A few weeks ago, I revealed my ongoing struggle with information overload. In today’s post, I share how I’m doing with my efforts to pare down my information backlogs and prevent them from recurring.
My May 7th essay outlined the following areas of data excess:
- Open browser tabs
- My “read” and “watch” folders
- Email backlog
- My “considering” folder (links to items I’m thinking of buying)
- Magazines, catalogs, and clipped articles
Included below are the steps I’ve taken to address each of the above issues, as well as what I plan to do before the month is over (just a few days left to go!). I also outline how I’m going to keep myself out of trouble in the future.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve managed to keep my open browser tabs to a minimum. Now I generally have just a few tabs open at any given time. If I ever notice the tab situation becoming excessive, I spend several minutes reviewing them to close out anything that I’m not currently working on. As reader Kim said in her astute comment on my information overload post, I can always review my browser history to find something if I need it later.
I feel much less anxious when the only browser tabs I have open are related to my current projects. I’ve also found that there’s no need to keep my Gmail application open continuously, as I only actually address email messages a couple of times per day. The same is true for my messaging apps. It just feels better to check such applications only when I have the time and inclination to respond to those who have contacted me. I’m far more focused when I only attend to that which is pertinent to me in the present moment.
Read and Watch Folders
Instead of maintaining two separate folders for information that I want to read and watch, I’ve combined all such links into a single folder. As I was doing so, I deleted any links that no longer felt important or interesting to me. However, I still have quite a few outstanding read/watch bookmarks at this time. I’ve worked through some of them, but I seriously doubt that I’ll address everything that remains by May 31st. Even so, I’ll definitely adhere to my plan of deleting all that is left over at month’s end. I’ll also continue this practice in the coming months, if I even decide to maintain a read/watch folder at all.
The same wise reader who suggested minimizing my open browser tabs also recommended that I go ahead and read or watch anything I’m interested in right away rather than saving it for later. It will be easier for me to adhere to this sound practice if I set aside specific times for reading email and doing online browsing, as those activities tend to be what prompts me to save things for later. I also want to give myself the latitude to stop reading an article or watching a video in the middle of it, if I decide that it’s not truly worth my time. I think we tend to be more discerning when we have to make such decisions in real time, rather than pushing things off until later, as we always seem to think we’ll have more time in the future.
I did a lot of unsubscribing after my May 7th post, and I also either read or deleted the bulk of my outstanding email messages. I’m now being more diligent about going through my email box at least a few times per week to pare things down. I like my idea of deleting all remaining emails at the end of each month so that an extensive backlog no longer accumulates.
It’s highly unlikely that anything important would linger in my in-box, as I generally address such messages in a reasonably timely fashion (within a few days to a week at most). The emails that tend to stick around are more likely things for me to read rather than communication for which a response is necessary. A lot of that information is optional and shouldn’t be carried over for weeks or months on end. If I don’t read something before the end of a given month, it probably wasn’t that important to me anyway, so it shouldn’t matter if I delete it.
At the time of this writing, I have fewer than fifty messages between my Primary and Updates folders, which together constitute my email inbox (I modified the standard Gmail structure to suit my needs and preferences). This is a much more manageable level than I had earlier this month, so I feel like I’m on target to get close to “Inbox Zero” by month’s end. The only messages that might remain at that time are “pending” items, such as communications for which I’m awaiting a response or upcoming events or appointments that I need to keep track of. But if I have a handful of messages remaining on June 1st, I won’t mind. It’s not about having no email; it’s about having less email.
My “Considering” Folder
Because I like to use “the power pause” to take time to ponder potential purchases before clicking the buy button, I’ve had a longstanding practice of saving item links in a browser folder that I labeled “Considering.” The upside of that practice was that I didn’t feel pressured to buy things right away and was able to easily return to item listings later if desired. But the downside was that these links had a tendency to multiply, such that they would often become unwieldy.
At the time of my May 7th post, I had accumulated close to two hundred links in my “Considering” folder! I committed to significantly reducing this number by month’s end, but one of my readers offered a suggestion that I thought was helpful. She recommended that I use Pinterest instead of browser links to keep track of what I’m contemplating buying. Her method involves setting up a board for the current year, with sections for each month. Since I hadn’t used Pinterest much in years, I wasn’t aware of the new section function that allows users to partition their boards. What my reader does is pin everything she buys each month, as well as all of the items that she’s considering buying. At the end of the month, if she hasn’t purchased some of those items, she deletes the pins and starts over again the following month.
