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Information overload: 3 quick questions to get a lot more out of it

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

There is an almost ridiculous amount of rich information out there. At our fingertips, on our screens, in our earbuds. Are you like me? Are you often drawn to reading intriguing articles, listening to provocative podcasts and taking fascinating courses and webinars? We can spend oodles of hours consuming information.

How much of it actually sticks and helps up our game, our lives?

Image source: Pixabay, geralt, parchment-4746819_1280.jpg

Maybe there’s a particular topic you’re driven to explore as it relates to your current context. Yet despite what you read or hear, the situation stays fairly stagnant as you tend to quickly move on to the next things on your list.

You are not alone. I’m with you. I’ve polled clients, friends and peers and this resonates with them, too. Life is full! [Full has replaced the frantic and overused “busy” in my vocabulary.]

We’re curious and we seek knowledge supporting our survival, and our capacity to thrive and to serve. To support our progress, to develop, we sign up for a free webinar on resilience or virtual team building, for instance, or listen to the latest podcast by our favourite thought leaders. We fit this into our full lives. Then we get back to work and family and friends and so on and not much changes for us. Sometimes, we make notes and take nuggets forward. Often we mean to return to our notes and pull out those nuggets to use. More often, we don’t and our learnings fade away or aren’t even realized.

3 questions to tame and gain in our information-rich worlds

It feels like there is a dual approach to managing information overload: 1) being selective about when and how much we take on; and 2) ensuring the time we do invest results in incremental gain.

I am noticing when I pause to ask myself three simple and critical questions, I get a lot more out of my information binges! I did not invent these questions. They are well-documented as an effective reflective model—to process, integrate and benefit from our learnings. They are easy to remember, and just as easy to forget about. They are:

1. What?

2. So what?

3. Now what?

What was it all about—can I sum up the essence and a few key points or takeaways? Writing in our own words what resonated or stuck out for us integrates our learning deeper into our selves.

So, what does that mean for me or others? How does it apply in my world? Transferring that learning into our own lives deepens the resonance by pinpointing how it's meaningful to us.

Now what will I do with this learning? Capitalizing on the time and energy invested in the article or podcast adds tangible value to what was spent. Of what you note down, pick just one achievable step or action item, set a timeframe and take it forward.

Here’s what I’ve found helps

You may have other tips and I'd love to hear them!

  • Writing your answers down in a journal or a text file.

  • There may be several ideas in each question; capture the top two or three.

  • Write from your gut, your heart and your mind without overthinking. Often what surfaces first is most important—there’s been processing behind the scenes.

  • If you're not sure about what you've written, ask yourself "what else" and brainstorm for 90 seconds, then select the standouts.

  • Be concise. No need to write paragraphs. This forces us to take only minutes in our full lives and serves to show this is an easily repeatable habit to build into our learning.

  • Consider what could prevent you from doing your "now what". And what could support you? This sets you up for success. Barrier-awareness gets you subconsciously working on mitigation right from the get-go. Knowing your internal and external supports gives you further fuel.

  • Come back to what you wrote a few days or weeks later. What did you learn from your action(s)? What did you notice? What changed? (There can be a cycle of continuous learning and action.)

This does not have to be a solo sport

These three questions work in conversations, too, articulating with another person. And, by expressing our “now what” to another, it can become a declarative intention so we tend to feel it as a commitment to ourselves and to them. Now we’re more likely to follow through.

We can use a variation of these questions for shared learning in teams: What did we notice? So, what does this mean? Now, where do we go from here?

As a coach too, I pose similar questions to my clients to help deepen the learning and value they extract from what they explore in each session.

An invitation

I’m imperfect at this practice. I show myself compassion and don’t beat myself up when I miss the pause. And, I am pausing for this practice much more often. I wanted to share this—to introduce you, remind you, reinforce for you, the value of the reflective pause. I am feeling sticky gains in my own learning and progress, so I invite you to practice these three simple, critical questions after your next information binge. Or after a project, at a meeting, or in an invigorating discussion. Or to share this article with someone and have a conversation. The questions can apply just about anywhere.

And so, my dear reader, can you create the space and pause? Just for 5 or 10 minutes. Even now... What was this article all about? And so, what? And now what?

Author: Toni Crow, CEC PCC PQC, Toni Crow Leadership Coaching

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