Suffering from TMI? (Too Much Information?) Here’s how to take control of your incoming information in three simple steps
The Samsung Droid Charge is one of those phones you hear about that does just about Everything. Text messages. Voice mail. E-mail. E-books. The interwebs. Twitter. MyBook. FaceSpace. Google+. Paypal. Bank Account updates. RSS feeds. Stock prices. Netflix. Weather alerts. If you have a fetish, there’s an app for it.
Yep, it does pretty much everything except make quality phone calls.
The great thing about having a phone like this is that you can connect to everything, everywhere, no matter where you are, at any time.
The bad thing about having a phone like this is that no matter where you are, everything, everywhere, can connect to YOU, at any time.
Once I got e-mail and all the apps and services hooked up, they all started clamoring for my attention. There wasn’t an hour of the day that something wasn’t ringing, pinging, tweeting, texting, alerting or messaging me.
So I had to do something. And on an author’s budget too, therefore hiring a “personal assistant” is out. So I turned to technology to crack down on the incoming data streams.
Here’s the tactics I used to fight back against info overload.
Step 1 – Eliminate the Negative
The first step I took to control my incoming data streams was to filter out the unwanted crap.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that most of the junk e-mail I receive is my own fault – Ticketmaster. Eventful. Jambase. Forum updates. Band e-mail lists. Newsletters from other dark fiction authors, etc… I signed up for all this stuff. But whenever I’d check my e-mail, I’d simply delete them out of the way to get to my important mail. Now that every single e-mail alerts my phone, it’s an endless interruption of unimportant information.
So the first step in reducing info overload is to unsubscribe. Be honest with yourself about how many times you REALLY read that e-mail compared to the number of times you delete it unread, or file it away to read on a someday that never happens.
It only takes a couple clicks to get unsubscribed from an e-mail list. If you didn’t ask to receive it, then it’s Spam. Don’t delete it, and don’t try to unsubscribe! Use the email program to mark the message as SPAM and let your spam filter take care of it. This tells your mail host and your mail client software that the sender is a spammer, and should be blocked in the future. The more you use your spam filter, the smarter it gets about who and what to block out; not just for you, but for everyone.
Obviously, if you signed up for a mailing list and don’t want to receive it anymore, don’t list it as spam! Simply unsubscribe. If there isn’t an unsubscribe link in the mail, just reply to the mail with the word UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line.
RSS feeds, LinkedIn, FaceBook, MySpace, Google+, Twitter etc. Trust me, these things will still be there when you WANT to view them. Unless you have NO life whatsoever, there’s no need to receive real-time updates from social media. At the very least, go into the preferences and turn off the notices you don’t want to get, or change your subscription to a weekly consolidated update.
If you find yourself receiving a lot of unwanted voice calls, Google Voice is the answer. I created a group in Google Voice called F-list. Contacts who annoy me, hound me, or take advantage of my phone number by calling me at odd hours with stupid questions get added to the F-list. I’ve set up Google Voice to direct anyone on the F-list to go directly to voice mail. they don’t even ring my phone. Its like a spam filter for phone calls. To do this in your own account, log into Google Voice then click the little gear in the upper-right corner of the screen and select “Voice Settings”. Under the “Groups” tab you can define the specific routing rules, custom message and whether to screen the calls or not.
There is another way to do this without using Google Voice. If your phone lets you assign a different ring tone for different people or groups of people, some of them can be set to the lovely sound of “Silent”. You might even be able to do this for numbers that are not already in your phone’s contact list. Unlisted numbers and first-time-callers will be forced to leave a message.
Many people won’t even leave a message when they get dumped to voicemail, so this tactic significantly reduces the number of incoming calls and messages. If the F-lister does leave a message, Google Voice translates it into text and sends me an e-mail along with an attached mp3 of the message! Reading through the message is much faster than actually listening to some F-lister blather on, and I’ll decide whether or not to call them back.
Often I’ll e-mail or txt them back instead of calling. Migrating the conversation to text messaging or e-mail makes people cut the crap and get straight to the point about why they are calling.
Step 2 – Accentuate the Positive
In the first step, I showed you how to reduce the incoming data streams by cutting out the junk. In this step, I’ll show you how to promote the good stuff that you actually want to get.
Gmail’s Priority Inbox feature is a great tool for prioritizing e-mails. You give it feedback about which mails are important and which aren’t. Eventually, it learns which e-mails are priority. E-mails from your mom, your agent and your BFFs will rise to the top of your inbox.
If you aren’t using gmail, then check to see if your mail client has some kind of filtering you can apply, perhaps a set of rules to forward to your phone if the call is from [insert name of stalkee here].
I have a feeling that if you’re addicted to rss feeds like Digg, Lifehacker, Conrad Zero: Dark Fiction Author, or social media sites, you’ll make time to view them on a regular basis. But if you gotta be a virtual stalker and get bleeding-edge updates, then set up the social media or rss feed to notify you by e-mail and let the Priority Inbox rules from above do the filtering for you.
Once again, Google Voice is your hero. Similar to the F-list I mentioned in the previous step, I created an A-list of contacts whose calls are routed direct to my cell phone. This is for close friends, family, my agent, and Suzanne Vega.
Truth to tell, I actually have my ringer off quite a bit, so even A-listers have to leave a message. And sometimes it takes me hours or even days to get back to them, but I do get back to them. But leaving the ringer off when you don’t have time to talk is only fair to both you and those calling. (Yes, even when it’s your mom!)
Step 3 – The Unpublished Masses
So you’ve cut out the crap, and added all stalkers, government agencies and your student loan officer to the F-list. You’ve added your mom, your agent and Conrad Zero to the A-list. These simple steps might be all you need. But there are some things you can do with the remaining group of “everything else”.
The last tip is to help reduce your signal-to-noise ratio by creating different types of alerts for the different types of notifications.
I turned off notifications for general e-mail, but I still allow Important e-mails to vibrate once, but not actually ringing the phone. Texts are a short bird noise (like a tweet). When these alerts come in, I don’t need to look at my phone to know what kind of alert it was, and if it’s important enough to interrupt what I’m doing at any given moment.
All other calls (not A-list or F-list) are allowed to reach my cell during daytime hours, and dump to voicemail on evenings/weekends.
JEI (Just Enough Information)
When you’ve implemented these steps, you’ll have three distinct lists of incoming communication:
Stuff you want (A-list)
Stuff you don’t want (Spam, F-list, etc.)
I hope these tips help make your day simpler, quieter, and more productive.