before me. I also in the middle of that do not want to rob my wife and children of time so I have scaled back on the least important things – it could well be a permanent change but at this point I do not know.
    Jim F recently posted..The Set Up When Confronting

    • That’s wise, Jim. You have a lot on your plate as a pastor so I can imagine that time is precious.

      The other thing I’m working on is scheduling specific times for things. For example, if I allot one hour a day for blog reading, then I can keep doing that and still maintain boundaries around it. I have to see how that works out for me.

  16. I’m actually in the process of scaling back myself. I *finally* started going through and deleting social media profiles I don’t need/use anymore, and will probably axe the whole Google+ site soon. I barely use it and it’s mostly people I don’t know, rather than people I do (like FB).

    I’ve started going through and unsubscribing from blogs (and will probably unsubscribe from a few more), since I spend way too much time reading. I definitely want to consume more, but I think books, TED talks and even some sermons would be better for me right now.

    I really like the idea of turning off push notifications on my phone. Going to do that tonight!

    Glad to hear you’re getting your priorities in place and finding more inspiration in cutting back online!
    Jason Vana recently posted..He Has the Right

    • Yeah the whole Google+ thing didn’t really catch on for me either.

      I’m not sure if I’ll unsubscribe to blogs yet. I just browse through my reader at my leisure now and click “mark all as read” whenever it’s too much.

      I agree that sermons would be better for me as well. I subscribe to a couple of podcasts but don’t listen as regularly as I would like.

      Let me know how turning off push notifications works out for you.

      • You’d be surprised how many social media profiles I had that I wasn’t using/didn’t remember I had. Been cutting down to the core sites that I use to connect for myself, my ministry and my business.

        I have been doing the read all option as well a few times. If I don’t have time, it just wasn’t meant to be.
        Jason Vana recently posted..He Has the Right

  17. Bravo, T!

    I am not nearly as tech plugged in as you, but it’s still way too easy to be darting to my computer or iPhone VERY regularly, checking for updates, new comments or mentions, etc.

    I’m thinking about giving myself time limits, or certain times when I can look at stuff. Otherwise, I feel like my mind is always half on other things, when my boys should be getting all my attention. :-)

    Love to you and the fetching Miss K!
    Cathy recently posted..You Call That a Hug?

  18. We have 21st century access to information, but often we still use 19th century ways of filtering what information we consume. The key to handling information overload is to understand, like you have, that we’re going to have to make some tough calls. You simply won’t be able to read, watch, or listen to everything you want to.
    Loren Pinilis recently posted..Action Isn’t Optional

    • The fact that I can’t do everything I want to do has been the main reason why I allowed myself to get overwhelmed. Seasons change and those changes call for different priorities. I can’t do everything I did in the last season. The sooner I am okay with that, the sooner I’m released from the guilt and pressure.

  19. This is excellent. I have often found myself in the same quandary. Great advice.
    kd sullivan recently posted..Defining the Word Christian

  20. Thanks so much for the insight, Tony! It seems our culture equates suffocatingly busy with success. It’s refreshing to see someone debunk this myth. Oh, and TED talks are awesome!
    Allison Rivers recently posted..Combating Perfectionist Purgatory

    • It’s crazy how I always felt busy but never had anything to show for it. I’ve had some serious productivity issues. I would always do a lot of things but usually not the things that I really needed to get done.

      I’m starting each day with a list of tasks to accomplish. If I get through those in the day, I’ll know I was productive. If the day is coming to an end and I don’t have everything crossed off, I’m tuning everything else out and working to get things done.

      It’s simple yet SO effective.

  21. Hurray! We’ve acclimated to technology and its ever-increasing advance, and now we have to relearn how to handle the information overload, couldn’t agree more.

    I also have specific time limits for blog reading and social media. I have a morning schedule, so that by 9am, I’m done blogging and interacting on other blogs, I’ve had my coffee and read my Scripture for the day, and I’m ready to actually start my work day by attacking emails. I am not always perfect at this, but the schedule keeps me on track.
    Stephanie S. Smith recently posted..Who is My Shelter

    • Boundaries are my weak point. If they aren’t clearly defined, 20 minutes becomes 2 hours. That’s a big one that I’m working on.

      Turning off the push notifications has done a world of good for me. Every time I reach for my phone now, I check the clock and remember that it was only a few minutes ago that I last checked. It forces me to wait and stay focused.

  22. Tony,

    I want to tell you it’s okay if you unsubscribe from a few blogs (mine including). I recently did this myself.

    I scaled back to about 15 of my favorites and instead of having constant reminders in google reader, I make lists on twitter and facebook to help me catch any in between posts I’ve been missing.

    Another thing I did was become less active online. The results have been wonderful! Instead of spending time online, I’ve managed to
    walk through cornfields and be inspired with God and then return to write some posts I’ve been proud of.

    The inner Duane wants to be hanging out with friends online all day. The married Duane with responsibility and a healthy reproof from God knows better.

    I’m so glad you’re getting married! I’ve noticed married men’s blogs are interesting because I think their wive’s help them locate their inner feelings better.

    Write me something that makes me cry?

    Just kidding.
    Duane Scott recently posted..dry answered by keviana

    • I’ve definitely received a lot more clarity for my ideas since scaling back. I always have ideas bouncing around in my head but now that there is much less clutter in my thoughts, I can more easily expand on my ideas.

      I know how you feel about the inner vs married Duane. I’m realizing that online hangouts just don’t work like they did when I was single. And I’m okay with that.

      I don’t know if Katie will make me write a blog that will make you cry…but I’ll do my best. :)

  23. It has been really nice not daggering you with my eyes. ;)

    I’m so proud of you, Tony. It’s not easy to find a new rhythm, but your doing an amazing job. I love you!
    Katie M recently posted..Do Not Be Surprised…

  24. I’ve felt almost exactly like this as of late, and like Keith, I’ve pushed most of everything to my reader so I can just go in and dip into it when I want.

    Like you, I’ve commented less on other blogs, but I’m still reading, and I’ve turned off push notification on a ton of different apps.

    Good for you, in spending more time w/ your fiancee and getting less eye-daggers. Better to learn that sooner, than later :-)
    Ben recently posted..10 Guidelines for Kiersten’s Leaders

    • Yeah man. I’m still reading but I don’t feel the same urgency. The other thing I’m learning is how to really determine what is urgent and what isn’t. It’s freeing when you release yourself from things that aren’t as important as you suspected.

  25. I know what you’re talking about, Tony! Read 4HWW a couple of years ago and learned a lot.

    In practicing #2 (Unsubscribe), I try to push everything possible to my feed reader. That way I can go dip in when I want, but it doesn’t come to me.

    I also use 4-5 separate email addressses, each serving a specific role in my life: personal, job, blog, spam. Some I check a couple of times a month. Others every day.
    Keith Jennings recently posted..How Do Our Hearts Die?

    • I like the idea of having different email addresses for specific usage. I have one that everything comes through right now.

      I’ll have to spend some time figuring out how to do that most effectively.

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