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Published on November 12, 2019

How to Organize Information and Tidy up Your Thoughts

How to Organize Information and Tidy up Your Thoughts

Over 4 million blog posts are published every day.[1] That is a lot of information and it’s only getting bigger. While the vast majority of people won’t be reading that many blog posts, people still consume a lot of information.

Maybe not through blog posts, but through social media, and the news. But that doesn’t change the fact that our intake of information is larger now. And some people have been calling the issues that we face with this larger intake of info as information overload. There are all kinds of strategies to help us mitigate but, what is we’re going at this the wrong way? What if the problem is because we don’t know how to organize information?

I believe that is the case when we consider our own behavior around information. This, in turn, explains why we need to organize information and find methods to do so effectively.

While there is nothing wrong with the amount of information available, it is up to us to determine how we use it. In so many cases, people have had no self-control or that they haven’t bothered to learn how to organize information. This fact amongst a few other reasons is why this is important.

We’ve Grown Addicted To Consuming Information

As Karol Krol put simply in an article at Lifehack:

“The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem. The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.”

This creates a situation where we are constantly digesting information mainly because “we have got to know this.” Even if we never apply that information in our own lives.

All of this behavior is similar to the idea of attending seminars hosted by motivational speakers or thought leaders. People walk out of those seminars and most never practice what they learned.[2]

Consuming information on your own is not that different.

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Too Much Information Creates Clutter

A while ago, I explained a scenario where you are reading and focusing on a book on the bus. Suddenly, someone sits near you and is in the middle of a loud personal conversation about their friend’s love life.

Even though you are a bystander in that conversation, that’s still information and can create a lot of clutter. It’s similar to having other distractions on your desk that pull you away from work or some other productive activity.

But one other aspect I failed to bring up is that, clutter can exist from build-up too. In the case of information, reading several articles on the same topic can create a lot of clutter.

What sort of information is important?

This post said this is important while another post said it wasn’t important. What information is relevant here?

What information should you internalize and apply?

In the end, the information creates noise and it can be tough for us to organize that information based on our feelings and current devices.

How to Organize Information Effectively

How to organize information can be simple once you have a plan. There are also a variety of tactics to consider using to best organize information.

But the most important thing about information is how much we consume is up to us. We have complete control over our information diet and how we distribute it.

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1. The LATCH Principle

An effective method is one that Richard Saul Wurman developed in 1996. In his book Information Architect, he took a previous existing theory – the Five Hat Racks – and formulated what is known as the LATCH principle.

Now, what does that mean? Wurman explained:

“Information may be infinite, however…The organization of information is finite as it can only be organized by LATCH: Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, or Hierarchy.”

Indeed, this method is all about organizing information in a broader sense. You’re not focusing so much on your own priorities but better organizing your information diet.

According to Wurman, this is the best method to organize information mainly because he tested the principle a thousand times. Every time he tried something different, he went directly to one of those five methods.

He may have a bias since he is the creator of this principle but, it does work wonders. I argue this because of two key reasons:

First, to organize anything, you must first remove a lot of things you don’t need. Going back to clutter, it creates a lot of noise and it distracts us from our current goals and priorities in life.

Second is that, organizing alleviates a lot of anxiety. And in order to organize properly, there has to be some kind of method or system. It’s not really organizing if there is no method to how you’re sorting things.

This is where LATCH comes in. LATCH provides five methods that we can choose from to organize anything in our lives:

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  • Location can be used in a variety of situations. It’s akin to giving directions. We focus on the most relevant things to be within reach. Similarly, we also use it to show how things are connected to one another.
  • Alphabet is organizing the information alphabetically. This can be helpful when organizing a list of people and statistics. Or maybe a dictionary of industry lingo or official documents.
  • Time works great with communication. Information revolving around scheduling appointments, or organizing projects. It’s good to use this method when providing step by step instructions or when things have to be in chronological order.
  • Category is the method to organize information by similarity or relatedness. Think back to the collection lists I mentioned earlier.
  • Hierarchy is about organizing information that is used collectively to compare things. Think t-shirt sizes or how you’d rate food or a product or service. Everyone uses that same metric to organize information.

