How to Fix Your Web Filter Failure (Stop the Flood!): Page 2

Posted February 17, 2010

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

(Page 2 of 2)

7. Avoid Google Buzz until they fix it.

If you're a Gmail user, Buzz has been thrust upon you, followers and all. The fine print at the bottom of Gmail includes a "turn off Buzz" link. This won't cancel your account, or delete your followers. By clicking again, it all comes back, posts and all.

8. Embrace Buzz after they fix it.

Within the next few weeks, or possibly months, the feature set of Buzz will very likely cross some threshold that makes it a tool to fight information overload rather than just another source.

9. Re-embrace narrative.

As social streams have become more important, fragmented, disconnected nuggets of information have displaced stories. The former increase information overload, and the latter relieve it. Try to get less of your information in the form of tweets and posts, and more in the form of articles, essays and books.

10. Avoid overwhelming yourself.

Don't forget about the number-one source of information overload: You!

How do you manage your ideas, to-do lists, projects, reminders, schedule, contacts and other information? Try to consolidate each type of data into a single place. Favor tools that provide clarity and peace of mind. My personal recommendation is reQall and Teuxdeux for tasks, Google Calendar and Contacts for schedule and address book, and Evernote for everything else. (What these all have in common is superior "findability.")

11. Beware of information addiction.

Much of our excess media consumption is driven by addiction. That information fire hose is like a crack-pipe for some people. If you feel anxiety whenever you're away from info-streams, then you're an addict. (Admitting you have a problem is the first step.)

Info-addicts are constantly clicking here, there and everywhere -- and signing up for new streams compulsively -- out of a feeling that they're missing out on something. This is a bad reason to overwhelm yourself. And it can leave you without enough mental energy or time to get your work done. If you're addicted, take drastic action. Go cold turkey one day a week without turning on your computer or reading anything on your phone.

12. Watch out for escapism.

Information overload is compounded by a feedback cycle of burnout medicated by escapism. We fry our brains with information, and, as a relief, we go watch crazy videos, browse Facebook, check in on humor sites and generally seek out diversions.

Here's the problem. These diversions add to burnout. They require mental attention and energy. And they don't solve the problem. It's best to schedule or group your frivolous online entertainment, because switching back and forth repeatedly between work and fun adds to that feeling of information overload.

Instead, go outside, take a walk, turn off your computer for 20 minutes or do something that doesn't evolve mentally processing information on a screen.

13. Outsource your filtering.

For some kinds of information, you need to be very meticulous about what you filter and why. For example, take care with company e-mail, or professionally relevant RSS feeds. But for other, more general information, sometimes the best filter is the outsourced one.

Let's say you're a movie buff, and subscribe to a half-dozen of the movie-related RSS feeds or blogs. You're going to get a lot of redundant news, as well as too much inside baseball. Instead, outsource it by going to a social bookmarking site like Digg, finding the "movies" category and grabbing the Digg Movie RSS feed for it. Get rid of those other feeds, and use just this one. Let the "crowd" pick your movie news. You can even outsource the discovery of random items of interest. Delete all those streams you've got set up to discover random cool stuff, and subscribe to the Google "Cool" feed.

14. Embrace zero-sum stream consumption.

The biggest single reason for filter failure is that we add more info-streams than we delete. It's driven by a delusional superman complex that makes us believe that we can and should read it all.

It's time to stop increasing your streams. If you subscribe to an e-mail newsletter, unsubscribe from another. If you follow someone on Twitter, un-follow someone else. Want to start using Google Buzz? Stop using FriendFeed, and so on. Never add without also subtracting. The biggest benefit to this practice is that while quantity remains the same, quality goes up because you're always deleting the worst content.

All these filter failure fixes share a common feature: They're all about identifying the most valuable information, then making sure you have the time and energy to take full advantage of it.

It's true: Information overload is nothing more than filter failure. So do yourself a favor and master the art of filtering incoming information.

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Tags: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, data management, RSS

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