How To Avoid Information Overload

“Enough is a good as a feast.” Mary Poppins

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” Gertrude Stein - “Reflection on the Atomic Bomb” - 1946

I love being able to instantly learn about a topic that’s unfamiliar to me. In a given day, I might Google mafaldine (a type of pasta); the German word for clock (Uhr); and if I really need the four crowns my dentist just recommended (I don’t). I also use the internet, textbooks, magazines, TV, radio, professional associations, and academic sources to keep myself up to date on all things related to finance, taxes, investments, financial planning, insurance, etc. Those sources generate more information than any human brain can hope to keep up with, even when the owner of that brain is happily immersed in the world of finance.

For my clients, potential clients, financial DIY’ers, and the rest of us bewildered by so much advice, the flood of information is even more daunting. What are some ways you can digest it all? How do you know what sources are valid? Here are five tips to deal with financial information overload.

Recognize the Problem – Psychologist Daniel Levitin defines information overload as the freak out (my word!) thatoccurs when information comes in faster than we can process it.” He goes on to discourage us from believing in a manageable threshold, (like how long we can hold the bent arm hang); he thinks that's the wrong way to look at it. Attention is a limited resource that can’t really be “built” like biceps or Spanish vocabulary. Acknowledging that you have to limit information intake is the first step to solving the problem.

Filter – Most adults have gotten pretty good at filtering – just ask any inveterate Black Friday shopper or husband who can’t see the trashcan overflow. The barrage of news, facts, sales, political messages, and kitten videos assail us relentlessly, and we’re good at opening only the things we’re interested in. The problem erupts when we begin to explore a new field. The best way to solve this problem is to figure how to best structure the flood of words and images that come to your eyes, ears, and Inbox. It might be something as simple as changing your homepage when you first get on your computer to a plain Google site from your customary Bing or Yahoo page with its attendant clickbait articles clamoring for a quick read.