While in most situations, people would wear multiple hats, the fact still remains that we instinctively use at least one of these methods. Whether we’re organizing information or collecting it, the LATCH method is the way to go.

2. Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a method of capturing thoughts and organizing them in a visual way. In the industry, it’s been a sort of buzzword despite few people actually explaining what it means or how to make one.

The overall idea with mind mapping is to create a detailed to-do list. You have daily tasks that you want to accomplish, but it goes a step farther.

Mind mapping encourages you to think longer term such as what you wish to do in five years with anything in your life. It doesn’t largely address the intake of daily information, however, this is an extremely effective tool to organize what matters most to you.

This combats information overload as it gives you another way to evaluate information. If it’s relevant to your goals and desires, jot it down. If not, remove it from your mind.

Here’s a guide to help you start mind mapping: How to Use a Mind Map to Organize Your Life

3. Create Lists

Besides using the above frameworks, you can start a simple habit of using post-it notes or big notepad to create a series of lists. Make a to-do list every day and use that to organize the most important tasks for you to complete that day.

If you feel the need to add routine items, make a separate list with those. Either way, lists help to organize what must be done and give you a sense of time management as well. After all, you’ll know roughly how long something ought to take you to complete.

4. Create Collections

Similar to the lists, make collections too. What I mean by this is put the notes that you make into specific groups of information. For example, if you have a lot of information on business ideas, or opportunities, write them in a book or place them in a digital document. Keep it separate from your list of self-improvement and mindset tips.

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Also, consolidate those collections. Toss out the information you no longer need or have tried before.

5. Place Priority on Key Information

Most times, blog posts will contain a lot of essential information. If you’re the type to consume a lot, it’s going to be tough to manage it all. This particular strategy takes the idea of making lists to the next level.

The idea is summarizing the information or placing the key points in a list you can consult later. It doesn’t have to be organized in a collection or anything. The idea is that it’ll be easier to digest and process later when your brain has energy.

Bottom Line

In a world where we are addicted to hoarding information in ourselves, we risk getting distracted and move further away from our true priorities.

By learning how to organize information better, we can remove the things we don’t need. Better yet, we can learn to place a higher priority on things that are more important to our lives.

When we begin to organize information and our behaviour, we become more in control over our lives and what we let in.

More About Organizing Your Life

Featured photo credit: Matthew Guay via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on July 29, 2020

How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

Have you been thinking of how you can be a more strategic leader during these uncertain times? Has the pandemic thrown a wrench at all your carefully laid out plans and initiatives?

You’re not alone. The truth is, we all want some stability in our careers and teams during this disruptive pandemic.

However, this now requires a bit more effort than before and making the leap from merely surviving to thriving means buckling down to some serious strategic thinking and maintaining a determined mindset.

Is There a Way to Thrive Despite These Disruptions?

Essentially – yes, although you need to be willing to put in the work. Every leader wants to develop strategic thinking skills so that they can enhance overall team performance and boost their company’s success, but what exactly does it mean to be strategic in the context of the times we live in?

If you happen to be in a leadership position in your organization right now, you are most probably navigating precarious waters given the disruptions caused by the pandemic. There’s a lot more pressure than before because your actions and decisions will have a much greater impact these days not just on you, but also to the people who are part of your team.

Companies often bring me in to coach executives on strategic thinking and planning. And while pre-pandemic I would usually start by highlighting the advantages of strategic thinking, nowadays, I always begin these Zoom coaching sessions by driving home the point that this pandemic has now made strategic thinking not just an option but an absolute must.

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Assessing and making plans through the lens of a good strategy might require significant work at first. Nevertheless, you can take comfort in the fact that the rewards will far outweigh the effort, as you’ll soon see after following the 8 strategic steps I have outlined below.

8 Steps to Strategic Thinking

As events unfold during these strange times, you’re bound to feel wrong-footed every now and then. Being a leader during this pandemic means preparing for more change not just for you, but for your whole team as well.

As states and cities go through a cycle of lockdowns and reopening, employees will experience the full gamut of human emotions in dizzying speed, and you will often be called on to provide insight and stability to your team and workplace.

Strategic thinking is all about anticipation and preparation. Rather than expending your energy merely helping your company put out fires and survive, you can put the time to better use by charting out a solid plan that can protect and help you and your company thrive.

