Earlier this year, I published a two-part series (HERE and HERE) announcing my theme for 2021: “less.” I’ve been writing a lot about wardrobe-related subjects lately, but I’d like to switch the focus back to my overall life for a bit. If you enjoy my wardrobe musings, they’ll be back soon, as I’m committed to cultivating a smaller and more workable wardrobe as part of my commitment to “less is more” this year. However, some other topics have been more top of mind in recent days.
The other night, as is often the case, I had trouble sleeping. A cascade of thoughts raced through my mind, and I was unable to settle down enough to get the rest I needed. When I woke up the following morning, I was not just tired; I also felt unsettled and angry. At the root of those feelings was the fact that I have shifted off course once again. I’ve allowed “more” to permeate various facets of my existence, such that it has disrupted my peace and serenity.
We’re now over a third of the way through the year, so I’d like to increase the focus on my less theme. I was going to do an overall update on how I’m incorporating this theme into my life, but I’ve decided to take a different approach so I can delve deeper. I’ll periodically write about an area of more that I’d like to pare down. I’ll share the current state of affairs and let you know what I plan to do to address the situation through the lens of less. We’ll start today with a longtime problem of mine, information overload.
Information Overload – A Common Problem
I’ve written about information overload a number of times previously, including in the following posts:
- Dealing with FOMO and Information Overload (August 1, 2014)
- What Information is Essential? (February 1, 2018)
- Essential Information Part Two: Digital Detox (February 25, 2018)
I feel like dealing with information overload is like peeling an onion. I’ve made progress as I’ve peeled various layers away, but then I’ve often uncovered new areas that I need to address. Additionally, today’s culture is so primed for information overload that it’s difficult for us not to get swept up in it, at least to some degree.
Most of us have a smartphone, tablet, or computer (or all three!) near us all day long, with Google and the full spectrum of the Internet always close at hand. Our email in-boxes are often overflowing with information, much of which is unsolicited. And then there’s social media, which serves its millions of users an influx of links to multiple areas of interest and curiosity. Is it any wonder that many of us feel like we’re drowning in information?
I was going to call this particular area of more in my life “digital clutter,” but information overload is a better descriptor, as some of my information is in physical format. I love to learn, and I enjoy researching the many topics that interest me. This often leads to my feeling overwhelmed. Years ago, I subscribed to a large number of blogs and magazines, and I also used an app called Pocket that enabled me to save articles to read later. This led to my having a large pile of magazines to look through and hundreds of articles to consume – and since new information was always coming in, I never got through it all.
After years of continuing on that way, I eventually got to my breaking point, and I cancelled the subscriptions and deleted the article backlog. But as is often the case, the clutter returned. It happened gradually, but steadily, and now I’ve reached another breaking point. The level of information overload isn’t as extreme as it was the last time, but it’s adversely impacting me just the same. So, now the time has come to do another round of information decluttering.
Let’s begin with the digital information. I started my digital decluttering efforts this week by paring down the browser tabs on my phone, tablet, and computer. I often have as many as fifty tabs open on each of these devices! From time to time, I go through and delete a handful of them, but that often just means saving articles and videos to “read later” and “watch later” folders, both of which have become extremely overloaded. When I pared down the tabs this time, however, I either consumed the information immediately or decided that I was not going to do so. The only things that I bookmarked were a few recipes that I very likely will go back and use later.
I feel a bit lighter and freer after having taken the above step, but there’s a lot more work to be done. I just looked and there are 35 videos in my “watch” folder and 121 articles in my “read” folder! I’m tempted to just delete all of those bookmarks right now, but I think I’ll allow myself until the end of the month to read and watch the content that I consider most important.
When May 31st rolls around, whatever is left in those folders will be deleted! After that, I’m going to have just one folder for content to view later (for both articles and videos), and I commit to deleting everything that’s left over at the end of each month. No more carrying things over for months on end, as that’s what’s gotten me into the current state of overload! As for my browser tabs, I think I need to have a weekly time set aside for paring them down, perhaps on Friday afternoons. No matter how much I insist that I won’t let the tabs build up again, I know it’s bound to happen at least to some extent, so it’s good to have a plan in place for addressing this issue.
Email Backlog and My “Considering” Folder
There are two additional pieces of digital overload for me to address, but I wanted to call them out separately. The first is my email “Updates” folder (the part of my in-box designated for messages that aren’t personal or urgent), which also contains some articles that I intend to “read later.” I go through my email on a regular basis, but if something is either too lengthy or if I’m not in the mood to read it, I skip over it and intend to get back to it at a later time. Well, “later” often ends up being much later – or sometimes never.
