How to Be Productive When You’re Overwhelmed with Information
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of information and input you're receiving?
Maybe it's from a feedback session at year-end. Or it could be from attending a conference or even Career Mastery™ Kickstart.
Or it could be coming out of a meeting or an offsite where there are so many to-do items that it’s difficult to figure out what to tackle first.
And it’s highly likely that not all of the items are worth doing, but it feels like you're the only one who can do them, and it all needs to be done right now, and perfectly.
That’s how I used to feel.
If this happens to you, too, I want to share some steps that work for me and maybe they will work for you, too.
5 Steps to Take When You’re Overwhelmed with Information
1. Take a Step Back
The first thing I like to do is take a step back and just let things bubble up. This step is about tapping into your instinct and intuition.
I carve out a 10-15-minute time slot to just think. I might do this while walking my dog or while laying on my nap couch (yes, I've got a nap couch!).
I take this time to let my mind wander a little bit and figure out what really stood out to me, and I do this without looking at anything else. I just think about my biggest takeaways and impressions. And then I jot down those things.
2. Tap into Your Intellect
The second step I like to take is to go through and review all my notes from the information I’ve been taking in. In contrast to step one where instinct and intuition are your guide, step two is about tapping into your intellect.
As I go through my notes, I look for all the things that really jump out at me as being important. I’m looking for key themes and ideas as well as actionable nuggets.
This process can take me a bit longer because I take a lot of notes, but I highly recommend the notetaking method if that style of taking in information works for you as well.
An important distinction here is that while the first step is about high-level impressions, as in what really hit you the moment you were receiving the input, the second step is a more rigorous and intellectual look at what’s important.
Then I write down what’s important from step two. It’s especially helpful to overlay this on top of that first list because then you have both your heart and your head sorting through the information.
3. Share What You’ve Learned
The third thing I like to do is tell somebody else about my takeaways from the event or session. And it could be anybody. I usually share this with my husband and he only has attention for five to maybe ten minutes, so this step can be really brief. It depends on the other person.
When I tell him about what I’ve learned, that helps me because when you say something out loud to somebody else, it then gives it more life in the world. And that also gives me a chance to see how what I’ve said resonates, and if it’s something I actually want to follow through on.
When you say your ideas out loud, does it sound like you're saying your words with conviction, with positive energy, with some passion behind it? That gives you some clues as to how important you feel that thing is, and how joyful it would be for you to execute on it.
As a bonus, when you’re sharing your takeaways with someone else, if it’s someone you trust, like a mentor, they might also be able to give you some guidance and feedback on it, which can be helpful too.
4. Distill It down to 2-3 Actionable Items
The fourth step is to take your findings from steps 1 through 3 and distill them down to just two to three actionable items you want to take forward. The reality is, we can't work on everything at the same time and do it all excellently. I know. I've tried and it doesn't work like that!
So, you take all your possible action items, distill them down to 2-3 and block time on your calendar to then go and execute on those 2-3 you’ve chosen.
This is a crucial step because when you set aside specific time slots, you’re more likely to get the action item done.
5. Write Down Your Action Steps
Then the fifth and final step is, for those two or three actionable items you’ve chosen, to take an index card (I prefer 4″x6″ size) and write down the name of the project or action item at the top, and your intention right below that.
Sometimes my intention is just to “get to done.” Other times, if I’m teaching something it might be “to create an awesome, amazing experience for somebody else,” or whatever it might be in your case.
Then, write down the action steps right below your intention. Break them down into tiny little steps so that each one of them is easy to implement, like “gather files, review previous document, draft new conclusion section, draft cover email to Martha, attach draft and send”.
Then comes my favorite part: cheerfully checking off each highly doable action step as you complete it. Having these mini wins provides that positive boost to keep me going on to the next step.
A Strategy to Stay Sane and Productive
Whether it’s at work or at home, there’s always the potential to get into a state of information overwhelm. Frankly, these days it feels like the norm to have “too much information” thrown at us!
That’s why it’s essential to have a strategy for dealing with it – one that keeps us sane, productive and enjoying life.
So, when you're in input overwhelm, I suggest you try these five steps. They’ve really helped me, and I hope they work for you too.
What do you do when you’re overwhelmed by information? What actions do you take, or do you get stuck?
Leave a comment below because I’d love to know.
Very well-written post. you have essentially taken the Getting Things Done method and modified it to suit your thought patterns. No, I’m not trying to say that your way of execution is not effective, it certainly has it’s salient points. I tend to use Omnifocus, but I’m blind, so writing on index cards is not very useful. That said, if I really wanted to, I could write them in braille. There is something about having a hardcopy version of an action item that makes it more physically “real.” The same way that a physical book is more tangible than one on a tablet. But I digress. Your approach is definitely sound and your writing is clear and concise so that one could execute this 5-step plan very, very easily. The only thing that would become kind of cumbersome is steps 1 and 2, unless you had a tagging system for ideas that would work vs. things that you’ve reflected upon during your “time to think” period. Most people use color coding, I use tags in Drafts or, a bit more recently, Evernote, as it is a bit more blind-friendly. Another thing you can do is to record your ideas using a recorder app on the phone. I have started to do that when having severe panic attacks.
Just my 25 cents,
Great ideas here, Dave! You’re right about tagging – that’s something I appreciate about Evernote too. I think you’ve given us more than just 25 cents of value – thank you.
“Aha”, that use to be stress, but anyway, myself I often do plan, listing the subjects, then taking them in action, as key of the skill success, I think about what to do, and how to do, i follow the procedures, if so dipper, sometimes I break my lunch time, I do overtimes, Working on the Weekends, however to get my work done, either to performance my skill and the success of the company, May, thank you for advice.
You are welcome, Pedro!
Great video, May, thank you. Stepping back is my favourite. It gives you the space needed to feel and then, evaluate. This is why for me, to make room for thoughts and “digest” is mandatory.
Yes, stepping back is a good one, Maiten. Keep making room to “digest”!
Many thanks May for a great Blog Post, really enjoyed it. — Barry.
Thanks May – works for me. I also add a 6th step and that is to also consider which of the actions from these steps can be delegated and to whom – this includes direct and indirect reports.
Awesome, Jayne! I love step 6. Thanks for sharing this.
Try using a productivity tool, for example kanbantool.com . I think that when you’re overwhelmed, every help is important. And this is something that works almost immediately.