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NextGen KnowHow: Information Overload?

February 2014 – Vol: 37 No. 2
by Laurie J. Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR

Four strategies to cut down your piles and keep up with the resources you need

February 12, 2014

Credit Union Management’s online-only “NextGen Know-How” column runs the second Wednesday of the month.

If you were to visit my office right now, one thing would stand out to you. I have bookcases full of books. I am a leadership and self-improvement junkie. I love books, magazines, podcasts, articles, Ted Talks, resources, and audio programs. I am constantly on the lookout for the next great book or resource that gets me thinking differently. I'm pretty sure I single-handedly keep Amazon in business.

I love to learn, yet sometimes I become overwhelmed by the vast amount of information out in the world.

I have all this great information at my fingertips, so I was surprised a few months ago when I was feeling discouraged rather than inspired. I had just received Harvard Business Review in the mail, and I felt disappointed. I looked at the cover and saw several articles that appealed to me, but I felt a sense of dread because I hadn't read the last three issues I had received. The issues kept piling up, and I couldn't keep up.

With smartphones, TVs, and the Internet, information is constantly coming at us. So how do you keep up in a digital and information-rich world without going crazy? I've been working on it, and here is what I found:

Cut down on information. Limit TV, Internet surfing, magazine subscriptions and book buying. This is tough for me, because I'm always on the lookout for inspiration, yet I found the more information I came across, the less I did anything with it. Information overload can be paralyzing and deflating rather than inspiring. I committed to not buying any books for the next three months until I read the few (OK, 15+) unread books I have in my library. I also went from receiving six magazines a month to three. I like Harvard Business Review, but canceling the magazine was actually freeing. I can still search their online library, but I don't have to feel disappointed in myself each month when another issue arrives in the mail.

Prioritize your learning. I find it challenging at times to choose what resource to listen to or read first. I had a stack of books and magazines on my nightstand, and would waste time each night deciding which to read first. This year, I made a list of all the books and audio programs I want to get through. I prioritized the list and I'm taking it one at a time. Only one book and one magazine sits on my nightstand, and when I finish that, I will move on to the next on my list. I spend about 45 minutes reading each night, alternating between a magazine and a book each day. I feel more in control of my information consumption, and less overwhelmed.

Create "learning time" in your schedule. Whether daily or a couple times a week, having time blocked on your schedule ensures you will get through the information. I read each night, and I block out two hours in my schedule each week to listen to an audio program or podcast. I always have a magazine on hand in case I have to wait somewhere like a doctor's office, and I listen to audios when driving. It's amazing how much information you can get through on your daily commute.

Jam sessions. Earlier this week I was listening to an audio program by Darren Hardy, and he talked about having "jam sessions"—90-minute blocks of time in your schedule with no distractions so you can get more done. During the jam session, you cut yourself off from the world--no email, phone calls, or Internet surfing. Instead, you intently focus on what you are working on. For me, cutting myself off from the world for 90 minutes frees my mind and allows me to focus. Sometimes I just need a break from new information so I can get something important done.

I'd love to hear from you. How do you keep yourself sane in this world of information overload?

Laurie J. Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, consultant and founder of Envision Excellence, LLC, Rockville, Md. She was also an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or lmaddalena@envisionexcellence.net.

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