At one time, magazine subscriptions were my main source of information. I used to wait with anticipation for my monthly edition of Life, Look, National Geographic, and Readers Digest. Later on, my tastes changed to such titles as Mad Magazine, Car & Driver, Heavy Metal, Runner’s World, and Omni. Of course, as an adult professional, I read many academic and trade journals and magazines, along with general interest and news magazines like Time AND Newsweek, I even subscribed to Mother Jones for a while.
Between magazine subscriptions and textbooks, I had all the information I needed. It strikes me that I could write an autobiography of my life, using only the magazine subscriptions I have received to show the changing threads and activities.
Today, I no longer wait with anticipation for paper to arrive monthly or weekly . I have no paper subscriptions. My subscriptions now come digitally and daily, flowing into my inbox with the overwhelming force of millions of tiny pebbles.
My work involves knowing something about several diverse fields, so I subscribe to more than the usual number of email lists, newsletters, blogs, and so forth. Each one is small and easily handled, but as the numbers rise, so does the difficulty, along with a real sense of things being out of control. If I choose to search online, I have instant access to much, much more.
One of the most common mantras in my work and personal life these days goes something like this: “I have too much information coming at me … What do I do with it all?”
I suffer from the TMI (Too Much Information) syndrome, as you might also. Here are four important actions which will help us both deal with this crippling affliction:
ORGANIZE IT …
Use digital folders in your email inbox to organize and categorize what you are receiving. Do the same with any virtual curation applications, such as Feedly. Organizing the flow of information provides two important up front benefits: 1) You can grasp the quantity of information flowing from each source and within each category, and 2) You can review what you are receiving much faster.
Caveat: Some say create your categories first and fit the information into them. Others say let the streams of information create the categories as you go. I go with both: Determine some obvious categories to start and then add or adjust as proper.
USE IT …
If you have an immediate need for a piece of information, use it. This will make remembering that information more likely in the future and over time, give you a sense of which sources are providing the most useful information to you.
Then you can decide whether you need to save that information, retrieve it later if needed, or can toss it. You have already received value from the information and it has been hardwired into your memory a bit more securely.
SAVE IT …
By “Save” here, I mean keep a bit of information for a longer time. For example, you may need a particular bit of information at a known future point, but not now. Using the categories means that you are more likely to be able to find that information when you need it.
Two caveats here: 1) Do NOT save anything because you “… might need it sometime.” If you do not have a specific and distinct future need, do not save it and, 2) If you can retrieve the information from somewhere else if needed at a later date, let that “somewhere else” save the information, so you are not cluttering up your files or hard drive.
THROW IT …
The Gold Star of managing information. If something is paper and you do not have a current or specific future need for it, or if it can be retrieved from somewhere else if needed, toss it.
If the information is digital, just hit “delete“, lean back, and smile:)
Every blessed one of these four potential events involves one common initiating action:
YOU HAVE TO DECIDE WHAT TO DO WITH EACH PIECE OF INFORMATION
Do this first and you only need to choose the proper action to comply with your decision.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
I should note here that this is not a complete set of instructions on how to do all this … just enough to give you a sense of how to tackle that “full-force fire hose stream” of information coming into your life.
I’ll share more at another time about how to actually create the system that does all this.
Feeling both well-organized and totally out of control at the same time in the Heartland ….