Take the following steps to build solid initiatives and roll out successful projects:

Step 1: Step Back, Then Set the Scope

One of the things that leaders get wrong during their first attempt at strategic thinking is expecting that it is just another item on a checklist. The truth is, you need to take a good, long look at the bigger picture before anything else. This means decisively prioritizing and stepping away from tasks that can be delegated to others. Free up your schedule so you can focus on this crucial task at hand.

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Then, proceed with setting the scope and the strategic goals of the project or initiative you plan to build or execute. Ask yourself the bigger question of why you need to embark on a particular project and when would be the right time to do so.

You need to set a timeline as well, anywhere from 6 months to 5 years. Keep in mind that your projections will deteriorate the further out you go as you make longer-term plans.

For this reason, add extra resources, flexibility, and resilience if you have a longer timeline. You should also be making the goals less specific if you’re charting it out for the longer term.

Step 2: Make a List of Experts

Make and keep a list of credible people who can contribute solid insight and feedback to your initiative. This could range from key stakeholders to industry experts, mentors, and even colleagues who previously planned and rolled out similar projects.

Reach out to the people on this list regularly while you work through the steps to bring diverse insight into your planning process. This way, you will be able to approach any problem from every angle.

Bringing key stakeholders into this initial process will also display your willingness to listen and empathize with their issues. In return, this will build trust and potentially pave the way for smoother buy-in down the line.

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Step 3: Anticipate the Future

After identifying your goals and gathering feedback, it’s time to consider what the future would look like if everything goes as you intuitively anticipate. Then, lay out the kind and amount of resources (money, time, social capital) that might be needed to keep this anticipated future running.

Step 4: Brainstorm on Potential Internal and External Problems

Next, think of how the future would look if you encountered unexpected problems internal and external to the business activity that seriously jeopardize your expected vision of the future. Write out what kind of potential problems you might encounter, including low-probability ones.

Assess the likelihood that you will run into each problem. To gauge, multiply the likelihood by the number of resources needed to address the problem. Try to convert the resources into money if possible so that you can have a single unit of measurement.

Then, think of what steps you can take to address these internal and external problems before they even happen. Write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Lastly, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different possible problems and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

Step 5: Identify Potential Opportunities, Internal and External

Imagine how your expected plan would look if unexpected opportunities came up. Most of these will be external but consider internal ones as well. Then, gauge the likelihood of each scenario and the number of resources you would need to take advantage of each opportunity. Convert the resources into money if possible.

Then, think of what steps you can take in advance to take advantage of unexpected opportunities and write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Finally, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different unexpected opportunities and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

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Step 6: Check for Cognitive Biases

Check for potential cognitive biases that are relevant to you personally or to the organization as a whole, and adjust the resources and plans to address such errors.[1] Make sure to at least check for loss aversion, status quo bias, confirmation bias, attentional bias, overconfidence, optimism bias, pessimism bias, and halo and horns effects.

Step 7: Account for Unknown Unknowns (Black Swans)

To have a more effective strategy, account for black swans as well. These are unknown unknowns -unpredictable events that have potentially severe consequences.

To account for these black swans, add 40 percent to the resources you anticipate. Also, consider ways to make your plans more flexible and secure than you intuitively feel is needed.

Step 8: Communicate and Take the Next Steps

Communicate the plan to your stakeholders, and give them a heads up about the additional resources needed. Then, take the next steps to address the unanticipated problems and take advantage of the opportunities you identified by improving your plans, as well as allocating and reserving resources.

Finally, take note that there will be cases when you’ll need to go back and forth these steps to make improvements, (a fix here, an improvement there) so be comfortable with revisiting your strategy and reaching out to your list of experts.

Conclusion

A great way to deal with feelings of uncertainty during this pandemic is to anticipate obstacles with a good plan – and a sure road to that is practicing strategic thinking.

In the coming months and years, you’ll need to continue navigating uncharted territory so that you can lead your team to safe waters. Regularly doing these 8 steps to strategic thinking will ensure that you can prepare for and adapt  to the coming changes with increasing clarity, perspective, and efficiency.[2]

More on Thinking Smarter

Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

Reference

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