Too Much, Too Fast. What To Do About Information Overload

Do you feel like you are drowning in a sea of information?

Blog posts, articles, ebooks, videos, podcasts, images, and more.

Like most web designers and other freelancers, you’re probably flooded with information. You probably receive newsletters and blog posts in your email inbox every single day. You also check several important industry blogs and news sites daily. In addition, you have to keep up with what’s going on with your clients and in your personal sphere. Whew!

Don’t feel bad if you’re overwhelmed. That’s a natural response to information overload.

If you tried to absorb everything that was thrown at you, you probably wouldn’t be able to do it. Even if you spent the entire day reading and listening to podcasts.
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In this post, I share a brief overview on information overload. I also share four tactics for overcoming it.

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What Is Information Overload?

Information overload refers to the fact that there is more information available than any one individual can realistically absorb. If you feel that you can’t get caught up with trends and changes, you’re absolutely right. You can’t.

As technologically savvy citizens of the Internet, we tend to think of information overload as a modern problem. And while information may be more available and coming at us more quickly than ever before due to the web, the problem of too much information is not new.

Ann Blair, a Harvard history professor, explains exactly how old the problem is in her post on the Harvard Business Review, Information Overload’s 2,300-Year-Old History. It’s true. Even in ancient times, folks were feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information available to them.

Information overload may not be a new problem, but it’s a very real problem. Obviously, if you spent all day, every day, reading blog posts and articles about web design in an attempt to keep up, you wouldn’t get any work done.

Fortunately, there are some tactics you can use to manage information.

Tactic #1. Specialize

Specializing your web design practice can also help you manage information. Now, instead of trying to know a little of everything there is to know about web design, you can focus mainly on your design specialty.

Specialization allows you to go deeper with your knowledge and really become an expert in a few chosen areas. If you specialize in an web design area that’s also in demand, specialization also increases your value to your clients.

Of course, even as a specialist you should still be aware of general web design trends and changes. But you don’t have to worry about keeping up with every detail in every specialty. And that’s a time saver.

Tactic #2. Filter

A second tactic for managing information is to learn to distinguish the useful information from the rest.

Even though there’s a lot of information available, not everything is useful to you as a web designer. That’s why it’s important to develop a good means for filtering information.

If you’re not sure about whether a particular piece of information is useful, here’s a checklist of questions you can use to help you decide:

  • Will this information help me as a web designer?
  • Will my clients ask me about this information?
  • Are industry leaders interested in this information?
  • Is this information about a client?
  • Am I personally interested in this information?
  • Do I already know this?
  • How long will this take me to read (or listen to)?

As you can see by looking down the list, you can eliminate a lot just by applying the checklist. Skim articles that you aren’t sure about rather reading than the whole thing.

Not only will applying this checklist save you time, it will also help you to make sure that you do get the information you need.

Tactic #3. Get Organized

Disorganization can also contribute to information overload. Did you ever read a post or article and halfway through, realize that you’ve read it before? Unless you are intentionally rereading the material, you’re wasting time.

Fortunately, there are some great ways to organize information to help make it more useful. Here are just a few:

  • Keep a list of useful blogs and sites you review regularly. If you’re like most freelancers, there are a handful of website and blogs that you rely on for information. For most of us, we tend to rely on memory to return to those sites. Why not make a resource list instead?
  • Make web searches specific. If you’re doing research, the more specific your search, the more quickly you will find useful information. For example, a web search on “web design” returns over two billion results. A search for “responsive design for mobile commerce” reduces the number of results drastically.
  • Limit your web time. It may seem hard at first, but you can find most of what you need to know in an hour or less a day if you are careful about what you read. If you know you have limited time, you’ll be less tempted to waste time on posts, images, and articles that have little value.
  • Take notes on really important stuff. Keep a notebook by your desk and jot down the main points of the really significant materials you find online. You’ll remember more and you’ll also have a source to go back to if you need to review the material. (You can also keep your notes online.)

Once you’ve organized your online learning, you’ll probably find that you feel like you’ve accomplished more. You may also enjoy the learning more.

Tactic #4. Defer Information

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Another practice that contributes to the feeling of information overload is the idea that you have to absorb everything you can right away. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some information is better saved until you need it.

Putting information aside until you need it (or deferring it), not only makes sense, it can save you time too. Imagine that you save a post about a new design trend. A few days later you notice another post on the same topic, so you save it too. Later, when you have time to study the topic, you notice that the first post is not as complete as the second. You realize you can skip reading the first one.

Fortunately, technology can help you save posts and other online materials for later. Here are six neat tools to help you save information (in alphabetical order):

  1. DotDotDot. Free. Runs on the iPhone or iPad.
  2. Evernote Clearly. Free. Runs on the Firefox, Chrome, or Opera operating systems.
  3. Flipboard. Free. Runs on the iPhone, iPad, Android devices, or Blackberries. It is also available for Windows.
  4. Instapaper. Price varies. Runs on the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. It also runs on the Kindle.
  5. Pocket. Free. Runs on iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. It also runs on Kobo and Chrome.
  6. Readability. Free. Runs on iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. It also runs on Mac and on Firefox.

While each tool works a little bit differently, you’re bound to find one that can help you.

Your Turn

How do you keep from being overwhelmed by all the information out there?

Share your information overload tips in the comments.

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