I love the idea of having a visual representation of each month’s purchases. In fact, I already do this using a lower-tech system with desktop folders and stock images representing everything I’ve bought in a given month. Pinterest could definitely streamline this process and also provide a way for me to easily keep track of what I’m thinking of buying as well. I plan to take my reader’s advice and adopt a system much like the one she’s using. For those who aren’t aware, Pinterest allows users to make select boards private, so those who are following you won’t be able to see what you’ve pinned on such boards.
It will take me a little time to put the Pinterest system in place and eliminate my “Considering” folder, but I hope to get it done by next week. I’ve already pared down my links substantially, as many of the ones I’d saved were for items that are either no longer available or no longer strike my fancy. Using the 2021 purchase board with monthly sections will push me to review my pins each month, which will prevent things from getting out of hand like they had previously. I appreciate when my smart and creative readers share their wonderful tips here!
Magazines, Catalogs, and Clipped Articles
I’ve also taken a few powerful actions with regard to my physical information overload. I cancelled all of the discounted magazine subscriptions that were enacted late last year. I believe that my mother-in-law’s subscriptions will soon be coming to an end as well, but I still need to check into that matter. Moving forward, I’m only going to maintain two ongoing weekly magazine subscriptions, to one news magazine and one entertainment magazine, both of which are fairly easy and quick reads.
I’m now in the process of downsizing my pile of magazines, catalogs, and clipped articles. I got rid of many articles right off the bat, as I knew that my plan was to eliminate the whole lot by the end of May. That forced me to be more discerning about what I’d be able to read in just a few weeks’ time. I’ve been perusing the magazines and articles while on my elliptical trainer (which I use most mornings) instead of spending that time on the internet, as has been my recent practice. I doubt that I’ll get through the entire pile by May 31st, but I still commit to tossing the remaining items into the recycling bin at that time.
I’ve enjoyed reading the articles and paging through the catalogs, but I also look forward to beginning June with a clean slate. I want to increase the amount of time I spend reading books, so it will be nice to feel freer to do that. As much as I like the entertainment and learning experience of consuming articles, there’s something much more satisfying to reading books, as they typically delve deeper and allow for a more immersive experience. I know that I will continue to allow time and space for both types of reading, but I’d like it to be more balanced than it has been. For a long time, I’ve mostly been reading articles and scrolling through the internet, so I’m glad I have a plan in place to spend more time enjoying books in the coming months.
I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress with my information overload in a few short weeks. I think that I may have scared myself straight once I read my own thoughts on the matter! Getting clear about how I was feeling – and what I was facing – related to my data consumption helped me to put a plan in place for digging myself out of the hole that I was in. It was also beneficial to read about readers’ experiences with this issue and what they did to turn things around. I still have some steps I need to take in order to honor my May information decluttering commitments, but I feel confident that I’ll be feeling much better when June rolls around.
If you’d like to share your tips and suggestions for cutting down on information overload, or if you want to relate your own experiences with this issue, please feel free to comment. I’ll be weighing in on other topics related to my “less” theme in the coming weeks and months, including household decluttering and reducing procrastination and time-wasting activities.
8 thoughts on “Choosing Less: Information Overload Update”
That was a lot of work – just unsubscribing from emails can take hours, and unsubscribing from magazines takes even longer. You’ve made amazing progess in less than a month! This definitely shows the value of having a plan with specific steps laid out – something I often forget!
As is often the case, your previous information overload post gave me much to think about. I had mentioned how my previous jobs had sometimes led to information overload, but since then I’ve thought of another aspect of work. When I’m working regularly, my day has structure and my time for internet activity is limited. When I’m not working, my compulsive tendencies take over and I spend too much time on things. It used to be shopping, but now I am more likely to eat compulsively or waste hours watching videos or “researching” things like garden decor or recipes. And by hours I mean I have been known to spend the entire day on the computer. This is far off the topic of information overload, but my point is that work, no matter how stressful it may be, also protects me from some of my worst habits. This was a surprising realization because I also know that I rebel against structure and regimen. Maybe I just need to face the fact that I’m a 62-year-old teenager, needing rules but chafing against them at the same time.😄
So, back to the topic. When you talk about the email backlog, I assume it is your unread emails that are the problem. I don’t have any unread but have thousands and thousands of emails that I have read and sorted into various folders. I don’t feel overwhelmed by them, in fact they give me a sense of security because when someone says “I don’t remember that!”, I can pull up the email from 5 or 10 years ago. I understand that this is the same instinct my mother had when she collected every newspaper and magazine for decades – she wanted to be able to go back and find something. So I may need to address this in the future, if at some point the amount of email becomes unwieldy and I can’t actually find anything.