I have emails going back to the beginning of the year, but I think it’s a good practice to clear them all out at the end of a given month. I also plan to unsubscribe from mailing lists so that I get less email overall. I mostly don’t subscribe to blogs anymore, and instead bookmark the ones I like and visit them periodically. I’m going to clear out that list, too, and keep it down to maybe ten blogs at most, as it just gets to be too much, such that looking through the list of blogs feels like a chore instead of something enjoyable to do. If I find that I miss checking out a particular blog that’s not bookmarked, I can always switch it out with one that I’m not as interested in any longer.
The final area of digital clutter I’m going to address is my “considering” bookmarks folder. This is where I bookmark wardrobe items that I’m considering purchasing. I like to use “the power pause” as much as possible when it comes to shopping to give myself time to determine if I really need – or even want – an item that has caught my eye. There are always lots of clothes, shoes, and accessories that I like, but that doesn’t mean I need to buy them all.
Saving the bookmarks allows me to go back and purchase things later, but the problem is that links tend to build up in my “considering” folder, as is the case with videos to watch and articles to read. I’m embarrassed to say that there are currently almost 200 bookmarks in my “considering” folder! Many of the items probably aren’t even available any longer, but I need to review the links and pare things down. This is something that I should also do monthly so that it doesn’t get out of hand. I’m going to review my “considering” folder within the next few days to get it down to a more manageable level, and then I’ll incorporate a monthly practice for keeping things in check, just as with the articles and videos.
That covers the digital overload, but there’s also some physical excess that I need to deal with. I’ve gradually accumulated magazine subscriptions again since I stopped them all a few years ago. For a long while, I just had two active subscriptions, but then we inherited my mother-in-law’s magazines after she passed away and I also received some low-cost offers that I accepted against my own best judgment.
Publishers lure us in by offering a few free months, but now I’m being charged for additional issues and I need to figure out how to cancel these subscriptions. Not too surprisingly, they don’t make it as easy for people to cancel as to subscribe, but I’m going to take care of unsubscribing this month. I’ll then go back to having just two magazines coming to my house: one news magazine and one entertainment magazine.
I also have a stack of magazine articles that I cut out whenever the magazines started to pile up too high, as well as another stack of catalogs that I’ve received from retailers from whom I’ve made online purchases (and some other random retailers that must have gotten my name and address off of a list). I enjoy looking through the catalogs, but they get to be overwhelming as well, plus I don’t exactly need additional encouragement to buy clothing and related items. All of this physical information is just too much – and it’s getting in the way of my joy and my peace! By the end of May, if not sooner, the stacks of articles, magazines, and catalogs will all be out of my home by way of the recycling bin.
There’s a Theme Here…
There’s a theme here, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I accumulate a lot of information because I love to learn, and I’m also afraid of missing out on something great (that dreaded FOMO so many of us struggle with!). I keep bookmarking information that interests me, and because I don’t take the time to read, watch, or delete it, it becomes overwhelming. Once that happens, I think I need to have a large amount of time in order to deal with it, so I keep putting it off until “tomorrow,” which extends out over days, weeks, and months.
Stop the insanity! I feel like I need to make three changes here. First, I need to be more discerning about the things I save for later consumption. Do I really need to read all of those articles, watch all of those videos, or save all of those wardrobe-related links? Of course, the answer is no.
Saving less information in the first place is a good start, but I also need to allocate time to review and consume it. I’m not sure how much time I want to dedicate to this activity, but I’ll probably start with an hour or two per week. The third and final change is that I need to commit to deleting anything I haven’t read or watched by the end of each month. As for the “Considering” folder, I may not want to delete everything if purchases are still pending, but I at least need to review the links, which will likely result in my deleting most of them. I like the idea of being more thoughtful about what I buy and using the “power pause,” so I’m going to keep saving the links, just not so many of them!
Conclusion – and Your Thoughts?
I already feel a little better, having taking a few steps toward reducing my information overload and coming up with a concrete plan for continuing that effort. Now it’s time to execute on that plan and maintain consistency on a monthly basis. I hope that my ideas will be helpful for those who also struggle with the accumulation of information, but I welcome your suggestions for combatting this issue as well. Many times, readers chime in with ideas I never would have thought of myself, so I appreciate the sharing.
Here are a few questions to help you formulate your thoughts, but as always, feel free to comment however you’d like:
- What types of information overload do YOU struggle with?
- What methods do you use for keeping overload at bay – or for reducing overload when it becomes an issue?
- What ONE TIP would you offer to a friend or family member who finds him/herself with too many things to read or watch?
I look forward to reading about your experience, as well as your tips and suggestions. I’ll be sharing more about my “less” theme in future posts, and I’ll be back next week with a new essay. Have a wonderful weekend!
