SELF-CARE

12 Tips to Avoid Information Overload

Previously, I had written an article When Information Becomes Overwhelming, to discuss how I would going online to find solutions and support for my problems, but ended up not implementing them when I was done. This usually happens when you research online but become overloaded with too many answers or distracted by too many problems. The way I’ve avoided getting to this point is by implementing the following tips:

1. Limit Your Social Media

Instead of having a Google+, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest etc. to name a few of the networks we are prompted to join, stick to one or two social networks that you really love and would use more often. Don’t worry about being on the network that is the most popular, choose the network that you actually enjoy using and benefit the most. For example, I used to have a Facebook account, but I disliked Facebook from day one. I kept it because I had friends and family on there and I was running the Muslimommy’s fan page. I felt pressured to stay on it, yet I always preferred Google+ and Pinterest. I found that I actually learned a lot more when I browsed Pinterest and that Facebook made me feel less positive when I used it. It took a while before I questioned my motives and asked myself why was I staying on so many social networks when I could stick to one or two that suited me better. So I closed all my social networks except for two and alhamdulillah it is much more manageable and less time-consuming. Of course having no social media will free-up even more of your time – but that may be too drastic for some.

2. Follow Only the Websites You Love

There are tons and tons of blogs and websites nowadays. Everyone and their brother has a website in this day and age. It is overwhelming to keep following so many sites and sometimes sift through irrelevant topics to the ones that actually apply to your situation. What did I do? I subscribe via email to only the websites I absolutely love, and the rest of my favorite websites are on an app that I installed on my phone. The app is called, “Bloglovin” and when I want to see snippets of what my favorite websites are posting, instead of following them on social networks or via email, I check Bloglovin. I am able to see a news feed of new posts from any subscribed sites and I need only to click on the articles I want to read. Also, I get to open the app when I am ready to read web posts, instead of being bombarded with updates on my email when I want to go there for another reason.

3. Limit Your Online Support Groups

When you have problems, especially as a parent, you look for support groups to join. But these countless groups that you join can cause you to become even more overwhelmed if you’re not careful. In these groups, there are always newcomers which start threads of the same questions and answers you have to scan pass to read through to find the fresh content which applies to you. Now with the new ‘Facebook Groups’, it has become easier to start a group, so many people are starting groups about anything and everything and you feel inclined to join them all.

I remember when I was on Facebook, I had started off joining two groups, later some friends added me to their groups, and then one group promoted another group, and even though I was holding back as best I could, I got sucked in and ended up being part of ten support groups which caused me so much information overload, I removed myself from all of them. Later, I analyzed which groups were really benefiting me, and narrowed it down to two again. Now that I am off Facebook completely, it has been even better. There are times I need support, then I look for articles that are beneficial and read them when I need. Also, when I belonged to a group, I did not get all the updates coming to my email, I uncheck the notification box when I subscribed, and instead I went on the group site when I had the time to read what applied to my situation, leave a helpful comment, then leave. I would not browse or what everybody had to say or I would have gotten nothing done.

4. Stay On Course and Focus

This is a tough one nowadays as many people are finding it difficult to focus and not become distracted. We are surrounded by distractions all the time and technology is a big culprit – narrow it down to our smartphones in particular. We have to learn to control these distractions and set times to use it or it will be our biggest time drainer. This is how I stay focused on my task:

  • I start with a dua, asking Allah SWT to help me to find a solution to my problem fast
  • Then I say bismilllah (in the Name of God) when I begin to gain barakah (blessings) in my search
  • I write my problem on a sticky note and stick it on my journal, laptop, or the back of my phone to stay focused on my search
  • When I have the time, I search for a solution to that problem only and I make the intention not to stray to another problem until the first one is solved
  • If I have many problems, I start with one at a time, the more urgent one, and write down each problem numbered by order of importance, sometimes each one on a separate sticky note

Here is an example:

If I need help on “How to organize my fridge”, I write that down on one sticky note, stick it to the top corner of my computer monitor or somewhere on the keyboard. Then I allocate a certain amount of time to search (even using a timer on my phone if I have to) and I search away. If I start seeing topics on “How to Organize Your Pantry” or “How to Organize Your Laundry Room”, I start feeling distracted, but I squash the feeling by reminding myself to stay on course and finish what I’ve started. If I feel I may not find those new topics or sites again, I bookmark it on my browser or add it to my private Pinterest board marked “Interesting Reads” and read it another time.

