Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

More Thoughts About Information Overload

Once again, my mind has been drifting towards the idea of information overload. A lot of that has to do with the amounts of information some people in my circle have been complaining about having to keep up with. At least, what they think they have to keep up with.

As you can probably tell, my stance on information overload hasn’t changed since I last wrote about it. I still think it’s a crock, and I still think that you can avoid it. As I wrote in a previous post on this subject, you need to take a hard look at the information that you’re taking in and start limiting it.

Here are the main questions you should ask yourself:

  • Do I need to keep on top of everything, even if I’m interested in it?
  • Will my life be any worse if I miss or don’t hear about something?
  • Do all of the sources of news that I follow offer different perspectives on a story, or do they repeat the same thing?

Chances are, the answer to the first two questions is no, and the answer to the third one is either yes or maybe.

Many folks out there pride themselves on amassing a huge hoard of facts and information. Much of it is related to the areas in which they specialize. But a lot of it is little bits of trivia — like the name of the plastic nibs on the ends of shoelaces and their sinister purpose. Beyond broadening our general knowledge, that trivia doesn’t really enhance your life all that much. If at all, really.

Think about the time and effort spent on trying to keep up. It’s time you could spend doing other things. No matter how much you try to cram into your brain, chances are when you need a fact or a quote or some background information you’re going to have to look for it.

Instead of trying to keep everything in your head, just try to remember (or note down) where you can find bits of information. Use your tools — the notebook, the search engine, bookmarks, social bookmarking services like Pinboard, tools like Simplenote or Evernote or Instapaper, or whatever else. It’s a far more efficient and better use of your time.

Then, monitor what you’re saving. If you haven’t looked at it in a week or two, then get rid of it. Chances are you’ll never get to that bit of information. If you find that you need it after you’ve gotten rid of it, then turn to your favourite search engine.

Finally, stop worrying about trying to keep up with all the information and trivia out there. Don’t even bother trying. It’s an impossible task. In the end, the effort doesn’t justify the reward.

I stopped trying to keep up with the fire hose of information out there a few years ago. I’m better off for it. Do I feel less informed than the people I know, people who seem to be obsessed with gathering as much information as they can? No. I have more time for whatever I want to do — writing, reading, walking, spending time with my family, or just relaxing.

Anyway, there’s only so much information that you can process. So I spend my time absorbing what I want to process, rather than what I think I should process. Doing that removes a lot of unnecessary overhead from my life.

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