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.