6 ways to simplify digital information

A little simplification would be the first step toward rational living, I think.

-Eleanor Roosevelt


Feeling overwhelmed? I know the feeling.  Today I am feeling overwhelmed by digital information.  I LOVE the internet. Love it. I subscribe to over 50 blogs. I sign up for email newsletters.  I save tons of links as bookmarks.  I email myself links to articles.

It’s a great concept – rather than saving paper clippings, I save digital copies of information about fun projects.  Things I’d like to do someday. Recipes I’d like to try. Travel destinations to visit.

But when do I go back and look at these saved links?

Honestly?  Hardly ever.

Because there’s always MORE, newer, fresher, more exciting information to consume.

I’ve just started taking this Unraveling course which I’m really excited about.  So this morning I decided to bookmark the page to make it easier to refer to during the course.  I clicked “bookmark” and suddenly realized that I have about 200 bookmarks in my web browser!  It seemed impossible that I would ever find this bookmark again. And really, isn’t that the point of a bookmark? To make it easy to find websites?

I felt a sense of dread. Of being buried under this pile of information that I had no hope of getting through.  But wasn’t there good stuff in there?! What if I miss out on The Next Big Idea because I didn’t read this one amazing article?

Then I took a deep breath and…

Deleted every single bookmark.

Every one. Gone.

Immediately I felt a sense of relief.  Like a weight had been lifted.  My browser window was suddenly clean.  I recreated the 4 essential bookmarks I actually use, and left it at that.  Ahh.  Simple.

Simplifying your life doesn’t just happen.  The universe tends towards chaos (remember that factoid from physics class?)  Simplifying your life is a choice.  Although managing digital data is a modern problem, Grandma would recognize the need to focus on what’s important and forget the small stuff.  And you can get started today by spending 15 minutes decluttering and simplifying your digital life.


6 tips to reduce information overload

1.  Remind yourself that YOU choose what to read.  Be selective about how you spend your time.  Skim the headlines, read the interesting articles and emails, and ignore the rest.  This is hard to do in the beginning, but such an important habit if you want to regain control of your digital information

2.  Actively unsubscribe from email newsletters you don’t want.  Instead of immediately deleting emails, spend the extra 2 clicks to open the email, scroll to the bottom and click the ‘unsubscribe’ link.  There. Problem solved long-term.

3. Discover RSS Feeds.  If you love to read blogs, it can be really time consuming to bookmark each blog and check back regularly.  That’s where RSS feeds come in.  An RSS feed is a stream of the latest posts from a blog.  You read this stream in an RSS reader.  I use Google Reader.  Just click ‘subscribe’ on each of your favorite blogs, and get the latest posts from every blog delivered on one page.  Whew. ONE page to check for updates.  Simple!

4. Do a bookmark clear-out.  Aside from the 3-5 bookmarks you use on a daily basis, delete everything.  Everything.  There, that’s better.

5. Discover an online bookmarking tool.  Rather than emailing articles to yourself, try an online bookmarking tool.  I use Springpad.  Evernote is another popular one.  It’s a smarter way to bookmark.  It clips articles and links from the web, recognizes recipes, can look up books and movies, and organizes everything in little notebooks based on categories you assign.  Much easier than a massive set of emails or browser bookmarks.

6. If your email is out of control, take drastic measures.  If you have hundreds or thousands of emails in your inbox, don’t waste your time trying to sort through them, start fresh by declaring email bankruptcy.   You can either just delete all of the emails in your inbox and start from zero, or close the email account and open a new one (which has a side-benefit of reducing spam…for awhile).  It’s a drastic measure, but would feel so good.


How do you control digital information overload?  Share your tips in the comments.

6 Responses to 6 ways to simplify digital information

  1. regina says:

    These are great tips and reminders! Thanks!!

  2. Amanda says:

    Hi Grace, glad to help on the google reader 🙂 Also, I LOVE pinterest! It’s great for creative inspiration.

  3. Grace says:

    Oh, also, thanks for explaining Google Reader. I could never figure out how to subscribe to blogs that weren’t from Blogger, so I would check them daily or weekly. Now I’ve got them all on Google Reader. Woohoo!

  4. Grace says:

    I used to have zillions of bookmarks in my browser until we had a computer problem and they were all unintentionally erased. And you know what? I survived. I was sad at first, but then I realized I didn’t even know what most of them were anymore.

    Now I use Pinterest. It’s the easiest way for me to keep my digital media organized. I also love that it’s on a site that I have to intentionally go to, instead of on my actual browser in my face every time I’m on the internet.

  5. Amanda says:

    Hi Rozenn, that’s so true about using email as ‘digital memory’, I do that too! Everything goes into my springpad, and I reference it constantly. Wonder if our memories are getting worse…

  6. Rozenn says:

    Fabulous advice, Amanda! Working with computers, I also came to similar measures to keep on top of the digital overload.
    The main difference is that I’m not able to let go of *everything* at once. So for instance, I regularly delete all emails that are older than, day, 2 months at work and 6 months at home – I like to refer to old emails to compensate for my poor memory…
    Similarly with bookmarks, I’m *really* selective as to what I bookmark. Usually I don’t bookmark until I’ve checked my history for a particular page more than a few times. Stuff that’s good but a bit of a one-off, I might post on Facebook and if I need to get back to it one day, I scroll down the history on Facebook. That way I don’t bookmark it but I feel there’s still a way to find it again if need be (e.g. articles).
    With emails, I have folders for family etc. I used to order my personal mailboxes by name and only save the last 3 for each person as a way to decide what to keep but actually, now, I don’t bother anymore. I keep the recent stuff and the ones that need replying to and leave it at that.
    Truth is, I don’t make the most of the Internet and its many blogs. That’s my way to be selective and I am missing out, yes. But I needed the space and time it brought back to my life!