Media Overload: 10 Tips to Reclaim Your Sanity

Posted on February 1, 2008

The conversation on media overload has happened time and time again on the web so why not start it again on this blog? I mean, I did just write about multitasking so it seems to fit in nicely with the flow right?

The basic idea, for those that haven’t come across any of the myriad of blog posts out there on this topic, is that there is simply too much media coming at the average person each day.

I know I have had to declare feed reader bankruptcy more than once over the past year or so. The bummer is that I probably missed a lot of great stuff but, even if I had “read” it, there would have been too much to take in and I would have just skimmed most of it anyway. I would have lost the value of the good stuff while spending too much time on the stuff I didn’t need.

So what is a person to do? Here are 10 tips to help you reclaim your life and still know what you need to know. (Disclaimer: These things worked for me but your mileage may vary. I am, after all, a fallible human being who may have missed or overlooked something.)

  1. Clean out your feed reader: Go through all of your feeds and really examine them. Keep the feeds of your close friends, close industry buddies, top 3 - 5 sources for industry news, the “thinkers” feeds who write lengthy but very meaty essays (i.e. Paul Graham) and the feeds relating to your hobbies and interests. Remove feeds that are redundant (you don’t need to read every tech blog since most of them cover the very same stories), feeds that you only find something useful in once in a blue moon and feeds of things you think you may want to try at some point in the future. Try to stick to 25 feeds or less in your feed reader.
  2. Get some OPMLs: Ask your close friends and industry contacts for their OPML files since you may find a few feeds you really should be reading but hadn’t heard of. Don’t go crazy though. Remember that all of this is supposed to lessen the amount of news you take in.
  3. Get Google Reader: If you haven’t started using Google Reader start now. Import your new scaled-down OPML into Google Reader and also add your contacts to the shared items feature of Google Reader.
  4. Start paying Attention to the shared items feature: This feature allows you to see what your friends and contacts using Google Reader are sharing. This will help fill in some holes you may miss with your scaled down feed list. You will need to watch this too as some folks will share too many things for you to keep up with and you will have to turn them “off.”
  5. Sign up for FriendFeed: FriendFeed is a great new service. I am not sure it is fully open yet but apply for a beta login if it isn’t. FriendFeed allows you to create a single feed of all of your stuff from twitter updates to your blog posts to your flickr photos to your shared items from Google Reader to random things you find on the web (via their bookmarklet). Then you can “subscribe” to your friends’ friend feeds and take a single feed of all of your friends friend feeds (woah, say that 10 times fast) and add it to Google Reader. This way you can keep up with all your friends stuff in one place and skim it quickly. You probably want to limit your amount of friends to 10 or so depending on their activity level.
  6. Use Instapaper: This is one of my favorite new services. Instapaper allows you to quickly and easily save stories on the web to one place for reading later (via a bookmarklet). Sure, some would argue that delicious does this but Instapaper is even simpler. No tagging or anything to worry about. See a story you want to read but don’t have time now just click the bookmarklet and it will be waiting for you along with any other stories you added when you sign into Instapaper later and have time to sit and read through some articles. You could look at it as a way to create your own “Sunday” paper. This will allow you to still read the longer thought provoking articles you want to read but never have the time to read when you find them. I feel like people spend too much time reading the day to day “quick” news bites instead of the longer thoughtful articles that really help to expand ones thinking.
  7. Find some good sources that capture most of the daily news: I like to hit Techmeme a couple times a day to see what people are talking about and then I hit a couple news sites like CNN and the New York Times. If there are stories I find on there that really get me going I simply search for more news about those particular topics to get as fair and balanced as I can. For example, rather than reading every tech blog in existence (which causes overload and doesn’t add much value since they all cover the same stuff) you can simply read a few sources (i.e. Techmeme, etc.) and research things that are important to you a little further in order to not fall into the trap of not consulting enough sources and having a skewed view on something.
  8. Get a little help from your friends: Inevitably if you have friends in the industry you will hear about things/stories from them and then you can check into those stories if you haven’t already. Rather than trying to filter all of the news yourself let your friends help. Isn’t more fun to talk about things with your friends anyway? Note: Google Reader shared items and FriendFeed are both pieces of this idea.
  9. Try magazines (and even books): Yes, that’s right, print magazines. The good ones like Harvard Business Review, MITs Technology Review, Nature, etc. have great content in every issue and you can easily run through a magazine in a few hour sitting (perhaps more if there is something you really want to dive into). This won’t be timely news but it will be thought provoking and longer term stuff that should be a part of any media diet. Plus, you can read magazines anywhere making better use of your downtime (same goes for books). Yes, I know you can read media on your phone and such but if you are like me and don’t care for reading lengthy articles on a tiny backlight screen a magazine is the way to go (I may be burned at the stake for even talking about print media but what the hell… I think it’s a valid part of the media landscape and has its place).
  10. Ummmmm: I didn’t really have a 10th item but I thought I should round things out.

Since I have started using this approach I don’t think I have missed anything that I really wanted to check in to and I have eliminated my media overload. It may or may not work for you and some will think I am crazy for saying that less is more when it comes to media intake but I think if done right you can capture all the knowledge you need to by being strategic about your media intake.

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1 Comment so far
  1. Dave Schappell February 1, 2008 9:09 pm

    Great post, Eric — while reading it, though, it just made me feel that much more overwhelmed by the flow of content. I think my summary may become:

    1) Google Reader cutback to only:
    — Friends
    — Specific industry stuff (Education, SEO) I’m interested in
    — TechCrunch (guilty pleasure and redundant with TMeme below, but it gives me a glimpse to potentially redundant startups)

    2) TechMeme (overall industry trends)

    3) The Economist