Productivity

Information overload slowing you down? How to regain control

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One thing we do NOT lack in this day and age is information.

So what do you do when you need to solve a problem (long-term or short-term)?

Like a student cramming for a final, you voraciously consume information, trying to find the ultimate solution to become richer/happier/healthier. The magic formula that will unlock the vault containing your dream life.

Naturally, the answer to your unique problem has to be somewhere out there, right?

You might be an info-junky if…

The next time Udemy offers a sale, you find yourself skimming all your other books/info products to make sure the course you want to buy covers at least one morsel of new content.

Yep, that was me.

In the fields of marketing and personal development, I’ve watched just about every webinar, subscribed to every newsletter, and read every article in existence.

Maybe it’s a carry over from school. I’ve always loved learning, and with the vast expanses of information online, it’s like I never left school.

Too much of a good thing?

I’ve since learned that Udemy offers these sales all the time. More importantly, though, I hadn’t finished reading–and implementing–all the information in the products I already owned! Yet here I was, looking for another silver bullet.

Plus, I wasn’t retaining what I learned. According to Miller’s Law, we can only process 7 chunks of information at a time.

Yes, learning IS empowering. And yes, as Jim Rohn says, “Self-education will make you a fortune.” It’s certainly a better use of time than scrolling through your newsfeed or divulging in celebrity gossip.

But…at some point you need to move from the learning to the doing phase.

My problem was that I was stuck in the learning phase. And no wonder. Learning is fun. It’s motivating.

On the other hand, doing–at least at first–is drudgery. It’s messy. Often, it’s demotivating.

Applying that SEO strategy is way harder than the YouTube video made it seem. Going from idea to outline to finished book takes way longer than the 30 days that guru promised you it would take.

But of course the magic can’t happen until we take action. And while the jolt of euphoria after reading an inspirational article is fleeting, the pleasure that comes from mastering a project–and overcoming all the bumps along the way–is long-lasting.

Here are some ways you can proactively turn knowledge into RESULTS:

1. Get the hard stuff out of the way first. Tackle your projects early in the day, when you have the most energy. That way you won’t have the guilt of procrastination hanging over you for the rest of the day. Save the fun stuff (reading articles) for the end of the day, as a reward!

2. In your daily schedule, set up clearly designated boundaries between info-consuming and action. For instance, you might read articles from 6-7 PM and work on a proposal from 7-8 PM. Ideally, the proportion of time dedicated to action should be higher than the time spent consuming. At the very least, clear time boundaries act as an anchor so you don’t drift off into hyperlink eternity. Better yet, pre-schedule your sessions on Freedom so that you automatically get kicked off the internet at a designated time.

3. Give the info products you own a clear chance before moving onto the next shiny object (i.e. Udemy course). Not only will this save money, but it helps fend off distraction. You see, when you keep chasing after new information, you lose your base of foundational knowledge. You’re left spinning your wheels, unsure where to turn next.

4. Turning info into fuel. Every time you consume a piece of information, follow it up with an action. Sometimes this is obvious. You watch a video on website building and then you go set up your website. In other cases, the connection between the information and the action is more indirect. For instance, say you’re a social media marketing expert. Why not reach out to that Ted Talks speaker you found so inspiring to see if you can handle their marketing campaign? Since the speaker’s message already resonated with you, your pitch will be more powerful than if you contacted someone you weren’t that familiar with. Plus, you won’t have to do that much extra research.

5. Write a takeaway from all the articles/videos you consume. The act of writing further implants the information in your memory (your teachers were right!). Plus, if you can condense the message to a single sentence, you’re much more likely to refer back to it later–unlike the hundreds of bookmarked pages on your computer (if you’re anything like me).

6. Don’t learn about something that you’re not ready to implement. For instance, I started watching a series of videos about using Amazon ads to promote your book. Luckily it didn’t take me long to realize I was wasting my time. At that point in the game, I hadn’t even finished the first draft! By the time my book was ready to be published, I would have forgotten everything. Instead, I focused on finishing my book.

