Information overload – an incoming content strategy

Twitter, Instapaper, Delicious, emails, podcasts, two magazine subscriptions, several superb looking books waiting to be read, more on their way from Amazon, information gathered during various conferences, meet-ups, museum visits, movies, adverts, bits and pieces I see as I move through the world, and notes or images I store on my ever-loved iPhone.

We’re information swamped.

The steady stream of this-and-that reminds me very much of Chinese dim sum servings, a pick-and-choose eating extravaganza: I always leave feeling kind-of-satisfied but over-grazed, bloated and brain-dead. From dim sum to ‘dumb sum’ in under an hour.

The information glut has me feeling not dissimilar and so I’ve taken time out, not to read about how I can manage my time better, and not to find another information management technology, but to stare into space, to allow time for digestion, to write, and to ponder. An essential past time, not a luxury (though it happens to fit in awfully well with the Christmas slow down).

A for assimilation

The nature of my brain means that the more I read the less I actually take in. Whilst I scan and pick out interesting bits, how much information do I actually use? Consuming is one thing, digesting another, creating something useful? Well, that’s where the promise of the information age really begins. The ability to self-publish to a potentially (and unfathomably) huge audience affords us to the never-before opportunity of sharing something of real use and progression instantly and with relatively minimal effort.

But, in order to move towards this point of information progression (as opposed to regurgitation) there needs to be, in my case at least, a balance between input and output and a space between the two for assimilation.

A super simple strategy

The irony is that in pondering a solution to my bloat I realised that what I need is an extremely simple but effective content strategy. A content strategy however that focuses on how I handle content coming in and not content going out. (Though content coming in certainly effects the quality of content going out, which gets me to thinking about all sorts of Content Strategy things. But I’ll save that for another time.)

So, my simple ‘content incoming strategy’, which sounds awfully like a set of New Year’s resolutions, is as follows:

(Apologies for the biblical language, I couldn’t resist it.)

1. Know thy focus: I can’t, and shouldn’t, try to read everything that comes by.

A note: Sometimes the most interesting insights are gained from an unexpected source. Reading only content strategy posts might not necessarily allow for a new insight or spark original thought.

2. Greedy is not cool: Reading a few things thoroughly and really engaging with the content would be of far greater value than trying to read everything, which, at any rate, is not humanly possible.

3. Thou shall not horde: It is better to scan, make a quick decision as to whether something is of real interest (to either myself or someone else) and either pass it on, read it properly then and there, or, Instapaper for later. But, there’s no point in Instapaper’ing or bookmarking the daylights out of the World Wide Web only to fill up my account with things I really don’t want or need.

4. Be the master of thy devices and apps: My devices, apps and social-sharing activities should make accessing and sharing information (and jokes, it’s not all seriousness around here) easier, not over-whelming. Therefore…

5. Content under the Bodhi tree (pun intended): To take a little wise advice from Buddha, I will focus on one thing at a time and move onto the next only when I’m done.

This is going to be the most tricky one – I find myself, I am ashamed to admit, attempting to read an article, an email, and my Twitter feed simultaneously. Very naughty.

6. The gift of time: I’m giving myself one day per week of no-reading-time, which I’m hoping will mutate into productive-writing-time.

7. A little mental space: I need to include more staring into space, walking in the park, and definitely do more surfing (I had to squeeze that in somewhere). Mental space is an absolute must in Assimilation.

A note: Doodling is also excellent. Some find knitting and baking mentally-spacing too.

8. Be humble, but also confident, and crafty: There’s no point in gathering information, taking time out to work through it all, and then being too shy to share what I have with the world because it might not be good enough. I’m aware that not everything I think is going to be a gem, but I need to be confident in assuming that the mash that’s going through my head might just be helpful, or needed, by somebody else.

9. Ooo, can I squeeze another two out here, 10 commandments would be awfully cheesy but kind of cool.

10. Nope, maybe not…


  1. Hi Kate, I hear you. I highly recommend Mark Hurst’s book Bit Literacy, in which he outlines several practical strategies for dealing with information overload, every day. But discipline is tough – my hand’s hovering over the subscribe link to this very blog right now :)

    Cheers, Jussi

  2. Hi Jussi,

    Thanks so much taking the time to tell me about ‘Bit Literacy’ – looks an interesting book, certainly worth a good squiz.

    I do think that the key lies in a simple set of guidelines and some strong (but light-hearted) discipline. I’ll be refining my guidelines, which are working well for me thus far, during 2011.

    “Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity” by David Allen also comes highly recommended. I’ve not read it – appropriate to the post, it’s waiting patiently on my bookshelf! As I recall, David writes more about emails, filing, time management, and appointments and is not as focused on ‘new information’ management and assimilation. Still, worth mentioning.

    Wishing you an excellent 2011.


Add your thoughts