Everyone gets overwhelmed. It happens often in our lives. But, these days with all the data and webpages, dealing with information overload presents its own set of challenges. We'll explore the causes and some ways to manage it in this post.
Information Overload Defined
You'll see several definitions on how information overload is defined. It's worth it to glance at the definition via Wikipedia:
While this is a decent enough definition, the takeaway is information overload is too much information and not having the appropriate resources to process it.
The term is obvious such that you could infer its meaning, even if you never came across the term before. Although, you would have dealt with the issue anyway as it affects all people.
While the internet is a great tool, the truth is there is now more information that anyone know what to do with. Worse, information producers can be anyone which means there are no filters. This is why we have problems with fake news and propaganda.
In most cases, we don't need unfettered creation of data. We need to refine what we have and organize it to make the information not only easier to find, but also more compelling to use. Our content delivery platforms are as important as the content itself.
For instance, which would you rather do, read a 5,000 page article on a dry topic, or have the important points summarized for you to get a birdseye view? The answer probably depends on what information you are looking and whether you can trust the producers summarizing the data.
In the perfect world, you could control how the data is summarized to ensure the information you review is what you are looking for. Of course, this relies on the original article being correct.
Think back to when you felt overwhelmed by information. You were likely frustrated and beaten down a bit. You may have felt that it is your fault that you couldn't grasp what appeared to be a simple concept. It's not your fault. In some cases, overloading people with too much information is by design. It's easy to manipulate people when you disrupt their spirit. They are willing to accept anything to alleviate that frustration.
Information overload can cause people to feel anxious. Extreme cases can bring your spirits down, believing that you aren't capable of handling the amount of information that exists or will exist in the future. Here's a news flash: no one can handle that amount of information by themselves. Once you come to grips with that fact, you can take a step back, evaluate the situation, and determine the best course of action.
Do you think it's possible for any one person to manage 400 websites? When I first started writing, I would grab domains for every concept that popped into my head. Before I knew it, I was the proud owner of over 400 websites. At the time, I thought nothing of this and figured I would get to each website eventually.
Here's the problem. There are only 24-hours in a day. You need to take an inventory of your time and your abilities. There wasn't a snowball's chance in you-know-where that I could manage 400 websites. Not then, not know, not ever! Today, I have a reasonable four websites that I manage and they exist for strategic reasons (more below).
Hopefully, my 400+ website example drives the point home that you need to be realistic. I wasn't. Even if I outsourced much of the worked (which would have been a better idea), I would still have to manage the resources that I hired. I would have to check every article written and if there were quality issues, deal with them.
Imagine if you tasked yourself with managing 400 websites. If your goal was to create one article a week on each, do you think that is possible for you to handle?
An article such as the one your reading right now, takes about 3 hours to write, sometimes longer. We'll stick with 3 hours as a frame of reference. If I did nothing else for my writing business but write, I could get 4 articles such as this written. If I work 7 days per week, that would be 28 articles per week. Since there are 4 weeks in a month, that is about 112 articles per month. The is far short of the one article per site per week goal.
You need to project what is possible when managing your time, which is a big part of managing information overload, by the way. Knowing what you are capable of accomplishing and how much time it will take are crucial to keeping the overload from invading your life.
When you have a strategy in place, you have a purpose for accomplishing your goals. For instance, I have three websites, each specific to the niches that I write for, and this website (JamesCochrane.com) that allows me to showcase my work. This is my strategy. I write in the marketing, data science (Technology) and finance niches. It makes sense for me to have blogs in each of these three areas.
Your strategy is likely to be different than mine. You may not be a writer and don't need multiple websites. That is fine. But, come up with a strategy that makes sense for your business and your goals. When you do, it helps you focus on keeping in line with your strategy. You can always ask the question, how does an initiative or task fit in with my overall strategy? If there is no logical answer, move onto something that will fit your strategy.
Small business owners are notoriours for trying to do every aspect of their business themselves. I am guilty of this myself. In fact, a while back, I stopped using a software package that seemed too simplistic. It was a package that created videos from slideshows. My thought process for stopping the use of this software was I could accomplish the same task using PowerPoint. Before I stopped using the software, I create several videos per week. Do you know how many I created after I stopped? Zero! Yep, no videos were created between the time I stopped and now.
I am back with the company because I came to the realization that I won't use PowerPoint to create videos. The biggest problem with me doing it myself is I need to find all the assets to create the video. The solution that I stopped (and returned to) has most of the assets contained in the software. I have already created three videos since I've been back two days from the time this article was published.
Know your strengths and weaknesses and play up on your strengths. Let others handle the areas where you are weak. This frees up your time.
Hopefully, you can see how this fits in with managing information overload. When you become overwhelmed with information, that is a sign you are trying to accomplish too much on your own. You are not using the resources of others to get what need to get done. Find the best people and pay them a fair price.
Paying a fair prices is important. As an example, I had a conversation with a potential client about creating content for his website. He told me he had a difficult time keeping writers. I asked how much he was paying them. He told me he could only afford to pay two cents per word. I asked him if he thought that rate might have somehting to do with writers moving on from him. He said that he could not afford any more than that.
I asked him why writers would stick around for that price. He said he understood that it was a low rate but it was all he could afford. I asked him why he didn't just write the content himself. He said that writing takes a lot of time and is not easy. At that point, it was time for me to move on from the conversation. I simply told him good luck on his new role has head of writing talent for his business.
The information overload for this person is extensive since he won't concentrate on managing his core business functions. These are the functions that make him money. He'll spend a good part of his efforts on searching for writers. They will keep moving on when they find a better rate.
I have had conversations similar to this with other potential clients. The point is, knowing where to concentrate your efforts will go a long way in combating the overload. If you find a good writer (or any other service you need) pay them well. Keep them happy. They will free you up to handle your core business functions. It's simple economics.
I have several clients who know the value of their businesses. They pay me a fair amount and I deliver quality content for them. This arrangement has been ongoing for several years. They don't get caught up in the mundane and they concentrate on their core business activities. And guess what? They make money. If they didn't, they would not continue working with me or anyone else. They would have gone out of business.
Concentrate on your core business and the information overload will tend to be less. When you feel overwhelmed, revert to this paradigm, i.e, your core business activities. This doesn't mean you can't expand when it makes sense to do so. But, even here, make sure you find good people to help you instead of going it alone!
You went into business for a reason. Your core business is what makes you money and that is where you should be spending your time.
My core business is content creation and specialization. Don't get bogged down with creating content yourself. Content creation is not an easy task and is time consuming. Imagine all that you could get done if you leave the content creation to me.
I can help you with the right content strategy for your business. I have several years experience in content creation and research. Reach out to me and see how we can work together to grow your business.
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