I have a confession to make – I’ve lost control of my information sources again. But who can blame me? I currently have the following pipelines of new information that I try to monitor daily and, if not, at least weekly:
- 5 email accounts (3 Gmail, 1 Yahoo, 1 iCloud)
- 5 newsfeeds (3 Facebook, 1 LinkedIn, 1 Twitter)
- 3 text messaging accounts (2 Facebook, 1 Android)
- 4 Slack accounts
- 3 Job feeds (LinkedIn, ZipRecruiters, Indeed)
- 1 LinkedIn messages
- 1 What’s App account
- 1 Pinterest account
- 1 CNN News
- 1 ESPN (I’m a hopeless sports geek)
That’s 25 primary sources and it doesn’t include my blog aggregators and other content aggregators. No YouTube. No local Chicago news. No books. Clearly, this list of 25 is deficient. Yet, a rough analysis of these pipelines (excluding CNN/ESPN) indicates I’m dealing with 500-600 new messages every day. If I spent 60 seconds on each item, I’d clear them all in 8-10 hours!
What can I do? What can anyone do?
Create email labels/folders: This one I have down Gmail’s labels have been a godsend to me. I have 185 labels in my business account and 92 in my personal account.
Filtering emails – I’m pretty good here as well. I create filters to move “interesting, but not urgent” emails out of my inbox and store them under the appropriate label. I have 84 filters in my business account and 54 in my personal account. This works particularly well for community or individual news feeds that I don’t want to trash, but can’t take the time to read everytime they show up.
Unsubscribe – How many times have you had to “register” with a website or organization just to get them to send you that ebook or research report you just have to have. Turns out the ebook or report is basically pablum and now you’re stuck getting email after email after email because you’re now on their mailing list.
Earlier this summer I started taking some dead time (ie, when the TV’s on) and would go on unsubscribe rampages. Thus far I’ve probably unsubscribed from over 100 email subscriptions (a few years back, all such email was required to provide an unsubscribe link in every email sent out in bulk. It’s usually at the very end of the email in very tiny print.)
These are the things I’ve been doing. They’ve gotten things down to the numbers I listed above.
Now for the hard work
So I’ve done some basic pruning and shearing, but I still am surrounded by a jungle of information. It’s time for drastic measures.
Purpose – What is it I need to know and why? Does it forward my current project? Add to my career development? I’ve fallen into the habit of following interesting hyperlinks, joining mailing lists, and wandering off to the far corners of the internet only to find myself thinking “how did I get here?” and “why am I even reading this?” I have to make sure that what I’m about to read, watch, listen to adds to what I’m trying to accomplish at that moment, on that project, or my career.
This won’t be easy. I’ve always lived with the fear of what if I’m looking at the wrong thing, studying the wrong content, or following the wrong group.
Focus – OK, time for another confession. I’m an information hoarder. I have a curiosity for anything new – new ideas, new technologies, new contacts, new organizations. etc. I gather all kinds of information about a myriad of topics, much of it “just in case I need it down the road.” Afterall, everything is changing.
But our field is far too broad for anyone to keep up with everything. I need to buckle down and further refine what it is that I want to focus on and then become ruthless about leaving communities, stop monitoring blogs and resource sites, and ignoring “bright shiny things” in content areas outside my defined focus. Getting rid of some of the trees and brush will help thin out this jungle.
Have a Plan – With a purpose and focus defined, I need to set out a schedule of when to answer emails, read new material. Currently, my searching and reviewing new content is ad hoc surfing. Not the most efficient nor effective way to go about it.
One tactic that seems to be helping is that I’m trying to divide the searching and the reading (viewing, listening). I now have a list in the Sort’d extension for Gmail where I store links to content I want to review. I can then prioritize and review things from that list in concentrated windows of time.
But It’s Not All Me
Now that I’ve dissected my approach to dealing with the fire hose of information coming at me, I have some new tactics to try. But I’ll close with a bit of a caveat that is a plea to vendors, thought leaders, and community managers everywhere.
In an effort to get our attention, some of you folks are putting way too much out. Here is one example from a community I want to be a part of. But 125 messages, notifications, updates and invites since the last time I logged in!!! (Fortunately, I have my email notifications for this group mostly turned off.)
A short little blog post by FeverBee entitled The Hidden Costs Of Pursuing High Engagement addresses this from the perspective of the Community Manager pointing out that too many outreach messages – including everyone welcoming newcomers – can end up driving potential members away.
So what do you think? How do you deal with the information overload that is a part of our daily life? Am I overlooking alternative solutions? Please add to the conversation by commenting below.