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Tips For Dealing With Information Overload  (View post)

Markus [PersonRank 0]

Friday, May 9, 2008
16 years ago12,963 views

So, Philipp, which is your way of dealing with it?

Roger Browne [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

So: how does Matt Cutts manage to do email while he exercises? It's a great idea, but I'm sure I'd hit all the wrong keys if I was trying to do that.

As for myself, I don't do Twitter and I shy away from social websites (except for this one and slashdot).

I can't understand all those people who spend time categorizing their emails. That would get me further behind. If I don't need an email, I delete it immediately (which is why I'm using only 2% of my Gmail quota). If an email doesn't need action but is worth keeping, I archive it immediately. If it needs action, I action it immediately and archive it. If that's not possible, I leave it in the Inbox where it won't get forgotten. I keep the Inbox less than one pageful.

Paper is not so easy. I'm with Noam on that one. My desk and surrounding floor have copious quantities of books, clippings, notes and documents in some vague kind of systematic pattern.

engtech [PersonRank 1]

16 years ago #

Tony's wrong, Friend Feed can block friend of friends, it's just that no one can find that feature.


It's one of the "more options" of Hide.

Tony Ruscoe [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Aha! I see it now. I wasn't brave enough to click the "Hide" link because I assumed it would just hide that specific entry and be done with it.

> Hide
>> See options for hiding other items like this
>>> Hide all stuff from friends-of-friends

How ironic that the option to hide stuff should be so deeply hidden... :-D

Anyway, what I've realised now is that friends of friends often have interesting stuff. By getting rid of Robert Scoble, most of the noise disappeared anyway! ;-)

Ludwik Trammer [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Digg link:

Anna [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

Please credit the comic by Randall Munroe from It happens all too often that people use his images without acknowledging him.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Anna, actually I did credit his comic in the footer, citing Randall's name, the Creative Commons license, and linking to the comic.

Anna [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

Sorry... I didn't check at the bottom. My mistake.

InfoHacks [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

I tend to go to blogs/rss/social networks when my keyword alerts in email go off:

Des [PersonRank 1]

16 years ago #

Tried all. Finally what works for me is – Desktop Search.

[Signature removed – Tony]

Des [PersonRank 1]

16 years ago #

and Blackberry – when I am waiting for something, I sneak some replies out... :D

Pete [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

I use AideRSS ( to help deal with the RSS info overload. If I haven't been able to keep up with my RSS feeds it saves me a lot of time.

Graham [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

I've tried a million different productivity methods and gimmicks. Some work to varying degrees. But the thing is, I love the information overload. Too much is barely enough. I can wallow in a pool of feeds, blogs, and random wikipedia articles for months in my apartment, stopping only for pizza breaks. It's an addiction to be sure.

That said, I've got to get my stuff done. I use something like the Inbox Heaven system ( to deal with email, and a simplified GTD system for general goal setting and to keep things moving forward.

But as far as the information overload ... why "deal" with it? Embrace it. Love it. Be it.

Matt Cutts [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Roger Browne, the same way that I surf while exercising. I'm exercising right now. :)

gregory lent [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

this is not the big deal that people are currently making of it... the solution is the same as it has always been, in the midst of the huge amount of sensory info that always flow into us, or in the midst of the busy mind that we call anxiety....

pay attention inwardly, not outwards... and you fine that the self is naturally in charge, always admits precisely what is needed to be known when it is needed, no matter the flow, which can be watched like a river in sunlight....

this is actually what meditation is for, finding the still point in the midst of conditions...

scott notlaw [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

that video with mr. mann was awful. you don't need an hour to teach someone how to manage email.

there are practical ways to setup rules in your inbox to help manage and prioritize messages. Information overload for me sparks one word -privatization. We are not thesauruses, but we can consume a lot of information. If you can learn to place what is important in your mind first, you will be the most productive and utilitarian as possible.

Q dub [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

Something we can all do for each other:

Synthesize our communications, and learn how to write pithy leads. Twitter is a good place to practice.

Starting with this post, I'd ask the author: why did you make us read a bunch of random anecdotes, instead of plucking the best ones and putting them on a 5-10 suggest list?

Zim [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Very interesting, I'm with time problems right now. I can't set priorities, and I have to study for university. This has dropped me some lines, thanks :)

Sueblimely [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

I filter/tag email in Thunderbird and Gmail – one filters are set up it saves a lot of time. I have a must read RSS folder. I periodically unsubscribe from email updates that I am not reading. I use cocomment to keep up with comments I have made in case there are replies I need to reply to. I use the Firefox extensions and toolbars that save me time in social networking/bookmarking and Roboform for remembering login passwords. For research I extensively make use of OneNote – a copy and paste from the web includes the url and saving is automatic. I use a desktop calendar/alarm program reminds me of tasks.

I still have information overload! The only way I could solve this is to cut down on the social networking/bookmarking sites I belong to but I keep joining more!