You have reminded me that I should look at my Pinterest! When I first opened it I had a few boards for outfits, recipes, books, etc. Then I started creating random boards as I was pinning things, e.g. “Summer 2014 Wardrobe”, “Blue Outfits”, 2017 New Patterns”, etc. It’s pretty hard to find anything I’ve pinned, which is completely counter to the idea of Pinterest. I will take some time and reorganize it, and I’m sure I will end up deleting half the stuff since it’s so old now.
I look forward to your future posts, especially about household decluttering. I’m curious about one goes about it when sharing space with another person. I can declutter my own belongings but it’s quite frustrating if another person’s clutter just expands to fill the vacuum. And I certainly need to hear about reducing time-wasting activities!
Happy Memorial Day!
As always, you raise some excellent points, Katrina, especially about having more time for engaging in our compulsive tendencies when we’re not working or our days are less structured. Like you, I also rebel against structure, so I get it! I guess we’re both middle-aged teenagers…
Yes, I was referring to unread (or not dealt with) emails as a problem area. I save lots of emails, too, and those don’t bother me. It’s those things that I have yet to address that I find unsettling.
I’m finding Pinterest less stressful than my “Considering” folder, as it seems more “out there” somehow. I also love being able to easily see photos of the items. It’s a great tool, but I can see how it could become time-consuming, too. All things in moderation (that’s what I’m trying to do, anyway).
I SO agree with Katrina B’s comment, ‘I can declutter my own belongings but it’s quite frustrating if another person’s clutter just expands to fill the vacuum’.
My husband hoards and I recognise so well how his things expand. Recently, our daughter borrowed his printer and when she wanted to return it to his desk the next day, he told her to let him do it because he would have to make room. Apparently, clutter had already infiltrated the void.
I have declared no go zones of order and calm, where jungles of jumble are strictly prohibited, and he really is trying to purge. But maintaining momentum it is an ongoing struggle.
I agree with what Katrina said there, too, Sue! My husband isn’t as into tidiness as I am, which can sometimes become a problem. It must be challenging to deal with your husband’s hoarding, but it sounds like the no-go zones of order and calm are helping you to maintain some peace. It can be very challenging for some people to purge. My mother-in-law was like that and it had her in tears sometimes. We eventually told her not to worry about her stuff and to just enjoy her home and her possessions (but we didn’t have to live there!). I hope your husband’s efforts to purge will be successful, even if they are slow.
Good for you, Debbie. It sounds as if you’ve made a great deal of progress with your information overload. I’ve started to delete the writing blogs I’ve kept stored in an email folder. My intention is to save only those from my favorites blogger—a valuable resource—who only sends out one newsletter a month.
That’s great that you’re deleting some of those old writing blog posts, Jenn. Saving only one newsletter per month sounds manageable. I found myself wondering about that newsletter, so if you see this and are willing to share, that would be great. Not that I need more information coming my way necessarily, but I DID just get rid of a lot 🙂
I have trouble getting going with books I want to read sometimes. When it happens I set the timer on my phone, and then put it out of reach, and sit down – telling myself that all I will do is read until the timer goes off. If a book is any good I’m usually hooked by the time the timer goes off and it’s not such a struggle to find time to read the rest of it. If the book is still at the bottom of my interests then I made a decision. Not every book is worth finishing.
What a brilliant suggestion, Rose! Thanks so much for sharing it. I haven’t tried this type of thing with books, but sometimes when I’m procrastinating on a task, I agree (to myself) to do it for a short period of time just to get started. That usually leads to my doing it for a much longer period of time, but not always (but any amount of progress is a good thing!). I agree wholeheartedly that not every book (or movie or article or whatever) is worth finishing. Sometimes life is too short…
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