There is one thing happening in your life that probably is responsible for good part of your overall frustration. It may be the very cause to why you can’t seem to achieve your goals.
While the internet has given us the wonderful ability to gather information and resources about any topic, making it easier to learn and acquiring knowledge on subjects you’re interested in, it also has brought, like a double-edged sword, a plague known as information overload.
Put simply, if you don’t pay attention, it’s incredibly easy to drown in the vast ocean of information available out there. And many of us are victims of this phenomenon. At first you come to this virtual tap, just to get a sip, but if you’re not careful, the torrential flow of information can start pouring all over you. And at some point, you may not even realize you’re under water suffocating.
This is a real thing which I’ve been a victim of. Yet I’ve managed to overcome it. And I want to help you overcome it too.
First of all, you have to recognize that you’re suffering of information overload, then be willing to dealing with it. Most of the time, you’re more or less aware of it, but sometimes you just aren’t. Well, here’s a simple thing you can do to figure out if you’re a victim of information overload: time yourself whenever you read something hoping to learn more about your industry or get closer to your goals. Then time yourself whenever you really do something to achieve your goals, i.e when you take action (so, not reading). Then compare the time spent on each activity. If the ratio is anything above 30% in favor of reading, you’re suffering of information overload.
Stop FOMOnting your self-sabotage
See what I did there ? Haha.
No, seriously. The number one reason why you’re drowning in information is because your’re afraid of missing out, also known as FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). There’s just so many awesome resources out there, so many great articles, courses and stuff to help you that you’re desperate to learn it all.
The best way to deal with FOMO is to get to the root of the problem. In our case, it’s generally a desire to protect ourselves from failure, minimize risks and giving ourselves the best chances of succeeding in whatever goal we’re targeting.
But do you honestly think that reading all the books on earth about forging will make you a skilled blacksmith ?
The very thing that you to feel secure about your achieving your goal, when you spend all your time reading all that’s possible about a topic related to your goal, is what prevents you from actually moving toward it.
You may think “Oh, but there’s going to be a incredible blog post that will show me how to succeed at doing X step by step.” Nope, there isn’t. Or, rather, there already have been ten times already but all you did is kept on reading, just to make sure you won’t miss another resource that will guarantee you success. But it doesn’t exist. I repeat: it doesn’t exist. The only resources that will push you toward success are the ones that you learn while taking action, and it’s called experience.
No amount of information will provide you more success than the smallest bit of action. And trying to get your hands on as much information as you can to ascertain your chances of reaching your goals is exactly what prevents you from doing so in the first place.
Use it now or forget it
Next, I give you the little cousin of FOMO, the IMNIL™ (I just came up with this): I Might Need It Later.
This and FOMO are like the two bouncers at the door of the Success night club you never were able to get in. Ironically, you are the one who hired those bouncers.
To get rid of IMNIL, there is one simple question to always keep asking yourself—whenever you encounter any type of resource, wether it’s a blog post, an online course, a software, a tool, or anything—am I going to use it now ?. Learning this from Tim Ferriss’s The 4-hour Work Week truly changed my life.
Moreover, you can make that questioning process more efficient by going further and ask: am I going to use it now for something important / that matters ?. This will filter out the things you don’t really need even more. Whenever your answer to this question isn’t a clear “YES!”, forget about whatever you were considering. It really has to be a resounding “YES!”, nothing else. Not a “yes, maybe…” or “perhaps…”, let alone a “I’m not sure of this”.
Be ruthless about it. At first, it’s unpleasant, even frightening. It’s scary to let go of potential gems that could change your life (but remember, they’re just a self-made illusion). You’ll have to make yourself violence. But after doing it a few times, you’ll start getting used to it. And when it’s the case, it’ll become liberating. It’ll be like you’re breathing fresh air.
Remember, it’s not about ditching everything. You don’t have to ignore all that you stumble upon. You only have to get rid of whatever makes you think “I might need it later”. If you think you found a gem, then use it right away. Consume it on the spot, in the purpose of taking action upon it immediately. If it’s a blog post, read it and apply what you learn right after reading it. If it’s a tool like a SaaS or an app, put it into use as soon as you downloaded it.
