On March 21 I blogged a cry for help. Information overload is killing me, I wrote. The relentless onslaught of social media content never lets up, takes a break or goes on pause. It’s 24/7. And tomorrow it starts over again. It’s like compound interest. Or Groundhog Day.
I got some very helpful responses to that post, and I’ve given it a great deal of thought since. One conclusion: There really is hope! Here are 7 tips to surviving, maybe even thriving, in a sea of information overload.
#1 Face it: You will never ever ever be able to read everything.
No matter how fast you read, how much time you take, how much effort you make, it’s impossible to keep up with every piece of new information. Google CEO Eric Schmidt says that every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.
So come to terms with that and reframe your expectations. Repeat after me: I will never be able to read everything, and that’s okay because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me. (Thanks to Stuart Smalley!)
#2 Learn to skim.
Our Hive Strategies creative director, Megan Pugmire, reads Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina once each summer in just a few days. I envy her. It would take me hours a day for a month—at least. If you’re an average (or slow) reader like I am, learn to skim. Don’t worry about catching every word. Grab the main idea.
And don’t worry about noting everything. I’ve discovered another fascinating reality. As you continue to read, you’ll find that the information you read sticks with other information you gather and comes back to you when you need it. I don’t always remember the source, but when I bump up against a problem or question, I am regularly surprised at what I can recall.
#3 Select the most important thing you want to learn, discover or research first, and zero in on that.
At first, as you’re becoming familiar with hospital social media, the learning curve is overwhelming. You need to figure out reputation management, monitoring, policies and procedures, privacy, HIPAA, blogging, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, analytics, software, hardware, etc., etc., etc.
Figuring it all out can be intimidating. I remember being terrified that I would make some horrible social media gaffe and ruin my online reputation.
However, if you break this list down into bite-sized pieces, you can manage the flow. For instance, start by simply learning how to follow social media platforms. Focus your reading and learning on that one subject. And once you feel competent in that area, move to the next.
Our eBook “Guide to Hospitals: Eight Steps to a Successful Social Media Strategy” might provide a great learning path. If you focus your learning on each of these 8 steps as you tackle them, one body of knowledge will build on another.
If you’re already well-versed in social media, this principle still applies. Specifically, how do you want to deepen your expertise? Spend most of your time on that subject.
#4 Identify your most useful information sources and limit your focus to them.
This may be one of the most important steps in this process. Narrow your information sources to the most essential. How do you know what’s most essential? You’ll need to discover that based on your own interests. Here is what I do:
Google Alerts. Each day I receive Google alert emails for Hive Strategies, “hospital social media” and “social media for hospitals.” I start by scanning these. I usually find 2 or 3 articles that I want to click through and read. Some of these make excellent tweets.
Subscribe to Google alerts for your hospital, the nicknames your hospital is known by, your competition, and other subjects you want to stay on top of.
Blogs. I have subscribed to 20 different blogs through RSS feeds. They’re packed with interesting information. But is all the information essential? That’s the key. I have discovered that I rarely read them all. Since there are so many, I’m reluctant to dig in because I fear they will take too long.
So I’m cutting my blog list to 3. Every day I read:
Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media. Mayo Clinic leads the way in hospital social media and this blog connects you with all kinds of great resources.
Seth Godin. Seth’s blog has nothing to do directly with social media, but everything to do with focus, strategy, productivity, thinking, and a hundred other useful things.
HealthCare Marketing and Communications News. This is not really a blog, but a daily news site that summarizes and links to important articles and blogposts. It is loaded with useful social media information. Here again, pick your most useful titles to skim.
If you are a hospital, I humbly encourage you to subscribe to our Hive Strategies blog (use the subscription option in the right hand column on this page!). We’re working hard to provide hospital-specific social media information that is useful, interesting, and essential every workday.
Books. There are so many great books out there, and more coming every day. If you can pick just two books this year, I highly recommend Content Rules and The Now Revolution, both providing big picture overview and lots of practical information.
Twitter. Twitter has become one of my favorite sources for great social media information. At first, the flow is mind-boggling—way too much. Resign yourself to viewing only a portion of the tweets you receive. Set streams to search for particular information.
I use Hootsuite to set up twitter streams—one for my followers, another for #hcsm and #hcmktg tweets, another stream for mentions and another stream for favorites. When I come across a tweet that I can’t read right now (avoiding one of those rabbit-hole experiences), I tag it as a favorite, and treat it like a “must read” file (see tip 5), deleting any unread tweets after a week.
Remember, you can’t read everything. And that’s okay. If it is really, truly, absolutely, unquestionably critical to your knowledge, it will resurface. The big ideas come back around. You are not going to miss out on something critical.
#5 Schedule a specific regular time to read and learn.
Select a specific regular time each day or weekly to read your sources based on what works best for you.
Beth Martin (@bethpowismartin), a Los Angeles communications marketing pro, finds that taking a half-day off once a week works best for her. You might prefer early mornings or late afternoons when there are fewer interruptions. The key: pick a regular time for you that you can always count on. Then when you run out of time you’ll know you can pick up where you left off next time.
#6 Create a “to read” bin and purge it weekly.
I’m a big fan of Lands’ End. They have great prices and I love the style and fit. Whenever the catalogue arrives, I thumb through and easily identify a few hundred dollars worth of must-have ties, shirts, and pants. But I discovered a great way to save my budget. I wait 24 hours before I order anything. Surprisingly, my list shrinks dramatically.
That can be an effective strategy for information. If you don’t have enough time to read something today—remember you’ve set yourself a limit as to how much time you’ll spend—and you think it will be useful, move it to a “to read” file. See if you find it as interesting in 24 hours, or in a few days.
Then, the next time you have some extra time to read, go to your “to read” file and select the most useful information. If it doesn’t rise to the top within a week, delete it. You’ve read the most important information.
#7 Stick with it.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of discipline in combating information overload. The internet is an endless rabbit hole. One thing leads to another and another and another and another. Before you know it, an hour or two or three have passed and you find yourself asking, “What did I accomplish today?”
I agree with Kristine Austin (@ks_austin), a Silicon Valley strategic communications pro, who tweeted “1st step is admitting a problem (lol). Set limits and stick with them. U have 2 choose limits that work best 4 UR priorities.”
One final tip:
Remember to find balance in your life. When you take control of information overload, life becomes a better place. You have time for all those other things that bring you joy and satisfaction. David Baker, a consultant to the marketing industry, has wise advice. “You want something outside of your job so exciting that you don’t like it when work gets in the way of it.”
Let’s grab information overload by the throat, wrestle it to the ground, and get back our lives!
How we help
Hive Strategies helps hospitals engage patients through social media. We don’t manage social media. Instead, we help hospitals develop an effective social media strategy and mentor them through the implementation process. Start a conversation. Email us or call us at 503-472-5512.