Tricking yourself out of information overload

According to Oliver Burkeman, informational overload is “suffused with irrationality”: 

There are millions of information sources we could, in theory, keep up with, but only a few that we tell ourselves we must – and the distinction’s pretty arbitrary. I try to answer all personal emails, but I don’t worry about answering all personal Twitter messages. 

The way to deal with our irrational, modern malady may be to make choices and use tools that trick us into thinking we are in control: 

When Google launched Priority Inbox, which sifts email into “important” and “everything else”, I was sceptical: prioritisation systems mainly involve pointlessly reordering your to-do list. But friends who swear by it don’t really use it to prioritise: they use it as a guiltless way to ignore the non-important emails entirely, and thus feel more in command.

….I capture a page in the note-taking application Evernote, label it with the tag “to read” and file it away. Frequently, I never read it. But it works: the information feels tamed. The tug is gone. I’m in control, so I’m happy.

Funnily enough, Instapaper fills this role for me right now and I feel terrible about it.

I used to love Instapaper – the simplicity of the layout, the focus on reading longer form pieces. Now I just throw everything in there that I think I should read, but in reality I never get round to reading it much. Now it feels like a grim box where I have locked away all of my procrastination and I never really fancy opening it much. 

3 responses to “Tricking yourself out of information overload”

  1. I’ve dealt with that problem by giving myself “Instapaper time”:

    30 mins
    A lovely cup of hand-ground coffee
    My survived-redundancy-and-making-bank treat-to-myself tub chair in my study
    Hazel asleep…

    It’s switched Instapaper from a burden to a treat. :-)

  2. Right-o – have cleaned out the Instapaper cache and will start using it properly. Long form, interesting posts that I haven’t had time to read yet…

  3. I’ve probably spent too much time doing internal change management work, but one lesson I’ve learnt is that just starting to use new software isn’t enough. You have to give yourself a process or workflow that integrates it, otherwise nothing really changes. What was that Douglas Adams line about VCRs being labour-saving devices that watch TV so you don’t have to? :-)

    I must get around to the post about how I made Evernote integral to the way I work, instead of something I always thought I should use more…

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