7. If you think this information will be valuable in the future, you can make a list of “stuff I need to know later.” Tim Ferris expands on this idea in his podcast episode How to Handle Information Overwhelm (And Social Media). He also adds this useful pointer: Don’t bother learning things that might be useful to you someday!


120x123 Miracle of Self-Discipline

What I’ve discovered after implementing this advice

Ok, so I haven’t completely severed my love affair with info. But gone are the days spent mindlessly scrolling through mountains of content.

Instead, I consume information with a purpose in mind. This purpose is refined on a daily basis, based on whatever I’m working on at the time.

With this sense of direction, I now have an antenna that picks up on those nuggets of useful info glimmering amidst the piles of useless (for me, anyway) info. 

Should the content always relate directly to your purpose?

In other words, if you’re trying to improve your Photoshop skills, must you only read articles about Photoshop?

Not necessarily. The connection can be more indirect.

If you’re hyper-focused on your goals, then often you’ll still be able to glean some sort of lesson from the content that relates to what you want to achieve. It will either answer a question you’d had about a specific project or reframe the question.

At the very least, it will add another piece to the puzzle.

For instance, when I was brainstorming ideas for Generate Magic, I made a list of all the topics I had written or wanted to write about. It was a long, messy list.

Then I asked: How do I deliver a focused message without painting myself into a corner? This question drove me nuts for days. Every expert said to focus on ONE thing (for good reason), but the idea of writing only about one specific topic sounded unbearable!

I began to outline some potential blog posts to see if any common themes emerged. I also gave the question room to percolate.

Ask and you shall receive.

Two days after writing this question, I watched a webinar, listened to a podcast, and read an article. These activities were not directly tied to my question.

However, the main takeaway from the webinar was this: refine your mission. The message of the podcast (which wasn’t about marketing at all): you can (and should) ask for help, but first you need a clear picture of what you want. From the article (by blogging expert Jeff Goins), I learned this: when starting a blog, it’s NOT about your niche, it’s about your mission.

Bingo! That’s exactly what I was looking for. All three of these pieces of content related to the idea of having a clear mission.

When you know what you’re looking for, you’ll recognize the answers. Write out pointed questions, seek out the right channels, and consume information with those questions in mind.

Now, don’t misinterpret this as an excuse to go on a 24-hour infobinge.

Using info in a targeted way to help you reach your goals ONLY works if you’re actively working toward your goals. Otherwise, you’ll bound to get lost in a sea of content, never to return.

But when you’ve got your system worked out so that you’re consuming information in a purposeful way, using it as fuel to propel you through the production phase, you’ll be unstoppable.

Tell me: How do you deal with info overload?

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12 thoughts on “Information overload slowing you down? How to regain control”

  1. Hi Kate, thanks for your advice! I remember from last week how exhausted I was after reading and consuming too much information. It left me with zero productivity. I will make sure to take your advice on this. Great post!

  2. This is such great advice! I have been struggling with this a lot lately – I will definitely be saving your post as a reminder for when I feel like this again.

    1. Glad it helped, Alexandra! Another blogger mentioned this to me too, recently. I think a lot of us are going through this. We are want to support each other and there ARE tons of great writers in our groups, but if you interact with everyone, you have no time left for your own stuff!

  3. Fantastic! Exactly what I am dealing with recently. I feel like we are overloaded with information, it is not only difficult to recognise the credibility of each of them but it makes us confused and puts us down. I still did not find a good way of dealing with it 🙁

    1. Thanks for reading, Klara! Researching anything health related is particularly difficult when it comes to credibility (or lack of) and conflicting information. What I finally had to tell myself is that everyone’s body is unique and thus I have to take everything with a grain of salt. At a certain point I just have to exit out of all the Quora pages, comment threads, etc., or I’ll just go crazy.

  4. I like the idea of setting time blocks for info-consuming and taking action. Lately, I often find myself consuming information instead of creating my own content, so this is great advice 🙂

    1. Thanks, Laura! Yes, learning is so fun, isn’t it? But I suppose that’s why in school they always had you do a worksheet or write an essay after the lesson — so you could apply your knowledge.

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