Navigating Through the Information Overload

by David B. Bohl

In our increasingly-competitive, always-on world, we face complex challenges that require a more advanced process of evaluation, especially in our careers. This is an evaluation that we very often don’t possess the time or energy to focus on. We search for clues and inputs from our universe to assist us, yet we become overwhelmed with the sheer number of choices in front of us.

The problems come once we realize that we’ll never have all the information we need to make proper evaluations and decisions. That is, there simply isn’t enough time in a day, week, or lifetime to analyze all the options. This causes us to again feel inundated – so much so that it paralyzes us from making any decision to commit, build determination, act, or sustain any effort.

So the question remains: how do we learn to navigate and manage all of this information, as a means of making better decisions and moving forward with a life plan for happiness and success?

You Take Control of the Information Instead of Letting the Information Take Control of You

Each morning, I sift through 200-300 RSS feeds, 100 or so emails, a handful of podcasts, and several interactive video broadcasts and blogs. I rationalize that I can do this only by getting up extra-early so that my phone isn’t ringing and interrupting me while I’m trying to ingest, process, and file all of this data.

Of course, I don’t read each and every piece of info, and I don’t read the entirety of each bit I open. I scan headlines, keywords, descriptions, and opening paragraphs. I immediately delete what I don’t think I can use, but other things I bookmark so that I can study them at some unspecified later date, which I often never do because tomorrow, or even an hour from now, there will be hundreds more bits of newer and better collectible facts to take their place.

And while all of this is going on, I suddenly realize that I’ve read halfway through an article or blog post and realized that, although I’ve been “reading,” I haven’t been consciously processing the information. Sure, I might be thinking about that 16-oz. fillet that I’m going to sear on the grill tonight, but hopefully I’ve been led to something more productive. My brain has taken all the information, processed it, related it to what I already input and stored there, and embarked upon the process of creativity and flow.

I find a new energy and focus. I stop surfing and reading. I take control of all the information and utilize it. I set out to immerse myself in my work or project, confident that I now know where I’m going. I suddenly realize that I have enough information. This is my morning ritual of in-taking new data and working it into my day’s work and outcome. It works for me because it is aligned with the way my mind operates. It may work for you; or, maybe something entirely different will.

Some tips for avoiding “zoning out” and getting yourself back into the flow:

  • Don’t become overly-obsessed with information – control and organize it.
  • Try to set a specific time and/or days of the week to check news, feeds, and other content, and set a time limit.
  • Be brutally honest. Ask yourself “If I bookmark this, will I ever make the time to come back to it?” A no or weak “maybe” answer equals an immediate delete.
  • Be confident that your brain is more powerful than any bookmarking system. Once you read something, know that you’ll retain the key points. You’ve probably already built on them before you even finished reading the copy.
  • If you haven’t gotten back to something you saved within a few days, you probably won’t, and it will be a burden to you. Delete it.
  • Pay attention to what you subscribe to. Try to notice what “trips your trigger” and what doesn’t. Lighten up when you can.
  • Allow your imagination and creativity to expand. Yes, there will be more information in tomorrow’s pipeline. But you have the ability to process it in your own unique way – a way that no one else can. Allow your mind’s eye to express its ingenuity and resourcefulness.

In its simplest form, it’s a matter of flow – not only in allowing oneself to be flexible and to deal with seeming a constantly-changing landscape around us, but also in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s definition of flow whereby a person is able to fully immerse himself in what he’s doing while finding energy, focus, creativity, and success through that process – or as I’d call it, “living fully in the moment.”

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