The Answer to Information Overload

January 8, 2016

Interesting podcast this morning:  Note to Self featured famed neuroscientist Daniel Levitin speaking about how to get through the day in an organized fashion in this era of data overload.  He pointed out that since we are getting inputs from 384 different sources at once it’s literally impossible to keep everything in our heads at once.  The host, who I really like (Manoush Zomorodi) began the segment with a brain frying rant about all of the things she was trying to hold in her head at once and how it was driving her absolutely crazy on a continual basis.

MANOUSH.  PLEASE consider a planner.  Maybe even a Hobonichi.  I cannot stress enough how this simple stack of paper helps me:

– prioritize
– not miss details
– keep track of appointments
– keep track of commitments
– keep track of to-do items
– CALM myself down about all of the above and not have that frazzled/overloaded/panicky feeling about “whatdoineedtobedoingrightnow!?!?”

It doesn’t require batteries.  I do not have to switch from app to app.  I do not have to (as Levitin suggests) open up multiple email accounts for things of different priority (this idea did not appeal to me at all).  I can write things down on a longer-range to do list, to be dealt with later.  I can plan out my top priorities for the day.  I can store fun memories to potentially refer to later, or brilliant (or even non-brilliant!) ideas.  I can fit in everything from meal plans to play dates to work deadlines in this one place — important, because if I were using separate apps or electronic calendars it is so easy to accidentally schedule things at overlapping time periods.

I can honestly say that since using this thing — with its daily / weekly / monthly layouts and tons of space for me to plan / analyze / track list to my heart’s content — I am so much more peaceful about what I need to be doing and ought to be doing at any given moment.  It is because of my planner that I can relax at the end of the day because everything essential has been dealt with (or is on the docket for when I need to address it).

I realize the answer to The Age of Information Overload cannot possibly be this simple . . . or this technologically unsophisticated.

But maybe for me it is.


  • Reply Amy March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I am not a planner by nature, but I know I need to work on my planning and organization skills for this reason! I recently made myself a bullet-ish journal and wow is it ever changing my life. Everything all in one place! I think I just realized and accepted that structured planners don’t work for me; this way I can write everything out in the way that makes sense to me. It’s awesome.

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

      Bullet journaling is so cool! My method is definitely different but there are definitely parallels.

  • Reply gwinne March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I’m also a paper planner. I’ve used Moleskine’s weekly for years. I could probably use it better, and I do keep other lists elsewhere.

    I find looking at my to do list IS completely overwhelming…need to see less of it at once, or maybe do multiple versions…

  • Reply xykademiqz March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    I am very averse to lists (they make me physically uncomfortable). It’s a combination of being lazy and never having been able to find a "list" that reflects how things are stored in my head, so lists just irritate me.

    I use the calendar on my phone for appointments (both personal and professional) and for non-recurrent meetings; I set two alarms to remind me of each appointment, and then I forget about them. I love how easy it is to just click on a date in an email and the calendar will make the appointment. Recurrent stuff (standing meetings, teaching, office hours) is easy to remember.

    I have a long-form CV where I track stuff in progress (research papers I am working on with planned submission dates, grant proposals with planned submission dates, names of talks and abstracts I am supposed to give in the near future). It serves both as record keeping and a morale boost!

    Stuff that other people expect from me (reviews of other people’s grants and manuscripts, recommendation letters) all gets dumped in the email folder "Pending" and when done moves to "Completed".

    Teaching stuff is always in my working memory, but it’s usually all short term (make exam, grade exam, prep or write solutions to homework) so it’s not very taxing.

    I think it’s important to find whatever system comes naturally to a person. You don’t want the planning to add to the stress!

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

      Very fair 🙂 (Plus I hope that people realized I was being tongue in cheek with my "The Answer" title, though maybe I didn’t execute that well enough!). I think your electronic systems sound like they work because they are simple and you are not using 10 different apps and electronic calendars, which I think is really common nowadays. The key is that you can forget about them after entering them – that means it’s a truly trusted system which works.

      Very interesting about being averse to lists. Obviously I am the total opposite and find them incredibly calming (it’s all there so the swirling in my head can stop).

      • Reply xykademiqz March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

        Oh yeah, we also have a family board in the kitchen. It’s a dry-erase board where you can put the dates each month and we list non-recurrent activities there, such as concerts and plays and athletic meets with the kids, upcoming vacation or when mom is out of town, etc. Even with little doodles!

  • Reply suemagoo18 March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    Love this, Sarah. I’m curious–sorry if you have answered this already–when do you have "planner time" each day? ie when do you actually write out your to-do lists, etc?

  • Reply Sara B. March 10, 2019 at 7:11 pm

    You know these planner posts always bring out my inner nerd. And make me want to try all the planners. And then I remember that I LOVE my custom planner and it still really works for me and NO FIDDLING. 😄

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