11 thoughts on “Less is More in 2021: Addressing Information Overload”
Hi Debbie! Reading today’s post I thought of a couple of things you should try. 1) Instead of saving things to read later, just go ahead and read them when you run across them. I’m guessing you’re a fast reader like me and it won’t take that much time to do so. 2) I never have more than 5 tabs open at one time and usually it’s just 1 or 2. I try to stay focused on what I’m viewing at that time. Close them all out! If you really must find one of them again, you can always review your history to find it. 3) If there’s an item I’m interested in buying, I just Pin it. I have a 2021 Board, with a section for each month, and I’ve been pinning all items I buy (so I can keep track of the $) and also of any I’m thinking of buying that month. At the end of the month, if I haven’t bought the item I’ve been thinking of then I just delete it. But when you Pin something you can then just click the link to return to the item rather than keeping it in your Considering folder.
These are things I’ve found that help me decrease the amount of info I keep. Hope it might help you too!
Another interesting and important post! While I recognise the potential for digital overwhelm, my weakness is books. The cycle: Sue-Past packs bookshelves with books she considers Sue-Future should/must/needs to read. These books, many with bookmarks showing where Sue-Past gave up, cause Sue-Now constant stress (inadequacy for not meeting Sue-Past’s expectations, and guilt for adding to Sue-Future’s burdens). So finally, Sue-Let’s-End-This-Madness has decided to take control. I am now working my way through my books: reading those that interest and entertain, skim reading those that do not; keeping those that I treasure, donating those that I do not. While I will always have shelves of books I want to read and shelves of books I want to read again (I ❤️📚☺️), I aim to remove all books I only feel that I ought to read someday (the homework books). Like my clothes, my books should make me smile, not stress me out!
I have issues with books, too, Sue. I’m actually going to cover books and other types of physical clutter in another post soon. I definitely could relate to your past, present, and future self characterizations! I love the “Sue-Let’s-End-This-Madness” part. Good for you for working through your book stash. I’ve done several book decluttering sessions, but I’m due for another one. I totally agree with you that our books (and our clothes) should make us smile rather than stress us out!
Kim, thank you so much for these excellent tips! I’ve already put some of them into practice. I’m not a very frequent user of Pinterest, so I’m not totally sure what you mean about having a 2021 board with a section for each month. Are these 12 separate boards? I like the idea of “containing” the considering items within a given month – and also tracking what you ACTUALLY buy via Pinterest. I’m assuming these are secret boards? As for the articles, I should probably just do what you recommend. I think it would help to have specific times when I check my email, as the articles are often attached to or linked from emails that I receive. If I just check email for a few minutes at a time many times per day, I usually bookmark these articles to read later, but if I had some time set aside to deal with my email, I would then be able to read the articles right away like you suggest. I’m doing MUCH better with the tabs and I got rid of quite a few articles, so I’m making progress…
Yes, they are secret Pinterest boards. I made one board for 2021 and within it, there are 12 sections. You might not have been on Pinterest since they added the sections feature. I love to keep track this way of the price I paid and the size info.
Thanks for coming back to explain this, Kim! I didn’t know about this great new Pinterest feature, but I’m going to give it a try for my 2021 purchases, as well as things I’m considering buying. I appreciate your sharing this great tip.
I am constantly exploring or trying to enhance my knowledge on one subject or another. Most of what I learn comes from reading, but I question the value of how I manage that information.
I don’t just highlight. I type or (when using a Kindle) export and condense my notes. I have 36 pages of notes so far on the book I’m currently reading and still have 20% left to read.
I find this process oddly soothing, and it likely reinforces what I’ve learned. But is the value I’m adding to my life worth the time I spend? In one case, it proved detrimental.
I read dozens of books on the topic of writing fiction. And while there were similarities in the writers’ processes (of plotting), there were many differences. Months later, I found myself overwhelmed, more confused than ever, and burnt out on writing fiction. I don’t read about it anymore and drop any blogs on the topic into a folder. (Current total: 643.) I may never read them, but their existence doesn’t bother me. And if they disappeared, I wouldn’t care. I haven’t regained the joy I once felt about writing fiction… and am not sure I ever will.
I take screenshots of the clothing and accessories I think I might want to buy and put them in a “Wish” photo album on my phone. When I have discretionary spending available, it helps to have a visual reminder of the items that piqued my interest and see where I found them.
I subscribe to one magazine and trim my subscriptions to blogs, vlogs, and podcasts when they get to be too much for me, keeping only the ones I love and/or truly add value to my life. Otherwise, I don’t much mind digital clutter. But I need to think carefully before purchasing books (particularly those on self-help, organizational systems, and writing). I will likely invest a considerable amount of time (on the good ones) with all the notetaking. AND—I won’t always benefit from reading multiple takes on the same subject.
