May 112010
 

In a speech to university graduates on the weekend President Obama described some of the problems we face with information overload. That the US President struggles with it despite his army of secretaries, assistants and advisors shows just how big the task has become for the rest of us.

Albert Einstein famously said “information is not knowledge” and that’s certainly true of the net. We need ways to process the data that comes pouring in so we understand the context and value of what we’re reading. Here’s five ways to manage your information overload;

Mail Rules

For most business people, email is the first thing we look at each morning and it’s where half the day can easily disappear. The mail rules built into every email reader help you filter the important from the not so important.

It’s also worthwhile reviewing your email subscriptions every few months and unsubscribing from newsletters that no longer interest you. The less clutter, the better.

Google Alerts

“Unknown unknowns” is a quote from a less esteemed historical figure and there’s a lot we don’t know happening on the net that can affect our lives and businesses. The Google Alerts tool gives you a regular email summary of what’s appeared on the web for any search term you enter.

The right terms in Google Alerts gives you an insight on news and trends about your industry, competitors and customers. It’s a great, but underused, market intelligence tool.

Twitter

90% of what you read about Twitter discusses marketing, in my view Twitter’s real value lies in following smart people who tweet smart things. You get the benefit of the accumulated wisdom of the people you follow and the things they find interesting.

These days I find I spend as much time reading links I’ve saved from Twitter as I do surfing the net. It’s become an invaluable tool.

RSS Feeds

Most websites have a built in feature called Really Simple Syndication, or RSS feed, which pumps out updates to the site as they happen. You can use the built in RSS features in your browser’s bookmarks folder or a dedicated feed reader to keep up to date with your favourite websites. Just click on the subscribe button most websites feature.

Favourites

Bookmarks or favorites is the oldest way to save information off the web and it can result in overload of its own. If you keep your bookmark folders organised, it can be a treasure trove of useful information.

We’re at the early days of the information economy and the flood of data which engulfs us is going to get even greater. The challenge for all of us is to learn how to manage this so we can derive the best benefits from this new economy for our businesses, society and families.

As President Obama said in last weekend’s speech at Hampton University, Virginia;

“What Jefferson recognized… that in the long run, their improbable experiment — called America — wouldn’t work if its citizens were uninformed, if its citizens were apathetic, if its citizens checked out, and left democracy to those who didn’t have the best interests of all the people at heart.

“It could only work if each of us stayed informed and engaged, if we held our government accountable, if we fulfilled the obligations of citizenship.”

The same is true of our personal and business lives as it is of our citizenship. Get informed.