5. Use Online Bookmarks or a Private Pinterest Board

I know that anxious feeling one gets when you see a great article or a new website that you know you just have to visit, and it’s a big culprit of leading you off track. That is where your computer’s bookmark tab comes in handy. When I recently told a friend of mine to do this, she professed that once she adds something to her bookmark tab, she never goes back to it and forgets about it. If this is what happens then the solution is simple – it wasn’t important enough for you to want to read it. In cases where you have a bad memory and it would’ve been helpful, make it a habit to check your bookmark tab once a week and empty it regularly to reduce the clutter.

Another great resource I like to use is to have a private Pinterest board just for saving anything I like to read later on the web. When I have time I visit my private board and I read the article and either save it to one of my public boards or trash it because it wasn’t that helpful.

6. Have Fewer Email Accounts

Why do so many of us have multiple email accounts? From personal experience, I would have one email for family and friends, one email for accounts, subscriptions, and memberships, one email for junk, a few emails for my business accounts. Phew, talk about can’t keep up with my correspondence! I was getting so bad at replying to emails that I was bordering on being considered rude. I got tired of hearing myself apologize to people for responding late to their emails, that I knew I had to seriously cut it down. I questioned why I needed so many email accounts, which at the beginning sounded like a great idea, but since I started using the “folders” capability in my email, it has helped me cut down on having different email accounts for everything.

You will find this option on most email accounts. All you need to do is label each folder a category, then add the relevant emails to those folders as they arrive. I suggest separating personal from non-personal email accounts, and limiting it to two accounts. Of course if you have a business, you will need more email accounts, but otherwise keep it simple. If you have multiple kids and they are not yet teens, open one family account and make them each a folder in that email. You can also label the emails according to name, so each of them has their emails clearly marked instead of opening one email per child, leave that for when they older and can maintain their personal email account independently.

7. Stop Going Online for Everything

Another hard tip to implement, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed it is something you have to do. You need to stop going online for everything. The web can feel like a drug, the more you use it, the more it is addictive. Technology has to be controled and you do this by limiting the time you use it. If you need to find a solution to your problem, first try to find a quiet place to think about it, or after your salaah sit on your prayer rug and contemplate, ask Allah to grant you solutions. We need to ask Allah for help more often, not only for the big things but for help with the little things as well. For example I would make a dua like, “Ya Allah, please guide me on how I can organize my fridge so I stop wasting food, please grant me solutions.” It seems minor, but you are asking for help with the barakah of your home which will impact your blessings. Allah Listens to our duas, whether big or small – we need only ask. I do this all the time and I can vouch that the answers come much easier to me. It is so relieving to leave it to Allah. Alhumdulillah people tell me often that I problem-solve very well, but in actual fact, it is not anything great from myself, rather it is because I constantly ask Allah for His Guidance.

8. Find Help the Old Fashioned Way

Men are natural-born problem-solvers and our kids are super smart at it too alhumdulillah. They have some great ideas if you ask them, and it has been on more than one occasion where I had solved an issue I couldn’t figure out, by getting input from my husband and children. The saying “two heads are better than one” or in my case “eight heads” is correct. Remember, that your family’s ideas may not always fit-in with the “mommy-way”, but it can be a great resource to solve a problem temporarily until you do find a better one. So for example if I had to ask my family, “How can I organize the fridge so we don’t waste food?” They might say something like, “Write a list of all the stuff in the fridge and stick it on the door, so each time you use it, scratch it off”. Now if you have a beautiful new stainless steel refrigerator, that’s not going to look very pretty, but it will solve the problem somewhat until you come across a better solution. Asking advice from someone elderly, a friend or acquaintance you know, can bring some more solutions – you do not need to go online all the time to find help. People love being asked for their input, it makes them feel special too.