Keep a backlog if you really have to
Sometimes you’ll really feel torn about ignoring some things. It might be a particular resource that there’s a high chance you’ll need later (but again, don’t fool yourself into thinking it’ll be the case for each thing you come across).
When you encounter such things, it comes in handy to have a backlog where to put it. What you use as a backlog is up to you, but try to use something that get things out of your way as fast and easy as possible. Using Pocket is better than using Excel, but you can also use Evernote or Trello. And please, never, ever use bookmarks as a backlog.
Then, decide to forget about what you put in your backlog. It’s there for a reason: to free your brain from unnecessary processing and allow you to focus on what matters at the moment. What you want to do is schedule a block of time—once or twice per week ideally and no more—entirely dedicated to go through this backlog and consume its content.
Doing it only once or twice a week might feel not enough at first, especially if you’ve been consuming information compulsively for years, but doing it everyday woul defeat the purpose. Your brain needs enough rest to fully benefit from a content detox.
Write down your thoughts
Freeing space in your “brain RAM” usage isn’t only about content found on the internet, it’s also about your thoughts. It’s said that humans have an average of 12,000 to 20 000 thoughts a day, and up to 50,000 if you’re a deep thinker (or maybe a very worried individual). It’s like you have a constant background process that keeps running in your head. Dump that data and free some RAM already (Ok, that’s enough for the computer analogy).
Have a pen and notebook near you at all times, Evernote or whatever note-taking software you like using. When you have a rush of thoughts, be sure to write them down. Writing down your thoughts, wether it is for journaling or writing down billion-dollar business ideas, comes with the obvious benefit of not risking to forget them, but it also considerably relieves your brain from a mental charge that you unconsciously bear when you’re not dumping your thoughts somewhere else.
Just as with your “content backlog”, dedicate blocks of time during the week to read your notes and reflect on them. Contrary to the content coming from the internet though, sifting through your notes and memos should be done on a regular basis. It’s the best way to get a grasp of what’s going on in your head, thus in your life and get more clarity overall. Maybe that idea you had a week ago is just stupid after all or, on the contrary, it can be iterated over to become a exciting opportunity.
Have single purpose devices
Information overload often translates to distraction. The best way to avoid distractions is to suppress the possibility of them occurring in the first place.
One way to do so is by using your devices in a single-purpose way. If you happen to have multiple devices, like a laptop, a tablet and a phone, great! Decide that each device will serve a single purpose and ruthlessly stick to that decision. Say your laptop is for your main work, tablet is only dedicated to check emails, and phone for mindless browsing. This is a simplified example, but it’s basically how you should see things.
Then, when you’re on your laptop, you don’t get to be distracted because it’s not your device for browsing or checking email. Install distraction-blocking apps and browser extensions like ColdTurkey, SelfControl or StayFocused which will help you to stay on track when your willpower is taking a break.
Conquer email overload
A massive part of our daily digital overload, and a major cause of stress in our lives, is email. One simple way to tame email is to use extensions like Streak or Boomerang to postpone any kind of email.
Whether you want to respond to them or just read a few at a later time, you can do just that without having to let them sit in your inbox. Using these extensions, you’ll be able to hide these emails away and get back to them later, during your blocks of consuming time.
Feel free to use them overabundantly. Whenever I open my inbox and stumble on email that I hesitate to take action upon for more than 3 seconds, it either gets postponed or archived. That way, every week I get to inbox zero without too much of a headache.
Now go get some clarity and peace of mind
You can put a stop to the 21st century sneaky evil that is information overload. Not only you can, but you have to, unless you want to remain paralyzed and overwhelmed by what you’re actively—or passively—consuming.
It’s your duty to protect your creativity, your ideas and your ability to accomplish things. Otherwise, it would be selfish to deprive the world from what you have to offer to it. You have great ideas and an unique voice, use them to make the world a better place.