A Simple Approach to Managing Information Overload

information wordleWe all have to follow never-ending streams of information to varying degrees. Small business owners and web workers have to keep their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in their markets and with their customers and clients. Writers and bloggers read for inspiration and to follow the latest trends.

No matter what you do, there are probably a certain number of sources that you follow on a regular basis, and managing that information as seamlessly as possible is very important for your productivity, and to hold onto your sanity and not feel overwhelmed.

For me, the easiest way to streamline my information processing is to organize it by context so that I know immediately how to treat the information and, more importantly, how to act on it.

google reader tagsI currently have five tags (or folders) for separating my subscriptions. They are:

  • Alerts
  • News
  • Scan
  • Twitter Folks
  • Twitter Replies

My “Alerts” folder contains all my Google Alert subscriptions. I’m notified anytime my name, company or web sites are mentioned anywhere online. I used to subscribe to these notifications through a daily email, but eventually figured out that it was easier for me to subscribe in my feed reader so that I could tackle the information at set times, rather than when it became available.

My “News” folder obviously contains all my news feeds. By keeping these subscriptions in their own folder, I can quickly “mark all as read” anytime I get behind or feel information overload setting in, because in reality, if it’s really all that important, it will continue to be reported on in the coming days, or I’ll hear about it through another source, like family and friends or when I watch the morning news (yes, I still do that).

My “Scan” folder contains all of my blog subscriptions. There are probably about 50 blogs in there, but by keeping them separate from my news feeds, it’s much more manageable. Usually, at any given point, there are no more than 20 or so new posts in this folder (since I check my feeds at least once per day, except on the weekends), so it’s pretty easy to scan them for interesting topics. Another advantage of keeping them separate from my news feeds is that I immediately switch gears when I hit this folder. I know that the folder contains potential blog fodder, as well as highlights of what’s going on around the web, so I start paying better attention.

“Twitter Folks” contains the feeds of my few favorite Twitter folks. I still haven’t wrapped my mind around Twitter completely, so this is a way for me to dabble in it without feeling overwhelmed or confused by it. I subscribe to a small group of people (in my Google Reader, at least) and follow their updates, just as I do my regular feeds. Up to now, I haven’t been compelled to reply to anything I’ve read in this folder, but sometimes I do get a good laugh.

“Twitter Replies” contains any replies to me on Twitter. Since I don’t really go over to Twitter that often, I was having trouble keeping up with replies to me, so I fixed this by searching Twitter for @AmberSR (my handle) and then subscribing to the search query by RSS. Now, when anyone retweets something I’ve posted, I can thank them right away (rather than finding out about it well after the fact).

I’m a minimalist at heart. Five folders are all I need to keep my information in order and relevant to me. I can go through my feeds quickly, and I know exactly how to act on something, making the whole process enjoyable rather than overwhelming.

How do you organize your information so that you make the most of it and so that you stay productive and efficient?

Image from Wordle

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