Adam Hodgkin [PersonRank 1]

16 years ago #

So impressed that you asked Chomsky and that he responded.

Dimitris [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

Shouldn't info overload be defined for each of us before it gets tackled?

[Signature removed]

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

> Shouldn't info overload be defined for each of us
> before it gets tackled?

I suppose it's a feeling of "oh geez this is too much" when you look at your inbox or feeds, and that this "too much" will stop you from actually getting things done? A German saying (or perhaps international one) is "you can't see the forest because of all the trees."

> Starting with this post, I'd ask the author: why did
> you make us read a bunch of random anecdotes, instead
> of plucking the best ones and putting them on a 5-10
> suggest list?

To have more diversity of opinion and approaches instead of merely a single person's view.

> So, Philipp, which is your way of dealing with it?

Well I often switch approaches, perhaps that's because no single approach is perfect and I do sometimes have "colliding" todo lists (e.g. the calendar is a kind of todo list, and it can collide with another todo list, like paper or one on your phone) as well as outstanding todos.

In books I often stop the book if the delta decreases too much, which is more likely to happen the further you read in it. Afterwards I like to clear the book e.g. by leaving it at a public place for someone else to read, so books won't pile up as much.

For blogs, I think if you read one search blog you get 70% of the news, if you read two search blogs you get 80%, if you read three search blogs you get 85% and so on.

As for feed readers, I never used any, at least not a traditional one, as I don't like the pressure of items piling up in unread states. I do read this blog's listing of items posted by the official Google blogs though, and many people reading news readers help by sending emails or posting in the forum.

Todos for sites or ideas for new sites, I'm noting down in a Google docs documents and try to work on it in larger chunks. I also in the past shut down several sites which needed too much comment moderation, and I'm wary of adding new input channels requiring moderation to new sites, like public comments.

For news sites, I'm reading Reddit and FriendFeed which are great filters, but this can change, and I also read this blog's forum a lot.

In email, I'm keeping unread those items I want to get back to later on, but don't use stars or archiving. Emails and this forum are of great help in filtering Google-related information thanks to all who participate.

Often it helps to mute the latest headlines for a bit and go back to other sources which may contain a bigger delta, say, a book from 1513.

David Ing [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

Email. Anything I don't need I delete. I use taglocity for tagging my emails in a single archive, and to avoid the CC's snowballs we use groups that have RSS feeds on them (I'm biased on the last bit, because we build that part)

RSS: Google Reader divided into 'Good', 'Not So Good', where the latter I would only trawl if I was being lazy or had time.

Skype/IM: I turn off or ignore if I'm busy.

Tony Ruscoe [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

<< A German saying (or perhaps international one) is "you can't see the forest because of all the trees." >>

We say, "You can't see the wood for the trees." I think that makes a bit more of a point.

Evaristo [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

The best method for dealing with information overload is combining RSSmeme's filters. Check this out:

jimstips [PersonRank 1]

16 years ago #

I too often find myself in the category of the person who fiddles with the system instead of actually USING the system. Merlin Mann's "Inbox Zero" video was EXCELLENT! I have to admit that this is the first time I've ever actually taken notes to an online video!!!

Satan [PersonRank 6]

16 years ago #

The smarter you are, the more projects you have, the more complex your life is. Let's not forget, 'information overload' is just a subset of 'task overload'.

For email and phone calls, I have created the expectation with people that they should have no expectation. I refuse to be a slave to any communication technology. Just because I have the ability to respond instantaneously doesn't mean I have to. Matt Cutts touched on this a little with his suggestion of keeping email in the draft state for a few hours before sending.

Getting back to 'information overload', I have set aside an hour of my day devoted just to reading my Netvibes news (including this beautiful blog). This keeps me from wandering around the Internet for hours. I call this hour "absorption". It's a recurring task like anything else, and some days I don't get to it, which is fine.

On a broader note, GTD tells us to minimize the number of inboxes we have, and I extend that also to the number of tools I use. One bookmark manager, one task manager, one email client, one calendar, one note taking application, etc... If they integrate with one another, even better! Admittedly, this is much easier said than done.

Really, to sum up, all you really need in life is a healthy understanding of GTD and an RTM account! (RTM = Remember the Milk, the world's finest task manager)

Tina K. [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

Get a faster internet and better CPU.

Patsoe [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

Tasks: I look at my master task list every morning, take 5 to 10 off and make a new smaller list. I try to get them all done in the day and hope i do not get more than 10 that day, thus reducing my master task list daily.

Emails: Using gmail I set up filtering an assign labels ACTION and COMPLETE. Anything that comes as a reminder in google calendar to my inbox has a automatic filter for label ACTION to save time. I deal quickly with each one and then label COMPLETE one at a time. Most Social sites that send email notifications will also have a filter to label COMPLETE from that email address eg. notifications from Facebook etc. Therefore I do not need to read them, I just know at some point to log in and check, also good vs phishing. When I have read all my email and flagged all appropriatley I just click on the COMPLETE label, select all and then click delete to clear down all conversations quickly.

