I’m Claiming ‘Information Overload’

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A row of newspaper dispensers on a city pavement

I recently reached a breaking point with my desk where I was physically unable to continue working. Everything I touched hit something else and caused a landslide. I couldn’t see the desktop through the clutter. Not to mention the fact that my stupid. . .errrr. . .bountiful. . .lush. . .plant was shedding everywhere!

I called a ‘time out’ shut my TweetDeck, minimized my Outlook and began the seemingly arduous process of cleaning my desk. Not surprisingly, there were a few documents to be trashed and a couple of publications to pass along to the next reader. However, I was a bit stunned to find the largest clutter monster was the heap of articles, blog posts and news clippings that had peaked my interest, been deemed ‘must reads,’ and sunk to the bottom of the pile. As I collected the articles into a folder and took them to read that evening, I came home to an even greater surprise – two more of these ‘must read’ folders. Guess what? Their contents hadn’t been read either.

While I was impressed to find no duplicate articles, I was appalled by the volume of information that I felt the need to consume. Do I like being overwhelmed? Must I know the points and counterpoints for ever PR, marketing, advertising and social media-centric phenomenon? Apparently, I feel the need to glance over them, at a minimum.

I’ve subsequently sorted the articles and put them in priority order, which at least diminishes the pressure to read it all now. But will it be relevant by the time I get to it?

I’ve tried leaving multiple tabs and windows open on my browser and sneaking in a read or two between tasks. I’ve tried printing the long ones for at-home reading and skimming the short ones online. I’ve even tried picking only two per-day to read. Yet, I’m claiming ‘information overload.’ I obviously can’t read them all despite a strong desire to do so. That’s where you come in. . .

How do you resolve being on the brink of information overload? Where do you draw the line between ‘must read’ and ‘want to read?’ I would really love to know because I’m going to be reading 2010 content in 2020 at the rate I’m going.

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  • multicara

    I am constantly trying to find new ways not to feel overloaded. Right now when I am away from home and I have a moment to scan twitter, I mark articles I want to go back and read. I'm trying to mark one category a day to help feel a bit focused. I read articles either in the morning or evening. I don't always get to read everything I mark I figure whatever I got to read must be what I needed. Putting a time limit on how much time I spend at the computer is helpful too. There will always be more that can be done. At the rate of information, I will just have to miss some things. There is no way to keep up with it all and a lot of people are writing about the same subject with different point of views.

  • bethvonbehren

    I reserve the last 60 minutes of my work day to get caught up on my reading. Throughout the day, I do the same thing you do – I minimize online articles (NYT, Slate, etc.) I'm interested in reading and save them for later in the day (and with any luck, my computer doesn't crash and I still have them at the end of the day). Plus, I read the daily (local) newsapaper, local community paper (I work in government), my PRSA publications, and the local business paper. I try to make inroads into these each day. The last 60 minutes or so of the day is the perfect time because I'm usually past the point of being able to write (which is my biggest task of each day) or think or organize, so reading is the perfect thing to do (as long as I can stay awake, not always an easy task in itself when confronted with a lot of reading material).

    This is a good topic, however, because it is extremely important for PR professionals that we stay informed and that our knowledge base is diverse – not just our clients' issues or our company's or whatever. You never know when some tidbit of information you picked up somewhere will come in handy. OTOH, this can create an information overload situation. It's just unavoidable. On those days, it may be better to close everything and go for a walk in the sunshine.

  • lisakidder

    Great topic for the day after tax day! I'm overwhelmed with information at work and at home! I have an outlook folder for articles that catch my attention, but rarely have time to go back to them. I try to get in at least a half hour of industry-related reading early in the day, as I often find inspiration there. Information-overload, despite all the tools to manage it, is going to be THE challenge for business in the coming years.

  • Lex_D

    I got in the same habit as you (marking things as “must read” in my delicious account … and then never reading them). It sounds like a drag, but when I feel like my “to read” list is too long, I'll come in 30-60 minutes early and look over everything. I'm a morning person, so I feel like I'm better able to process information — and it's kind of nice when the office is quiet.

    Oh, and I get the first crack at the coffee ;)

    Also, our IT staff asked that I restart my computer once a day. It takes forever to do this (~10-15 min), so in that time I clean up my desk, briefly read hardcopy pubs, etc. It's seemed to work for me!

    @Lex_D

  • http://twitter.com/k_shak Kyle R Sharick

    From what i see, a lot of the information out there is repetitive. I try to read my favorite authors (PR Breakfast club for one ;) ) and i put the others in my “ReadItLater”. I commute so I get most of the reading I save done then. I know it's cheating for all you city locals. lol

  • Cybernaut

    Have you tried to scan instead of reading? Its kind of a light version of reading.
    I usually read some content for a concrete reason (rarely for pure joy, that's reserved for the weekends, like this one :). And save them somewhere (posterous, if I want to share, Facebook if I want feedback, Twitter if I want that content to be read and retweeted, and even private or online (secured) bookmarks if I think I might need to read it again (if there are some interesting graphs, research data, opinion I can quote sometimes etc). Do you know why you need to read all that articles? If you do, just prioritize. Or set an alert on topics you really NEED to track, and do the important stuff first. I usually leave psychology, philosophy and fun stuff for the weekend. Except if article is shared on facebook via some authority from friends list – then I read it, even if its not something I really need to know now.
    Hope this will help :)

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