Avoiding news overload: Delete and curate

With the relentless pace of news online where any one story is often covered by thousands if not millions of news sites, many of us are drowning in information. It?s a phenomenon that rang especially true during a lunch break this week: I was jumping between the New Yorker on my iPad, real time updates on the Google I/O conference from Twitter and video news clips on the BBC?s web site. After an hour of multitasking I felt over saturated; ironically it felt like I was taking a break from my lunch ?break? by returning back to project work.

To combat news overload, I like to stick with one simple rule: Get your news and information from as few sources as possible. Not using that news magazine app lately? Delete it. Haven?t read up lately from that one RSS feed? Unsubscribe. Have several websites that you check out each day yet their content overlaps heavily? Stop visiting all but one.

Paring down is sensible to applications as well. For instance, if you?re a big Instapaper fan, you probably don?t need Read It Later. If you get your most relevant news content on the go from only Twitter, move the Facebook and Tumblr apps in a rarely accessed folder or remove them entirely.

At first glance this may seem counterintuitive. The very strength of online news content and associated applications is their size and breadth; you can scan hundreds of RSS feeds and blogs in a single news app along with aggregate web sites covering the same story from many different perspectives. Unfortunately every time you jump from one source to another, it comes at the cost of lost time and efficiency, not to mention the risk of reading the same info over and over again (e.g. scanning over 300 ?Microsoft purchased Skype? headlines in one day.)

Put another way, your time is better spent discovering a single source that speaks to you clearly instead of juggling between several that only do a so-so job. Turn the size and breadth of what’s out there to work with you instead of against you.

A few practical steps to start

  • Take a quarter of the feeds you follow on Google Reader (or equivalent) and move them to a new folder or group. Spend one week restricting yourself to nothing but those feeds. If you find yourself missing key news content after that period, move other feeds back into the priority folder as needed. Feeds that are largely ignored after a week or two should be removed.
  • If you?re a heavy Twitter user, review the entire list of people you follow. Ask whether each person on it has both tweeted recently and has content you find particularly useful or enjoy. If the answer to either question is ?no? it?s likely time to unfollow them.
  • Move an entire row of icons from your home screen (for the iPhone, this would be four apps) to another secondary screen or folder. Spend a few days with this new, more pared down primary app set. I?ve surprised myself when I?ve sworn that a specific app is essential to staying on my home screen, only realizing weeks later I never really needed it there.