This is a guest post by Zeus Yiamouyiannis, a reader who responded to a recent PB&J newsletter with this bit of helpful advice. (If you’re a reader, too — keep that in mind the next time you’re bold enough to reply to my emails!)
Okay, you and I do it all the time in our multi-tasky world: Grab and hoard scattered bits of info like cool deals at a garage sale.
Whether it’s a YouTube video showing off a weird animal trick or the latest “7 Steps” article about internet marketing, we like to be entertained and well-informed. When you’re not spending time with these, um, important tasks, you may be buying information products or downloading freebies (many that you’ll probably never use) to “support your online work.”
Deep down you know this isn’t getting you anywhere, but it’s all so tempting in an on-demand world. Perhaps you excuse this (as I often do) by saying that harmless surfing gets you in tune with pop culture…or, hey, maybe even a potential audience for your blog. It’s almost satisfying enough just to know that if you don’t use those info products, they’ll at least keep your finger on the pulse of the latest trends, right?
“Okay, this isn’t helping me produce something, but it IS important background…Okay, maybe not even that. Help!”
Pigging out on information creates business indigestion. It gobbles up your hard drive and distracts you from creating inspired content or redesigning that web page you’ve had on your To Do list for the last three weeks. But what can you do about this pesky hoarding habit?
Time to re-center. Let’s equip your productive self to win the struggle over that part of you that fears missing out on something important, trendy or even exciting.
The trick? To strive for simplicity. Think of this as designing your priorities so you take yourself forward instead of sideways.
Tips to Stop the Information Gorging
Let’s get busy. Here are 13 specific tips (look! a Baker’s Dozen!) that will get you on a more productive and successful path:
1. Be intentional. If you truly want to “research” the most popular topics on Buzzfeed, go for it, but treat this as real research. Limit your time and exploration to finding out what would attract your perfect people. Take a few short notes. Everything is a learning opportunity. Get curious. Get fun. Get serious. And get focused. They all go together.
2. Skim and sort. Once you’ve got your hands on an info product, skim it quickly (no more than 10 minutes) to see how relevant it might be to your website or business. Bookmark the most relevant parts, and take notes. Use high standards — the two or three most important points or the best 10%, only. Do this with a goal in mind: “translating” ideas and suggestions immediately into actionable tasks that fulfill practical needs.
3. Swipe Good Examples. Need some great copy for your email subscriber pitch? When you find an example that you think will speak to your audience, think about it, translate it into “your” subject, and write it directly into your notes with a nice title and a box around it so you can find it easily. (Write legibly!). Then integrate these notes into your work at the next opportunity.
4. Return What Doesn’t Work. Don’t be afraid to ask for a refund for information products or programs that aren’t useful enough. With a recent package, I found only about 20% of it valuable, so I asked for a refund on the 80% I couldn’t use, and the sender gave me eighty dollars back out of a hundred.
5. Less is more. When note taking, whittle things down to only the most relevant and poetic parts. I only had 8 pages of notes on Chris Guillebeau’s new book, The $100 Startup, but I’ll actually use those notes!
6. Phone a friend. Establish good relationships with professionals related to your needs and topic area. Offer to help each other when you get stuck. A clarifying conversation with someone who knows their stuff (and is hopefully familiar with yours) is far more effective and motivating for your implementation efforts than a video series or more internet research.
7. Find a mentor. Look for people who deliver personalized service. Beware of internet celebrities who appeal to your unique dreams but lack the time to help you with a specific issue. This is where I appreciate Tea, aka the Word Chef. She delivers on developing individual persons, processes, and skills and not just selling products (and she spends the requisite time and energy to do it right).
8. Learn when to outsource! I’m about to hire a web designer because this actually saves me time and money over the frustration, poor customer support, and technical snares of the “do it yourself route.” I learn best by having someone set up my site and then teach me hands-on how to manage it. Watching videos and visiting user forums was a bad way for me to get a website up in a timely fashion. How about you? What’s on your plate that you really don’t need (or want) to learn how to do?
9. Develop your online business as a personal craft. Don’t believe hype or follow the herd. Yes, certain marketing principles do work, but not if they merely serve your desire to make money, be famous, or blare out your message. Long-term success requires a clear and original voice connected with audience needs, and then practiced and communicated consistently. So don’t look for the “secret success formula.” Create your own and use “their” best marketing practices to support it.
10. Don’t worry about “what you’ll be missing.” Timely information for your project is information that actually helps you — and that doesn’t mean jumping on the hot new trend. Steady and creative is far more fruitful than flashy and imitative.
11. Know Your Limits. Treat “and that’s not all” offers as what they are—too much. Determine what you need, what you’re willing to spend, and stick to the bare essentials. Build up from there. Yes, sellers want you as a loyal customer, but you have your own business to run. And you buying something (or even accepting something for free) just because it’s big and awesome isn’t the smartest strategy.
12. You are the CEO. You have the power to choose where your time and money goes. Negotiate a lower price. Avoid automatic billing for services you may need only sporadically. Hire a custom professional to meet your needs as they arise. Develop a pool of reliable help.
13. Be Real. The next time you download or buy an info product, check to be sure you’re not buying into a fantasy about your online success based on someone else’s story. What works for one person, doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work for another. Be selective. Information costs you money and time. And it might actually diminish your effectiveness if it’s not applicable (or applied) to your work.
Rule of Thumb: If information helps you produce results exceeding the time and money you spend on it, then it’s good information.
Usefulness is the true authority. Don’t let info products get underfoot. You don’t need them to anoint you, validate what you’re thinking, or give you permission to act.
How I Recently Exercised “Tough Love”
I received a package of information products from Only72.com that included Chris Guillebeau’s book, The $100 Startup (which I do recommend as a simple, useful, non-condescending resource for those having problems organizing startup projects).
There was an item in the package about how to create iPhone apps that spent too much time on irrelevant issues before it focused on the need-to-know core elements. As I skimmed its 106 pages in ten minutes (see #2, above), I “talked to it.” And no, I’m not crazy. This was done from the standpoint of keeping my own enterprise and time a priority:
“Noted: you (‘how to make an app’ document) have some success, but I care more about my app than your numbers. Do you have a workable method that meets my needs? That’s up-to-date and allows me to meet my goals? Is there anything here to help me enhance my message and my reach? Wow. Your core info fits into four pages of my notes. [Write them.] Next!”
Notice that I prioritized my own project and time as I engaged in the material.
It can actually be fun to be “ruthless” this way, and it builds your self-leadership muscle. Have a conversation with all that information you’ve got sitting on your hard drive.
Insist that every last bit meets your standards. Your time is valuable. Your mental space is valuable. Keep it spare and clean. Eliminate.
And remember the best way to clear information clutter is to not let it build up in the first place. Let your insight and inspiration crystallize a great idea, trust yourself to create a simple plan, implement it, and then refine it as you go. Information serves you. You don’t serve information. And that’s the way it should be.
Do you have a tip for managing information overload? Share it with us in a comment below. We’d love to hear what works for you.