How to Find and Use the Information You Really Need

Overcoming information overload is a huge challenge for most freelancers. Let’s face it, we’re all exposed to far more information that we can practically absorb or apply.

Having too much information has become even more of a problem then when I first wrote about it a few years ago.

The Internet is vast and growing. Freelancers have more information available to them than ever before. The popularity of e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook only add to the problem because now information is just a few clicks away. Even the iPad has e-reader capabilities.

And, just like a few years ago, the question is still–what’s a freelancer to do?

What IS a freelancer to do about all of the information that we are surrounded with? We want to make the best use of information, but we certainly can’t use every bit of info that is available to us–there simply isn’t enough time.

In this post, I revisit the problem of how to deal with having too much information and present a few new solutions to the problem.


My Personal Struggle with the Information Explosion

In the past year, I finally had the opportunity to take some courses again and to buy some books. I love to learn, so I was excited about upgrading my skills and bringing some new ideas into my freelancing business.

Imagine my frustration and disappointment when I quickly discovered that I wouldn’t actually have the time to apply even half of what I was learning!

Of course, the steps that I originally presented for dealing with too much information still work. However, I’ve learned a few additional tricks for managing information that I’d like to share with you.

Steps to Organize Information That Still Work

My original steps were:

  • Prioritize
  • Find a mentor
  • Use research
  • Take small steps

These are all still valid methods for dealing with information. Prioritizing the information will keep you focused and on track. Selecting a “mentor” source of excellent information (such as the Freelance Folder blog :) ) will keep you from wasting too much time. Researching to find the information you need most when you need it is also a valid method for managing information. Finally, applying small pieces of useful information when you can is better than simply ignoring new data.

However, I’ve also started to use several questions to help me filter my information and make it even more helpful. My hope is that these questions will help you to get more from the information around you as well.

3 New Questions to Help You Use Your Information

My new technique is relatively simple. When I take a course, read a book or blog post, or am otherwise exposed to new information, I immediately ask myself the following questions:

  1. What is the overall message of this information?
  2. Is this information something I’m likely to ever use?
  3. Are there any quick tips in this information that I can apply right now?

The first question is an important one, because more and more I’m convinced that organizing information well is a vital key to making it more useful. If you can categorize whatever it is you are learning, then you can use a bookmarking tool (or some other means) to file the information until you need it or have time to make better use of it. Keep a good list of resources in the categories you think you will use the most.

Likewise, the second question is also very important. If your answer to this question is “no,” you should move on without any guilt. I used to really hesitate to ignore information because I was afraid I might eventually need it (and wouldn’t be able to find it), but remember that if the information is online a simple search will probably unearth it again if you need it. Also, a large percentage of what each of us reads is simply not applicable to our needs and that is okay.

I still like to apply quick and easy tips whenever I can. Some of the biggest positive changes to my freelancing business came about because I followed some of these small, quick steps. Plus, you get an instant morale boost because you were able to “really get something done.” Remember, you don’t have to take all of an author’s advice to get something useful from his or her material.

These three simple steps for filtering new information have helped me greatly and they are easy to remember whether I am reading a post online, reading a book, or taking a course.

Your Turn

Do you struggle to apply new information? Do you find yourself flooded with more information than you can practically use?

What methods or techniques have you used to get a handle on the problem of information overload? Share your answers in the comments.

Image by AZAdam

Comments

  1. says

    What an interesting concept! I’m thinking of studying an MLIS and this is one of the major themes of the program. We have such easy access to so many resources that “information overload” affects everyone. I’ve heard that the first step is to recognize that we’re being inundated with information! =) People should reflect on how excessive information can be overpowering their lives; it can be subtle! That way, we take action.

    To build on the question: “Is this information something I’m likely to ever use?” — one clue is whether the content is relatively evergreen. A supporting question would be: “Is this information still going to be relevant in a year?”

  2. says

    Yet another great post.
    A very common problem and too much digitalization is messing it a bit.

    I stick to one rule.
    Make a priority list and then learn/study according to it.

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