Information Overload!

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 myno surfing 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.

STOP IT!

In an effort to get our attention, some of you folks are See what you are missing on Workplace. Dave Lee. 1 Message. 52 new notifications. 48 Group updates. 24 group invitations.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.

Featured Image by Brandon Lopez on Unsplash

Learning that 110% isn’t Good

My last post was almost two months ago.  What happened?  To be honest, in the spirit of Working Out Loud, I have to work on not working so hard and setting limits.

For most of the past two months, I have been working on a tremendously exciting project with Julian Stodd’s Sea Salt Learning group.  Serving as Online Community Manager for a senior leadership program applying Julian’s work on social learning, storytelling for business and social leadership has been a tremendous opportunity.  I dove in – and let it consume my life.

I let it override my other projects – preparing to launch my own consulting practice, completing the website for said practice, keeping up with my blog, twitter and other social networking efforts, preparing for the Skill Application Exam for the CPLP certification, etc.

Why?

Passion – I LOVE what I do.  I totally get into understanding how learning works, why it doesn’t, and how to help people learn what they need to learn.  There’s nothing wrong with passion for my work.  Too many people got to work every day just because its’ how they pay their bills.  They just go through the motions.  I value my passion for what I do, but I also let it carry me away.  I’ll spend hours reading articles and related research because I come across a link and then another.  All relevant, all interesting.  But all taking up time I should be spending on other things.

Disdain for Regimentation – At times when I’ve caught glimpses of colleagues calendars and they have every waking minute scheduled for the next two months, I literally have shuddered.  My Mom has such a structured life (which she adores) that I know exactly where she will be nearly every day of every week.  Both extremes, but I default to the other end of the spectrum.  It may come from years of learning to cope with ambiguity and living a life not fearful of failing.  I love change, ambiguity is my friend, resilience is probably one of my best qualities.  But living in these states prevents me from the at least minimal structure I need to get to the gym or to blog regularly.  Things I WANT to do.

Perfectionism – This one has provided a career for a couple therapists over the years.  No matter what I’m doing, I can always imagine doing it better than what I currently am.  Sometimes it freezes me into inaction and other times it leads me to look for another research paper or revise a document one more time when it already is good enough for the job at hand.  At it’s worst, I delay and delay and then hurriedly complete a project that could have been better if only I hadn’t worried about it being perfect.

Focus and Effort – Yet again another double-edged sword.   I can easily get tunnel visioned on projects and give them 110% effort.  In theory, this is a great characteristic.  In theory, I would have all the time in the world available for every project.  In practice, to have time to complete everything I need and want to do, I need to divide my focus.  Working late into the night might feel good because I’m getting a lot done, but regular sleep and exercise are necessary for long-term success.

Clearly, I have a pretty good line of sight on at least some of my flaws.  So why don’t I just change them?  I see the benefit in the change.  But these same characteristics have driven my success over the years.  They are habits I’m comfortable with and habits are hard to change.

But I owe my clients better.  I owe my partners better.  I owe myself better.

One of my favorite quotes from Julian Stodd’s work is:

the things that got us this far will not get us the rest of the way.

So time for some self-reflection.  Time to get serious about working-out-loud.  Time to set my priorities and plan for all of the components needed to make my great life even better.

Feature Image provided by openclipart.com

What do you think?  Do you struggle with any of these characteristics?  Any advice?  Please feel free to comment below.

work at learning/learning at work blog carnival

in march, dave ferguson started a new blog carnival centered around topics in workplace learning. blog carnivals are “events” in which bloggers contribute posts on a given subject which are listed on a host blog. The host blog usually rotates from one blog to another on a regular basis.

Check out the first work at learning/learning at work blog carnival event on dave’s blog.

Manish Mohan has taken on the task of hosting the next event on his blog Life, The Universe, and Everything about eLearning and Content Development. Manish is particularly looking for contributions from learning and development professionals who are working from outside North America. He asks that you provide a permalink for your post and a short intro, but he doesn’t give clear direction on where to send it. I received his call for contributions through facebook so you can try there. You can also find him on LinkedIn and of course through his blog.

Dave Ferguson on 4/17/09

Dave, nice to reconnect. And thanks for highlighting the blog carnival… the theme of “work at learning; learning at work” seems to allow for a wide range of ideas without being so broad as to have no cohesion at all.

I’m looking forward to seeing who else is participating.

Dave Lee on 4/19/09

I agree with you, dave. I like the overall theme.

I’m even conjuring up an idea for a topic myself. i’ll drop you an email to discuss it off blog. 😉