Monday, February 14, 2011

Managing Information Overload

The internet can be a wonderful thing, or it can be the most overwhelming time sink known to man. Indeed, it is both and I think one of the trickiest balances is finding how to use the internet so that it keeps one informed and abreast of one’s industry, without drowning us in too much information.

How do we find that balance? How do we learn to filter out the 24/7 onslaught of publishing tips, publishing trends, publishing warnings, writing rules, writing tips, and writing Must Dos? Not to mention all the marketing and promotional directives orders commands advice out there? The problem with the internet is that the information available is infinite, and our time is not. It is so easy to sit there and follow the trail of links, certain that they will lead us to the One Vital Answer that we seek, when all they are really doing is taking us away from more important and nourishing tasks.

For me at least, this is where the discipline part of writing comes in. I have no trouble producing pages, it’s the blocking out unnecessary ‘information’ that lurks everywhere, promising to inform and enlighten me to within an inch of my life.

For example, I keep reading everywhere that authors need to be ready for the coming revolution in publishing, whether than means e-books only, or no gatekeepers or fitlers, or all our books available free on the internet and the collapse of the paying model, such as what happened in the music industry. But you know? There just isn’t much I can DO about any of that. There is no proactive action I can take to ‘prepare’ myself other than be aware that it might happen. Some people feel that because of those coming changes authors need to be even more vigorous/vigilant about building an online presence and following so they can interact directly, but you know what? Nearly every author I know who has the desire and the temperament is doing that already.

Which is why I have stopped reading those sorts of articles. I found one or two sources which I've found to keep me informed, and I ignore the others.

The thing is, yes, it is good to be informed as to how the industry works in general. But 95% of the stuff we read about is not something in our control. Most of us have no control over distribution or what the publisher does to market us, or get word out, and most of us simply don’t know thousands of people to tap into.

So I try to limit my internet information intake to those things that help me do better those things I am committed to doing.

And I try to eliminate that information which serves no actionable purpose. For example, I don’t subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace when I’m writing a book. Yes, those deals are fascinating and numbers are like crack to me, but dear gawd, every time I read one of those suckers I begin comparing and competing and get all tangled up in the very least desirable aspect of writing. The only time I subscribe is when I have a new project I’m shopping, then I cancel the subscription.

Even information I am interested in, profiles of new writers and books, for example, I only ‘take in’ on certain days or after all my writing is done for that day.

Which is I am so in love with my Holy Trinity of Guiding Principles: Trust, Nourish, and Persevere. Is this article, blog, tweet feed helping me to trust in my process and skills? Is it nourishing either of those by helping me expand my boundaries and try new things? Or is it helping me persevere in those areas of the business that I need to apply perseverance? If not, I need to seriously question whether it’s something I need to spend my time and energy on.

I highly recommend a cyber spring cleaning at least once every six months, although I think once a quarter is better. Our needs and process change and evolve, probably more quickly than we think we do. Go through and evaluate each of those online places where you spend your precious time and psychic energy. If you have one word for 2011 or developed a trio of words, run each cyber haunt through that filter and see if it still fits. If it doesn’t, stop visiting it.

It doesn’t have to be a permanent break up; you can keep it in your bookmarks, just don’t visit every day or remove it from your blog feed. It can just be a hiatus—to see how you do apart. You might find you don’t miss it a bit, that your psyche gives a big, relaxed, ahhh, now that it doesn’t have to process/juggle/wade through that cyber information.

So here is my challenge to you: see if you can reduce your online intake of information by at least one third. One half would be even better. Next week, I’ll present some practical technological tools for juggling the remaining half…

And the week after that? We have a Super Exciting, Seekrit Guest Interview which will make you all very, VERY happy!


Andrea Mack said...

You've got some good advice, here. Reading blogs, articles, etc. can fill up a lot of time. Since my day is conveniently broken up into segments by things I have to (e.g. driving kids to school) I use these to limit my time for taking in all of that information... leaving me with larger blocks of time to actually accomplish something.

Sarah said...

Very timely, and it inspired a blog post of my own. Thanks for the helpful insights!

clpauwels said...

Very wise! I've been culling, haphazardly, but with your inspiration I will make a larger effort to escape. With all the projects I'm juggling, I owe it to myself to focus on my writing, not sucking in more and more without producing a like (better?) amount.

Carin Bramsen said...

That is an excellent HToGP. This piece meets all 3 criteria, just by suggesting them. And, maybe cutting down on internet consumption can boost the quality of my internet time... That Holy-Grail trip down a trail of links can start feeling like a potato-chip binge, not because of the sites themselves, but because my own attention dwindles. Thanks for another perceptive article that really hits home.

Greg Pincus said...

Overload is a HUGE issue - I find that too much info eats up brain space even when you're not actually looking at the stuff anymore. So, I do a quarterly clean. I also categorize all my blog feeds so that I can pick and choose what to read on any day, whether it's publishing news, writing tips, inspiration, poetry, whatever. Now, we all have different ideas about what's actionable and important, but no matter where that line is, you are SO right that discipline is necessary. After all, if you're not creating... marketing and business tips don't matter at all.

Barb said...

I appreciate your blog. For me it is like a cool breeze of good sense, or like a brisk slap in the face urging me to "snap out of it!" A good story, written well is the ultimate goal. So I'll just go do that little thing.

Anonymous said...

You didn't mention pirate hunting, which is a huge issue for me. It takes an hour of internet time every day.

The good thing about pirate hunting is that when I'm through for the day, I don't even want to SEE the internet for awhile.

Robin L said...

Andrea, that's very cool you day comes ready-made, broken up into sections like that! And that you are able to make the most of them.

So glad you found the post helpful, Sarah, and thank you for the nice shout out on your blog.

CPat, very happy to help you with your culling. I think it's a mental version of feng shui...

Carin, ha! on my own post meeting my criteria. Hadn't thought of that. And I think the quest for the holy grail turning into a potato chip binge is the PERFECT descriptor of too much time on the internet. Brilliant!

YES, Greg! The overload doesn't stop once the computer is turned off. I do something similar to what you do with your blog feeds, but not as a feed as I find I'm getting more and more particular about what I pull into my inbox.

Barb, I'm so glad you enjoy the blog! Although I have to say, if I get to choose, I'd much prefer to be a cool breeze of good sense rather than a slap in the face! :-)

Wow Karen, I hadn't even thought about factoring in pirate hunting. That would be both a major time suck and creativity killer for me!

Elizabeth Loupas said...

Great post, Robin. The net is such an amazing resource for information but it can be a terrifying time sink as well. I'm looking forward to the technological tools you recommend!

Laura Ruby said...

Thanks for this, Robin. Doing a lot more online than I used to -- one of my words for the year is "courage" -- but having a hard time keeping the efforts to a manageable/sustainable level. I'm not sure if this is a introvert's problem or a disorganized person's problem, but it seems as if I'm all or nothing. All marketing and publicity and social networking or whatever, or all writingwritingwriting. Since another of my words is "balance," I'm glad to get a reminder that one sometimes needs to block out some of the Internet noise, and protect one's artistic time/space (just as sometimes one must poke one's head out of one's writing cave to say hi to some of the other cavepeople).

Thanks again,


Sherrie Petersen said...

Reduce by a third? Wow. I've been unsubscribing to things because my inbox makes me want to cry sometimes, but I don't know if I'm anywhere near a third. Though it's not a bad goal...