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5 ways to overcome content overload

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.

Content that’s too good must be handled with extreme care.

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 audiobooks 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.)

Most of the content you see, you really don’t need to read or watch right now. Have a content plan.

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

What systems or strategies do you have in place to help you deal with content?

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