As for tips, I would say, eliminate what you can and find storage solutions that add the least amount of “weight” to you.
Thanks for sharing your information challenges, Jenn, as well as your tip at the end. It’s interesting what you wrote about the “weight” of storage solutions. That’s really what matters most, isn’t it? You have a lot of blog articles saved about writing fiction, but since you said that their existence doesn’t bother you, maybe it doesn’t matter if you keep them around.
I can relate to becoming overwhelmed and losing interest in something as a result. That happened to me with photography, as I have SO many photos and I just don’t know how to manage them or what to do with them. That made the joy kind of go out of it for me, but I hope I can regain that joy somehow (I hope the same for you with fiction writing).
I like your idea of the “Wish” album on your phone. That’s similar to Kim’s suggestion of using Pinterest. I can see how photos of the items would be much more helpful than links. I like that you do more of a “deep dive” with what you read instead of reading a bunch of books on the same subjects. I don’t take a ton of notes when I read like you do, but I often bookmark many pages and highlight many sections in Kindle – and almost never go back and look at them!
I have not had too much of a problem with information overload. I say “not too much” because many times in my life my job has involved handling information and there was no way to avoid overload – it was kind of business as usual to be always three steps behind and never able to catch up with what you “should” read, watch, or know. Because of that experience and two others that I’ll share, I shy away from any media or other source that looks like it might eventually be too much.
One of my other two experiences or observations was with my mother, who had a houseful of books and subscriptions to hundreds of magazines, read two daily newspapers, and watched the news everyday. She was never interested in “learning computers” so she had my dad print out a copy of every email, article, or other online information she wanted. I will never complain about a houseful of books – that is my natural habitat! However, visiting her and seeing the thousands of unread magazines and huge stacks of paper with the online articles she had asked for but then forgotten and later asked to have printed again, made me feel so physically uncomfortable I could barely stand to be there. So this experience was not about information overload for me, it was more of a “don’t let me be like that” situation.
The other observation was my former partner and his news obsession. He loved televison news and could spend all day flipping between the news channels. He would get caught up in every sensationalist twist and turn and flip from ecstatic to depressed from one minute to the next. I, on the other hand, could not be in the same room with it, and even had to put headphones on to block it out sometimes. The advent of competing 24-hour news channels was in my opinion the death of factual news reporting and the dawn of yellow journalism as an established, accepted source of information. Things are bad enough in reality without a bunch of “experts” talking every subject to death, every hour on the hour.
I canceled all my newpapers and magazines many years ago when I was traveling a lot and there was no point in accumulating all that stuff I’d never read. So I don’t read newpapers, I don’t watch the news unless there is a very specific event, and I have no online newsfeed. One could certainly suggest that I suffer from a deficiency of information! And that is fine with me. If I need information about something I can look it up.
None of this really answers your questions. My only method for keeping the overload at bay is to remember my aversion to junk – whether it’s paper piled up everywhere or the awful blaring voices on the television. I’m afraid my only tip for others would be, figure out what you are getting from all this information. Since that is what everyone is already trying to do, I don’t think it’s a very helpful tip!
I do look forward to reading another update on this topic, after you’ve put your changes into effect.
Thanks for sharing the stories of your mother and ex-partner, Katrina, as well as your personal approach to information. I had a visceral reaction when reading your stories! I can imagine how the overload of paper and news would scare you straight. Your mother sounds like an exaggerated example of me in terms of the articles. I don’t want to get like that, and I’ve already made a lot of progress since I posted this essay. I would like to become more like you in terms of my information consumption. I do pretty well with news, except occasionally I will go through a stretch of overload during a major event (like the beginning of Covid, the election, and the insurrection). But then I notice my anxiety spiking and I have to cut back. Since I struggle so much with peace and serenity within my own mind, I don’t need any “help” in riling myself up! You’re so right that it’s easy to look things up when we want to learn about something. There’s no need to know every single in and out of what’s going on. In fact, it can be completely exhausting!
I have actually found the internet to be freeing in terms of physical stuff, I don’t bother with magazines any more, I used to have a folder of torn out pages, but now I think I can find visuals of anything on the internet, I use Pinterest a lot, it’s all contained in one ap. Most books I can get from the library so I was comfortable letting go of a lot of mine. No need to worry about saving articles a bit of googling and you will always find something. It is FOMO but once you realise you really won’t miss out it makes life easier. We spent a month in a foreign country where we didn’t speak the language and had virtually no internet or tv. It was amazing, you just live each day, and the world continues to turn.
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