9. Skim Content Instead of Reading Everything

Filter, skim, filter, skim. You don’t need to read everything just because it is part of the article as a whole (ok besides Muslimommy articles :-D – just kidding). I use this method on articles that are long and don’t get to the point very quickly, and it is one of the reasons I try to make Muslimommy articles in point format, with steps or tips. I know how overwhelming a ton of information can be and how long it can take to find relevant content. As an overwhelmed mommy myself, some days I like to read posts that are in point form, because reading a long drawn-out piece that goes on and on, can be frustrating and time draining. You want to yell to the author, “Please get on with it and tell me the good stuff!”

One of the worst things is when an article promises solutions to a problem, and you read and read, only to come to the end and you still have no solution! That has happened to me too many times. Just last week I was reading a post called, “How to Homeschool When You Don’t Have Enough Patience” (yes it had been a challenging week), and my patience was already thin. The author wrote the entire article on finding patience to homeschool in a long-winded way, and then the article ended abruptly leaving me with no real answers. I felt robbed of my time, when all I wanted was some quick reminders, and not a lengthy read telling me to find patience within myself. Skimming will help you avoid this.

10. Don’t Feel Guilty To Stay in Touch With Everyone

I was talking to an old friend the other day, and she started to apologize for not keeping in touch for so long. She claimed that she was doing her best to contact everyone on her friendship list while trying to study and see to her family. I asked her why she felt the need to do this, and she paused as she had not really questioned her motives. She finally answered that it is was nice when people thought she had not forgotten them. She was not contacting most of them because she wanted or even needed to, but out of guilt and to please them. I advised her that we are not burdened to do this for everyone, and we should focus on what we can. She said that she had never thought of it this way and that it would be a relief to implement.

We feel the need to keep in contact with every friend and family member that we have ever known, and we feel guilty when we don’t say hi or wish them for their special occasion. I don’t think it is possible to keep in touch with everyone – I don’t even think we are meant to do this. We should focus on our close friends and immediate family, and those who are around us. To the few close members who are far, we can keep in touch at intervals. The rest – let them go! Technology has minimized the gap in time and distance, and it is making us feel the need to stay in touch with anyone who is on a social network or has a smartphone, but you do not need to follow that trend, you always have a choice.

11. Write Down More of Your Thoughts

With technology making everything digital, such as our calendars, meal plans, alarms, fitness etc. you name it, we’ve got it. I am not against using technology, I use it myself and it’s one of my faves in life, but I also like having paper and pen. I still use a paper planner where I am able to write down important days, my grocery list, my to do’s and my goals. I don’t know what it is about writing that brings a calmness and the flow of ideas. I feel relief when I see my ink-filled pages of thoughts and to-do’s and it helps me to be more productive and to feel satisfaction when I scratch off completed tasks. It is one of the best ways to de-clutter your mind, because sometimes dealing with a dead battery, lost data, and apps that don’t work, can end-up being more time-consuming.

11. Find Time To Deprogram and Re-energize

I know it sounds robotic, but it is the way to a clearer mind. Think of it this way, you can’t keep on filling something without it getting full or exploding. Same thing with your mind, if you keep filling it with information and you are not applying that information, you will get a huge case of information overload and either do nothing or break-down. First, make time each day for a few minutes to close your eyes and leave the world behind. This is a time to let your thoughts flow and to release the unwanted and useless information from your mind. I know it sounds like a therapy session, but this tip is the most important to cope in the vast information world we live in. We need to bring back the balance in our lives. There is a time and place for technology, and a time and place to be free of it. Dua, bonding with others, reflection and plain ol’ thinking, are sometimes better and less time-consuming than searching online for countless hours. Take the plug out and leave technology out of the picture and see how much more you get done.

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