How many times have you been interrupted today?
I’ve had Skype messages, urgent emails, texts, phone calls, Facebook messages, and then I’ve been interrupting myself as well as I’ve been procrastinating on a task and went to get a cup of tea.
OK, so that last interruption wasn’t a source of information overload, but it is certainly a symptom. When we feel overwhelmed, it’s easy to feel paralysed. You don’t know where to start, so you risk doing nothing while you try to process what’s important and where your focus really needs to be.
As bloggers, we have to deal with these situations, or we run the risk of not making any progress on our blogs and businesses.
Read next: 5 ways to get more done as a blogger
For me, information overload kicks in most overwhelmingly when I have to do something new. Learning new things, diving into a course, or just playing around with new tools – all those are a huge sense of stress.
(Interestingly, I enjoy learning new things. It’s just sometimes I don’t know when to stop.)
Being able to cope with information overload is a crucial skill for entrepreneurs and bloggers. In fact, handing information overload was been called out as one of the top 10 adaptive leadership trends. Having the skills to be able to deal with the constant flow of information will set you aside from others in your niche because you’ll be making more progress and taking your business forward.
Plus, having the skills to deal with All The Things will help manage your mental well-being too.
But how do you actually do it? In my experience, there are three ways to manage information overload: having the right mindset, having the right tools and having the right training.
Overload Buster #1: Mindset
It’s crucial to have the right attitude when dealing with the amount of information we process as small business owners and bloggers. There’s constantly something going on: whether that’s changes to the Facebook algorithm, the shift towards video, having to learn more about SEO – even if you have a small team, the chances are you are still doing a lot of things yourself as a blogger.
From the ping of incoming emails (“I can’t download your freebie”), to people clammering for your attention on social networks, to having to learn how to create clickable pins… as content creators we have to be on the alert for the nugget of information that will actually shift the needle for our audiences and our businesses.
That’s a lot for any brain.
Practise sifting through information – you probably do this daily without even thinking about it. A positive mindset to have for dealing with all this data centres around being able to assimilate information and then analyse what’s in front of you. You’re looking for things that will move the needle, things that help you achieve your goals. Everything else can wait.
As a blogger, this means taking a step back. When there’s so much externally demanding your attention, when you have that many balls in the air, you have to trust that your goals are correct and that you are moving in the right direction.
(If they don’t feel correct, sort that out first.)
Use your time wisely, taking a helicopter view of what is going on and making sure you’re always on the right path to where you want to ultimately be.
Try to spot when overload is happening to you. The more self-aware you can be, the easier it is to spot when it is likely to happen – the days leading up to a deadline for a client, or delivering an online presentation, when you are trying to get a lot of important work finished and won’t be able to deal well with interruptions, for example.
Then you can think through how best to tackle those situations. Perhaps you work best in the mornings, so do your focused work then and push your other tasks to the afternoon. Book a meeting with yourself in your diary so that you have a block of time to get on with your work. Learn about your working style and your productivity habits so that you can flex around what works best for you.
Overload Buster #2: Tools
The right tools will help you manage the information so that you feel less overwhelmed with it all. For example:
- Set up email rules so that incoming messages are automatically moved into the right folders. Then you can look at them en masse.
- Turn off the desktop pop ups that alert you to new Skype messages or mails.
- Use a single sign on password management tool so at least numerous passwords aren’t part of your information overload.
- Set up your knowledge sharing and collaboration tools with adequate categories, Slack channels or tags so that you can sift through the information that is relevant for you and your team.
- Use a planning template for your next big project so you identify what you need to know and do in advance – then it can’t creep up on you.
Not knowing how to use a piece of software is a huge stressor for me (WebinarNinja, I’m looking at you), and I find I get very frustrated with the time wasted. Plan in your learning time to save yourself a lot of headaches in the future.
Overload Buster #3: Training
We aren’t born knowing how to sift through reams of data. Many of us pick it up through necessity, but don’t underestimate how a bit of training can transform the way you approach your day.
I can speak from first-hand experience, here. Having worked with a coach on my own time management, I have set up a weekly planning habit that I can honestly say has transformed my life.
I’ve only been doing it for about 5 weeks so far, but plotting out what I need to achieve each week, and then what commitments I have each day, has been revolutionary for helping me stay focused and get through what needs to be done.
You don’t need a coach to make improvements; there are many off-the-shelf courses you can attend on time management and other skills, including my own course on how to organise your blog.
Whatever you choose will give you more skills for managing information overload and show you practical tactics for better managing your time.
Learn and Adapt Your Approach
We aren’t going to stop being interrupted. We aren’t going to switch off the flow of information to our inboxes and collaboration tools. What we need are practical solutions for managing that so you can feel that you are on top of the overwhelm.
Different strategies are going to work for different people. While you might find it helpful to have an app on your phone that keeps you working and connected while travelling, your colleague might prefer to use that commute time for reading briefing documentation (or simply looking out the window, which is a fine choice for your time too!).
Try different approaches. Try different tools. Be conscious of the fact overwhelm is happening to you and think about the root causes. The more open you are to watching out for overwhelm, the more likely you are to be able to deal with it. Let me know how you get on and what works best for you – I’m always open to learning new things!
A version of this article first appeared on the TwentyEighty Strategy Execution blog.