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How to Survive Communication Overload, Part 1

Mitchell Kapor, a pioneer in personal computing, said “Getting information off the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” Learn how to walk away from the fire hydrant and start drinking from the faucet.

By
Lisa B. Marshall,
Episode #159

by Lisa. B. Marshall

I know people who check Facebook, answer email, and read the news from their smartphone or tablet before even getting out of bed. Ok, guilty! I did exactly that just this morning. What do you think? Is that communication overload?

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Think about all the information that comes at you every day. News stories, blogs, emails, Facebook status updates, tweets from everyone you’ve ever decided to follow. All day long enticing information is pushed at us and we have a hard time passing it up. For many of us, it’s too much! Just too much information. Communication overload hurts our productivity, makes us feel overwhelmed, and sometimes even causes physical stress. 

In this two-part episode, I’ll talk about 4 tips to help you survive information overload. 

Tip #1: Focus on Credible Sources

For those addicted to information and communication, you don’t need to know and talk about everything!

Really.

Mitchell Kapor, a pioneer in personal computing and founder of Lotus Development Corporation, said, “Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.”

Similarly, when I’ve taught university-level research courses, students often told me that they were struggling with the same problem. They were finding too much information on topics and weren’t sure how to narrow it down. (This will show my age, but it’s the exact opposite of the problem that I had as a student!)

In essence, students asked me for a strategy for drinking from a faucet instead of from the fire hydrant.

So, how do you do that?

Since you’re here reading something from the Quick and Dirty Tips network, you’ve already discovered one smart way of doing this and that is to filter the information by the source. Specifically, it’s important to limit your information searches to credible, reliable sources. Students do this by choosing peer-reviewed journals. For the rest of us, we do this by focusing our information gathering from known, credible experts, such as the ones you’ll find on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. That way, you’ll not only reduce the quantity of information you review, but you will also help to maintain the high quality of information you receive. 

Often another suggested solution to communication overload is time management. But what does that really mean?

Tip #2: Choose When Your Take in Information

As my friend Stever Robbins, aka Get-It-Done Guy, said just the other day: “There is no such thing as time management; there is only self-management and the setting of priorities.” I couldn’t agree more. We don’t manage time; we only manage how we use our time.

We all have thousands of messages thrown at us every day; far more than ever before. And worse, communication and marketing professionals understand more than ever exactly how to reel you in, how to entice you to pay attention to their message. 

However, we need to remember that we control the messages we pay attention to. I know for me this is often difficult. I love to absorb interesting information. The problem is that it’s easy to be lured down a long trail of interesting links. I often find myself researching one particular thing and end up finding and reading way more than I needed—and spending a lot of time doing it. Don’t get me wrong, it is useful information but it isn’t critical to the task at hand. 

So recently, I started a new process that has really helped. Now when I find something I’m interested in, I simply make note of it. I save the link and a few notes about why it was interesting to me, then I go back to what I was doing. Then on the weekends, during my down time, I allocate a certain amount of time to professional growth. That’s when I review the list of links I saved from the past week and prioritize how I want to spend my development time. It’s interesting to see how something that seems so important to read during the week becomes less important later upon review.   

That’s all we have time for this week. Next week, I’ll share some more tips on how to combat information overload.

This is Lisa B. Marshall, passionate about communication; your success is my business.

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