Last week, I shared that my word for 2018 is “essential.” This word is already making quite an impact on my life and I suspect that I will be writing a number of posts on its influence as the year progresses. Today I will address the subject of information and what is and isn’t essential. I actually started an essay on a different topic yesterday, but I had an experience last night that pushed me to write and publish this one instead. I suspect that I’m not alone in my struggle with information overload, and I hope that perhaps we can help each other develop a more balanced and peaceful (my themes for the past two years…) relationship with the input that is coming into our brains and our lives.
Too Many Articles!
I first wrote about the subject of information overload back in 2014, and I have since made a lot of progress in cutting back on how much information I consume. I no longer subscribe to magazines and I have reduced my email and blog subscriptions dramatically. I stopped using the Pocket app for saving articles, as I had amassed hundreds of articles that I never got around to reading. Unfortunately, those shifts mostly just put a Band-Aid on the problem as opposed to actually solving it. I still have far too many browser tabs open and too many emails in my in-box at any given time. When I take the time to close tabs and clean out my email queue, I often end up saving articles into a browser folder that I have labeled “To Read.” Much like my Pocket queue, this folder has expanded to hold a large number of articles, probably verging upon a hundred as of yesterday.
After hearing about my dilemma, my wise husband came up with a solution for my having too many articles to read. He suggested that I create a new article folder each month and simply delete the previous month’s folder at that time. But after seeing the horror on my face at the thought of letting everything go, he outlined a compromise of carrying forward ten articles into the next month. I thought that sounded reasonable, so I decided to take on this new plan.
Since yesterday was January 31st, I sat down last evening to select my ten articles to move into my February 2018 “to read” folder. I thought this would take me thirty minutes maximum, but I was wrong. I found myself struggling intensely to choose the best articles and delete the rest. My anxiety grew as I perused the list of titles and clicked on many of them to skim their contents. A large number of these articles were on the topics of health and personal development and looked very compelling. I feared that if perhaps I didn’t read some of them, I might miss out on critical information that could potentially change the course of my life.
FOMO Sets In…
Ah, there’s that FOMO (fear of missing out) again… That’s the thing that has us scrolling through our social media feeds for hours on end and binge-watching “must-see” television programs, lest we miss out on what everyone else is doing and talking about. FOMO is what keeps us subscribed to myriad mailing lists so that we don’t miss out on amazing deals on merchandise we just have to have. FOMO is pervasive… and it’s exhausting. FOMO is a big reason why so many of us struggle to achieve the balance and peace we so deeply desire.
I have made peace with missing out in certain respects. I realized long ago that trying to keep up with social media is a recipe for discontentment and wasting time, so I let go of any hope or expectation that I could do so. I continue to feel anxious every time I sign on to Facebook, though, as there is a never-ending queue in front of me and often close to a hundred notifications that may or may not be important. I still have issues with social media, but limiting my time there has made a big difference in terms of my inner peace.
Getting rid of my magazine subscriptions has been a relief, as I no longer have a stack of periodicals lying around just waiting to be read. I also very rarely watch the news, as it mostly consists of extremely negative information that I can’t do anything about and that merely contributes to the anxiety and depression I already struggle with. This means that I am sometimes under-informed, but I see that as the lesser of two evils. I remember Tim Ferriss writing about his “low information diet” (this article explains it well) and affirming that he would definitely learn of any critical information, as others would be sure to let him know about it.
Glutton for Punishment?
So why can’t I adopt the same sensible attitude and approach toward the articles that I have saved? If I would have just deleted my article folder last night sight unseen, I wouldn’t have experienced the anguish I did and I would have saved myself a lot of time. Sure, I might have felt a pang of FOMO and regret, but that feeling would have rapidly dissipated. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to do it; instead I had to painstakingly choose a tenth of the articles I had amassed but hadn’t taken the time to read in months. As I did so, I have to admit that I saved some of them into topic bookmark folders rather than just deleting them, particularly the health articles about the conditions from which I suffer. Although I’ve read countless articles about these illnesses, I can’t seem to let go of the thought that maybe someone somewhere will share the “magic bullet” that will make me well.
I know that saving the articles to alternate folders was basically cheating, but I couldn’t stop myself from doing it. Heaven only knows how many bookmarks I have, but it has to be in the thousands at this point. Yes, I go back and look at some of my bookmarked information on occasion, but I could probably just Google most of it and get what I need in a relatively short span of time. I periodically delete bookmarks and folders as well, but I’m sure I add more than I let go of by a fairly large margin.
Discerning what is Essential
So, back to “essential”…
How can I determine what information is essential?
How can I discern this so I can let go of the rest?
I think that setting rules and boundaries around my information consumption would be helpful, such as limiting how many unread articles I can hold on to at any given time. What other rules could I institute in order to decrease my information overload? I would really love to have less data coming in and to be able to more readily identify what matters most.
It’s been said that the way we do one thing is often the way we do everything and this is definitely true for me. Just like I struggle to decide which articles to save and which to let go of, I do the same thing with my clothes. Additionally, I tend to save multiple articles on the same topic and buy multiple items of clothing that are either very similar in style or that serve the same purpose (which leads to both overwhelm and what Bridgette Raes calls “splitting wears”). It’s like I continue to search for the “holy grail” of both information and garments and I keep amassing more and more along the way, which is time-consuming and impinges upon my peace and sanity. I will be writing about “essential” in terms of clothing in a future post, as I feel challenged in that area as well, but the information issue is more pressing in my mind at the moment.
Conclusion and Your Thoughts
Fortunately, I was able to select my ten articles to move forward into February, even though it took me an hour and a half to do so. Yes, much too long, but at least I did it and I’m proud of that, as I had to work through a lot of anxiety to get it done. Of course, I know that with information (as with clothing), a big part of the solution is not to accumulate so much in the first place. I need to better tune in to what is truly essential in terms of what information to read and save.
Now I would love to hear from you, whether you also struggle with information overload or if have suggestions for me and others who are dealing with this challenge. I’d especially like to hear from those who have successfully overcome this issue. Also, in my welcome post, I mentioned that I will periodically take on personal experiments and share my experiences with readers. It would be great to do an experiment related to how I consume and save information, and I’m open to any ideas you have for me in this respect. I’m also pondering the possibilities myself, but I don’t have a clear plan for what to do just yet. Stay tuned…
Thank you for reading and I look forward to your input. Have a wonderful weekend!