There’s no hiding from the fact that each and everyone one of us is overloaded with information. The sheer amount of available information can be crippling, and can severely impact upon not only our productivity levels but our health levels too.
An obvious way to try and combat information overload is to simply restrict the amount of information you have to deal with. However, while you do of course need to identify the relevant and useful information from the pointless; I believe the problem is not so much to do with the amount of information we have to deal with, but the way in which we actually do deal with it.
Therefore, I strongly believe that improving how you manage information has the greatest affect on helping to combat information overload. You’ve only got to look at email for evidence of this…
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m far from being email’s biggest fan – and thanks to Slack and the way in which I and my team work, email doesn’t have the same strangle hold over me as it seems to have with those that I know working in the corporate world. Anyway, after haven spoken to some friends – the ones who had the biggest gripes with email – what quickly became apparent was how they had no real approach in place when it came to managing their emails. Amongst other things, they’d send and reply to emails sporadically, cc in pretty much everyone who they thought the information was relevant to, inefficiently file emails away, and send emails when another form of communication would have instead been better suited.
In fact, we’ve actually put together a blog post that identifies the behaviours you need to change in order to help deal with email overload, which you can find here.
The four points I’m now going to introduce, when followed, will help to make it easier for you to use information, and therefore you wont feel weighed down by it – leading ultimately to increased productivity and importantly, success.
This is all about putting similar items together in one place. Someone once said to me collections are great because:
They combine the power of lists with the power of themes
It’s a good way of looking at collections and paints a clear picture of what they should be.
For example, you could have a collection of:
- Great articles that you’ve found on a specific topic of interest
- Possible ideas for your next passion project
- Design inspiration for your bathroom at home
You could therefore use old school tools, such as a notebook, to build a collection of possible ideas for your next passion project. Or you could use a Social Media network, such as Pinterest, as a way to store design inspiration for your bathroom at home (Pinterest boards are your collections). Or other digital platforms could be used, such as Skim.it (apologies for the shameful plug) as a way to house and share all of the great articles that you’ve found on a specific subject area.
A couple of pointers to follow for your collections…
- Add some form of order to a collection. By that I mean house the contents alphabetically or chronologically – it’s important for retrieval. This is where digital tools come into their own, as they will take care of the ‘ordering’ of your content for you, and they’ll also likely offer you the ability to search within a collection too.
- Don’t worry about things appearing in different collections. Digital storage is inexpensive. You just need to make sure you can find the information quickly when you need to.
- Ideally try to avoid hiding collections within collections. By keeping things flat, you wont run the risk of hiding information and forgetting about it. You know the saying out of sight, out of mind? It’s a saying for good reason…
2. Ensure you know the purpose of the information
Information is only of value when it helps you to achieve something. Therefore when dealing with a new piece of information it’s best to identify whether you will be using the information almost straightaway and regularly to do something (important), or you’re simply storing it for reference to do something at a later date (less important).
By following the above approach, it not only makes it easier and quicker to store information, as you know where you should be placing it; but the important information will be kept at the top and so front of mind and easier to retrieve.
I find it helpful to make sure important information (the stuff – at that moment in time – I’m regularly needing to access) stands out from the rest of my information. I also ensure really important information is kept brief, containing just key things, as this information will predominantly just act as a summary and a gateway to further information – top of mind, easy to find, quick to action.
3. Tidying up your information
What I’ve seen happen many times, and it’s a behaviour I’m too often guilty of but getting better with, is starting with good intentions by setting up a pretty solid structure for managing information, only to then let it get, well, a little messy.
You need to tidy up after yourself, which you can do pretty easily when you focus on four key things:
- Place what was once important information (the stuff you needed to regularly access) into collections of less important information for storage.
- Don’t be a hoarder. Get rid of any old information you no longer need.
- Evaluate the structure of your information. Does it need updating? Your situation, role, or type of projects may be better served by changes to the way your information is structured.
- Importantly, give yourself time for tidying up. Much like a Sunday morning might be when you give the flat a little tidy up, set a side regular blocks of time for when you sort your information out.
4. Identify the correct tools to use for information management
When it comes to information management, I believe tools can be found in three main camps:
- tools that help you to discover relevant information
- tools that help you to store and organise relevant information
- tools that help you to share – and collaborate on – relevant information
To the best of my knowledge there isn’t a single tool that effectively allows you to do all three of the above functions well – for all types of information – and I don’t think it is likely there will be one anytime soon. You therefore need to carefully select your tools, based on recommendations and then simply by trying them. Ideally, keep it simple with a small set of core tools.
For example, I use Feedly as a tool to discover new information, Skim.it – you knew that was coming 😉 – as a tool to store, organise and share my information, and Trello as a way to provide some order and to keep important information top of mind and easy to access – especially so when working collaboratively with the rest of my team.
I hope my thinking on how to manage information has provided you with some food for thought as to how you could maybe improve the way you manage yours.
There isn’t really a one-size fits all approach to information management, you just need to find what works best for you. And when I say ‘what works best’ I mean when your information management approach makes it easy for you to use information, and so you get to see information for what it truly is – a massive help, not as a hindrance.
In the information age we now live in, those that best deal with information to help continually build and shape their knowledge, are those who will win in the future of work.
How do you manage your information? I’d love to know. That’s the other thing about information and knowledge – It’s real power and usefulness comes when it is shared…