5 ways to overcome content overload

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You spend a lot of time read­ing and watch­ing con­tent online. New blog posts, pod­casts, arti­cles, and email ALWAYS seem to be com­ing your way. Do you ever find your­self over­whelmed?

Maybe something like this has happened to you

You check your email hop­ing to get real work done. An email comes in from some­thing you signed up for. There’s a link to a catchy arti­cle or video. You con­vince your­self this is “work” because it’s going to deep­en your per­son­al under­stand­ing of the con­tent.

I need this arti­cle,” you tell your­self. You dig deep­er.

When you stop and glance at the clock, 35 min­utes has passed, and you’re no clos­er to reach­ing your “M.I.T” for the day.

The con­tent is so good! But remem­ber, you checked your email to get work done, not to be over­whelmed with more arti­cles and videos. The con­tent has con­sumed you. 

If you don’t have a PLAN to consume content, it WILL consume you

If you’re a moti­vat­ed per­son, you have sys­tems, rou­tines, and rit­u­als to help you do your best work dur­ing your best hours. You seek to deliv­er on time and have bal­ance. You know that plans and sys­tems keep you on track to do your best work.

Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty expert Michael Hyatt says it’s bet­ter to spend your time/days on paper, before your spend it in real life. Dave Ram­sey has said the same thing about mon­ey. We must learn to approach con­tent read­ing, watch­ing, and lis­ten­ing with a sim­i­lar plan, rather than being caught in the wave of email, social posts, and SMS you’re guar­an­teed to receive on a dai­ly basis.

You will want to con­sume it all, but you can’t with­out a sol­id con­tent-con­sump­tion plan.

Staying on track

With­out a con­tent-con­sump­tion plan, you will lose ener­gy dur­ing your peak hours, and possibly—like me—get quick­ly dis­cour­aged and stuck. Here’s the fear I hear in my head when I see oth­ers’ great con­tent:

  • Wow that was a great point, I’ll nev­er say that good
  • This looks like it took a lot of time to make
  • If I post what I was going to post, I might look like a fraud

When I read too much online con­tent, I hear these things and I have to re-moti­vate myself so I can cre­ate orig­i­nal con­tent.

Here’s a peak inside my brain of what works for me right now. Maybe it will be help­ful for you, too. (Please let me know, I’m tru­ly inter­est­ed in your thoughts.)

1. Have a game plan for stuff that’s “too good.”

You will come across con­tent that’s way bet­ter than you could have writ­ten or pro­duced. Stuff that’s “too good” needs to be han­dled with extreme care. You must wear gloves and guard your heart. Some­times real­ly good con­tent can dis­cour­age or “freeze” you because you know you’re nev­er going to lev­el up. This is a lie you can choose to believe or not.

I have to han­dle stuff that’s “too good” like dyna­mite. If I touch it before my pri­or­i­ties are com­plete, it destroys my work­flow. If I wait to touch it once I’m clear and accom­plished, it ener­gizes my cre­ativ­i­ty. I save real­ly good con­tent as a treat when I’ve com­plet­ed my most impor­tant tasks. Only then can I tru­ly get any­thing out of it. Evenings are bet­ter for me because wake up think­ing about the good stuff I fell asleep think­ing about.

[share­able cite=“Josh Mitchell”]Content that’s too good must be han­dled with extreme care.[/shareable]

2. Plan to consume “active-self” content.

I define active-self con­tent as con­tent that requires one’s full-self and atten­tion to tru­ly under­stand. For me, it’s paper books and print­ed research arti­cles. (Could also be a high­ly-spe­cif­ic train­ing video to learn a new skill.)

I need men­tal and phys­i­cal ener­gy to take in active con­tent. I need a desk, a writ­ing instru­ment, and no “emer­gency” emails or tasks. I need some kind of white noise or back­ground music. I try to con­sume active con­tent before 12pm. Tony Reinke has some good advice about when to read this kind of con­tent in his book, Lit!. « Very help­ful wis­dom from some­one who reads a lot of books, main­tains bal­ance, and writes a lot. He rec­om­mends hav­ing spe­cif­ic kinds of books to read when you eat by your­self.

3. Plan to consume “passive-self” content.

I define pas­sive-self con­tent as con­tent you can con­sume while you’re doing some­thing else, but still get tremen­dous val­ue. Pas­sive-self con­tent typ­i­cal­ly includes pod­cast episodes, YouTube videos, webi­nar replays, and etc. Stuff you can put on while you’re dri­ving, clean­ing the house, doing the dish­es, or orga­niz­ing.

(Because most pod­casts have long intro­duc­tions and the clas­sic before we jump in and oth­er cliche intro lan­guage, I reserve pod­casts and audio books for dri­ving. I tag YouTube inter­views with watch lat­er to play while I clean the kitchen or get ready in the morn­ing.)

If I find pas­sive-self con­tent use­ful, I will re-lis­ten or re-watch a sec­ond time. I lis­ten to excep­tion­al­ly use­ful pas­sive-self con­tent at least 3 times. I always learn some­thing new on the 3rd pass that I missed the first or sec­ond time.

4. Process email on your phone only.

When I check email on my com­put­er, my ten­den­cy is to spend way too much time respond­ing, look­ing things up, and get­ting the wrong things done. Tasks become urgent action items. Since I’m in “com­put­er mode,” I’m only 1 or 2 key­strokes away from the next step, and it’s easy to start doing things with­out pro­cess­ing if that’s the right thing to do. Email on my com­put­er cre­ates the illu­sion of get­ting things done, but too often, I get swamped and my ener­gy dwin­dles. 

To pre­vent this, I process email using Spark for iPhone and prac­tice Inbox Zero. It has tru­ly sparked my pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. My objec­tive is quick­ly archive, or to reply with a short response. Because I’m on my phone, I tend to write less, which for email, is usu­al­ly bet­ter. If I can’t respond imme­di­ate­ly, it gets “snoozed.” If some­thing requires action, it goes into Nozbe and I’ll process lat­er. (For instance, if some­one sends me a cool arti­cle I actu­al­ly want to read, it goes into my Read/Review project in Nozbe and I archive the mes­sage after thank­ing them.)

5. Keep a rainy day file.

Most of the stuff I see, I real­ly don’t need to read or watch right now. I keep a dig­i­tal rainy day file (read lat­er tag in Ever­note) to use when I’m absolute­ly bored. Rather than brows­ing social media or refresh­ing my email hop­ing to get new con­tent, I browse con­tent I’ve already “claimed” as inter­est­ing. When I have the urge to be on Face­book, I use my read lat­er tag to trick myself into being pro­duc­tive. (I got the idea of a rainy day file from Ben Cachiaras.)

[share­able cite=“Josh Mitchell”]Most of the con­tent you see, you real­ly don’t need to read or watch right now. Have a con­tent plan.[/shareable]

Again, this is a peak into my per­son­al sys­tem, but there are oth­er strate­gies I try, too. I’m always tweak­ing and improv­ing my per­son­al sys­tem. 

[reminder]What sys­tems or strate­gies do you have in place to help you deal with content?[/reminder]

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