After watching the video, Gmail definatley needs template functionality. Would be sooooo useful! :)

Useful video, thanks

Ren Ren-Juan [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

Agree there is no "information overload" just a lack of program and ability to "open up" to the rich tools available to use it (as the poster did that said embrace it/be it). During task performance there is no issue of "information overload" but only one of performance in the task. At other times evaluation of tasks to execute, including assessing new information or established information flows are the scheduling (meta) task.

It is a truism that the failure to effect networked tools to optimize group information is socially and not technically determined.

In a rational social order, at the current level of development, a relatively small amount but of relatively high value is called for from intellectual workers, i.e. applied to "production", i.e. socialized/monetized tasking. The rest is open to individual non-production activities and the aforementioned scheduling so that the orginal problem appears to be in the end a manufactured one.

GuillaumeB [PersonRank 9]

16 years ago #

AFAIAC, I deal with emails on To help me clean the inbox i have created "Smart Mailboxes" that filter emails in chronological order (Today, This Week, This Month). Since it integrates a to-do list (which Google seems to completely ignore despite all the rumors) I can see at a glance what my priorities should be.

As for RSS, I use Google Reader. I honestly can control and read all the feeds. In fact deleting feeds has been my only solution to this day

Peter [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

Chomsky actually gives a much better, fuller answer during his Authors[put at-character here]Google talk:

For the whole Q/A section on this topic of 'information overload', start at 27:35.

For a more direct, to-the-point answer, go to 31:50.

He talks about a 'framework of understanding'.

Jaan Kanellis [PersonRank 3]

16 years ago #

1. If you dont read a RSS feed subscription within 1-2 days, delete it you dont care.

2. Add a follow up/to do folder in your email and place the important ones there.

3. Try and empty your inbox at least twice a week.

4. If your not commenting at blogs your subscribed to consider un-subscribing.

5. Try and limit time on social networks as this will just cause more information to come your way that may not be productive to your daily goals.

6. Use a good ole notebook to write down ideas and create to do bullet lists.

Swaroop [PersonRank 1]

16 years ago #

Great list.

I got inspired and wrote some of my own imbibed techniques at
especially things like "Make sure you are clear on what is the action you are expecting from the recipient."

Hong Xiaowan [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Separate my work time to two main parts, learning time, work time,

Learning time for four hours.

24:00 to 1:00, get up to read blog for one hour, include translating this blog, one hour, I only read the blog that fit me, if I found a blog become poor, I will remove it from my list at once.

1:00 to 4:00 reading html, css, php Manual, maybe a little stupid.

Then, work according to my todo list. I use one hour finish the todo list for next day.

I suggest only use only one hour to chat and check email and reply per day.

Important tips, for per hour, separate 15 mins to play dance blanket, eat, bath,sing, playing guitar..., that will make your 45 mins more valueable than a whole hour.

Hong Xiaowan [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

And, no mobile, no phone. no meeting. Let my colleagues give you clear, short message to your email.

Nicolas Ahman [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

Sorry about the mess, here its in better form:

I recently started a blog which is devoted to the subject of information overload and how to deal with it. You can reach it at

Also, there will be a new Web 2.0 application that tries to deal with it in a better way. Preregister at

Matthew Cornell [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

I love the interviews, and the variety of perspectives and advice. For me, controlling RSS is just like any other bitstream. There are only three things you can do: Get fewer, Get faster, Get control. More here, if anyone's interested:

Got The Email Blues? Only Three Things You Can Do: Get Fewer, Get Faster, Get Control

For RSS in particular, I use a three-phase approach: A first-level scan for potential interest (much like the 'check the titles' recommendation in the story), and a temporary second-level storage of those that pass. I use browser tabs for this. The final step is to harvest useful information/ideas into my idea capture system. For those I can't absorb in a quick two minute scan I queue them into my action system. More here:

Afraid To Click? How To Efficiently Process Your RSS Feeds

Thanks again for the article!

Jérôme Flipo [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

This two-post series about "News vs. Noise" makes sense here, since Scoble is probably the biggest noise eater/creator among famous Bloggers but seems to manage this web-life-style suite well:

Joe Lichtenberg [PersonRank 0]

16 years ago #

Great thread. Definitely, info overlaod has become waaay worse since I began working mumble years ago.

I am a very visual person, so here is what I do:

I have a spreadsheet with multiple tabs. One tab for work, one for personal. Items on the top are highest priority. I update it throughout the day and print it out and the end of each day to review overnight and first thing in the morning.

Outlook is my email filing system. I only delete junk. The rest goes into a folder called old-inbox. It gets big, but I can find an email from years ago in seconds.

My desk is arranged in piles and visible manila folders so I can see everything. Once it's in a drawer, it's gone.

I use an aggregator to organize feeds, bookmarks, etc. that I want to track. I use folders, tags, and "flags" based on the topic and the item. I use (Disclaimer – I work there).


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