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Information overload: 5 simple but critical tricks to avoid it

Anyone who wants to be both up to date with their personal development, knowledge and skills and remain connected and current with their information-sharing is there already. The pile of unread business books grows ever-higher, reading lists now prioritised latest release-first to at least attempt to keep up with what’s new.

Subscriptions to business magazines, specialist and trade press act as a learning placebo – at least until they too become mounting glossy mountains. RSS readers, intelligent magazines and niche aggregators all serve to add to your stress, tempting you with even more that you didn’t know you needed to know.

Your social network feeds may contain gems and vital knowledge, but they also hold hidden terrors to remind you of how much information is flowing that you’re not keeping on top of.

And all of this is you as a consumer. As a writer and producer of original content for your expert status within your niche sector, take everything above and turn the importance up 10x.

Worried? Stressed? Well you should be. This is only the start. Server capacity, storage capacity and speed of upload, transfer and access all lubricate the information pipes. Pre-internet is still a memory for about half the population of the world: it’s hard to imagine how things will have moved on when they’re a small minority.

The huge problem for most CEOs, entrepreneurs and founders is that they can’t opt out of this. They can try and believe that they already know all they need to know. That what got them to where they are now is all they need. Well they’re wrong, and if you’re one of them then you’re wrong.

Leaders can’t avoid their accountabilities to develop for the good of those they lead and development requires constant learning and skills growth. If something isn’t done to achieve this, and overcome information overload, then you run the risk of failing to be the best leader you could be. An important part of what a CEO does is to develop the insights/ perceptions/ abilities to detect patterns of change and relate them to your landscape, industries, competition and business. This cannot happen in isolation.

5 simple tricks to avoid information overload:

  1. Remove the irrelevant… and most of it’s irrelevant – mainstream media wasn’t even mentioned above, and yet most business people still consume too much of the wrong information and too little of the important. Removing the irrelevant is about recognising what challenges your thinking rather than confirming your existing thinking. Too much of what you consume is what interests you rather than what should be of interest to someone in your position. Most people can’t do different and better in their business without first thinking differently about their business, markets and the wider world.
  2. Always have a purpose – people often fail to learn and develop effectively because there’s no point to it. They don’t have medium and long term goals. They’re always being impacted by external forces rather than having their own sense of direction. By knowing where you want to go and what you want to achieve, you can then work out what you need to know to achieve your goals. Even the small act of deciding on your objective in reading a book or article makes you a more effective consumer of the information contained in it.
  3. Love technology and get lean with your information – because you can’t consume everything that you should consume to do better in your business, you need to go with technology changes and use them to your advantage. As much as good RSS readers like Feedly or smart magazines like Flipboard can seem like they add to the information overload, you can use them differently to challenge your existing thinking. Both of the apps above work with our natural attraction to beautiful things so that information consumption is immediately easier. Even though RSS readers unlike smart magazines only give you back what you’ve signed-up to, when used together the smart magazines can put things in front of you that you wouldn’t otherwise chose to experience – then you can sign up to their feed. Most importantly though, the interfaces of both apps enable fast scanning of headlines and stubs of content. Stay  self aware as you scan for perspectives that spike your attention and then quickly delete or ‘mark as read’ the rest. Services like Pocket enable you to capture anything you need to read later.
  4. Fit your gaps – when you’ve removed the irrelevant and got your technologies in place, start to fill the dead-time gaps in your day. Rather than shaving a couple of emails off your inbox while you wait in line for the ATM, scan your feeds or saved articles in Pocket. These attention gaps can be strangely powerful because you’re in a different context and often the intervention of a new perspective or learning can stick with you far longer than in a formal information consumption setting.
  5. You’ve still not removed enough of the irrelevant – remove some more! – we started with this point and we end with it because it’s so core to your success. Unless you tailor your information flows to what you need to know, rather than what interests you, you’re lost. You will drown in overload and lose your way. Work with a coach to tailor information flows which fit your needs and implement the latest theory you need to develop.

About Si Conroy

Family man, founder/CEO, investor & CrossFitting ultra runner. Businesses apply cognitive science to goal setting & goal achievement for leaders. Love life.

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