Coping With Information Overload

© Jan Jasper; 1999-2003

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” Today, INFORMATION is in the saddle …and it’s riding us into the ground! We are just overwhelmed with information. We fear that if we don’t read it all, we’ll miss something really important. So we pile it, unread, and the piles keep growing.

We won’t discard the unread magazines or books, no matter how long they’ve been sitting there. We want to hang onto them because “it’s good information.” But realistically, the only way we can “catch up” is to spend our next three vacations doing nothing but reading. Most of us aren’t willing to do that.

Help for Information Hoarders

Time to face reality, then. People talk as if information has mystical power–as if the act of buying a book or magazine is enough. But information is not absorbed through osmosis. You must take the timme to read it. Until you read it, information has no value. None! I’m an info-maniac myself, so it took me a long time to understand this. Once I did, a huge burden of impossible expectation was lifted from my shoulders.

You can get some reading done in odd moments: waiting for appointments, riding the train or bus. But most of us could benefit from a regular weekly reading time. You don’t have time? Bump something else from your schedule.


If you still can’t get caught up, your only choice is to reduce the amount of reading material you bring into your life. Cut back on your purchases of books, magazines, and newsletter subscriptions. This can be difficult, because it forces you to face that you will never have time to do it all. But this hard-nosed realism enables you to make conscious decisions about what you will read–which is better than leaving it to chance.

Important magazine and newsletter articles should be clipped and filed by topic so you can find them later. If you don’t file it, you won’t be able to find it when you need it. You’ll probably forget you even have it. Such information does you no good–you may as well have thrown it out in the first place.

Be very selective about what you save and file. Surveys have found that 80% of files are never looked at again. And often, by the time you need to use the information, it’s outdated. If you are selective enough, you probably won’t need to buy that extra filing cabinet.

To Scan Or Not To Scan

“Putting it in the computer” will not, in itself, solve the filing problem. Clients often ask me if they should scan information that, upon a closer look, they don’t even need to save! The more selective you are about what you keep, the better off you’ll be — regardless of whether you file the old-fashioned way or electronically. Often, the time needed to file an article outweighss any possible benefit.

Think Before You Acquire

People often buy books and magazine subscriptions because they’re on sale — then they never get around to reading them. A bargain price alone shouldn’t prompt you to buy anything. If you don’t havve time to read it and use it, a low price tag does not increase an item’s value. Buy only what you have a strong interest in–and the time–to read.

Remember: You can always buy more stuff, but you can’t get more time. And a clutter-free environment is priceless.

===About the Author: ===

Jan Jasper has been training busy people to work smarter, not harder since 1988. She is the author of “Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology” (St. Martin’s Press). Jan helps clients streamline their systems and procedures, form optimum work habits, use technology efficiently, and manage information overload. Her specialty is helping people who’ve already worked with professional organizers and coaches and are still not able to get it all done. Find more free tips at