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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 October 22, 2020

What Is Analysis Paralysis (And How to Overcome It)

What Is Analysis Paralysis (And How to Overcome It)

Have you ever taken so long trying to solve a problem that you just ended up going around in circles? How about trying to make a major decision and just freezing up when the time to decide came?

You might have found yourself gathering too much information, hoping it will help you make the best decision—even if it takes you too long to do so. This probably led to many missed opportunities, especially in situations where you needed to act on time.

Nobody wants to make the wrong decision. However, delayed decision making can have a hugely negative impact on all aspects of your life—from your personal relationships to your career. Delaying important decisions can be the worst decision of all.

At one point or another, people get stuck at a decision impasse they can’t seem to overcome. This is due to a mental blindspot called information bias, informally known as analysis paralysis.

Analysis Paralysis and Stalled Decisions

Information bias, or analysis paralysis, is our tendency to seek more information than is needed to make decisions and take action.[1] It is one of many cognitive biases that cause us to make mistakes during the decision-making process.

A related cognitive bias is the status quo bias, which is our tendency to prefer that things stay the same and fear any changes.[2] Together with analysis paralysis, these two dangerous judgment errors pose a threat to our successful navigation through our rapidly-shifting world.

Consider what happened to Lily, a consulting client of mine who’s a mid-level manager in the UX department of a large tech company. Lily had been there for 5 years and was thinking about switching to a startup after a couple tried to recruit her.

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However, she had been taking a lot of time making a decision. In fact, before she contacted me, she had already gathered information and talked to a lot of people for 7 months. Realistically, more information won’t sway her decision, but she kept trying to gather more information.

And then, there was the technology company that came to me after their growth started to decline. The company had initially experienced rapid growth with a couple of innovative products. However, its growth started to decrease—unfortunate, but not unexpected.

Essentially, the company’s growth followed the typical S-curve growth model, which starts as a slow and effortful start-up stage. This is followed by a rapid growth stage, then a slowdown in growth, often following market saturation or competitive pressure or other factors. This is the point where the company’s existing products reach maturity.

However, even before a slowdown hits, forward-thinking companies would innovate and change things up proactively. This is so they could have new products ready to go that would maintain rapid growth.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case with this particular tech company. Not only did they not address the potential decline but once the company’s growth stalled, the leaders dug their heels in and stayed the course. They kept on analyzing the market to find the cause of the problem.

Worse, a couple of executives in the company proposed launching new products, but most of the leadership was cautious. They kept on asking for guarantees that the products would be a success, demanding more information even when additional information wasn’t relevant.

Both Lily and the tech company remained paralyzed by too much information when they should already have taken action. While this situation isn’t unexpected, it is totally avoidable.

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As I told both parties when they consulted me, all they needed to do was to face analysis paralysis head-on and make a decision. But they had to follow the best decision-making process available first, didn’t they?

8-Step Decision-Making Process to Avoid Analysis Paralysis

I told Lily and the leaders at the tech company that we should never go with our gut if we want to avoid disasters in our personal and professional lives.[3] Instead, I advised them, as I advise you now, to follow data-driven, research-based approaches, such as the one I’ll outline below.

From hiring a new employee, launching a new product, selecting a Zoom guest speaker for your annual video conference to deciding whether to apply for a higher-level position within your company, the following steps will help you fight analysis paralysis and make the best decisions possible.

1. Identify the Need to Launch a Decision-Making Process

This is particularly important when there’s no explicit crisis that cries out for a change or decision to be made. Such recognition is also applicable when your natural intuitions are keeping you from acknowledging the need for a tough decision.

Remember that the best decision-makers take the initiative to recognize the need for decisions before they become an emergency. They also don’t let gut reactions cloud their decision-making capacity.

2. Gather Relevant Information From a Wide Variety of Informed Perspectives

Listen especially to opinions you disagree with. Contradicting perspectives empower you to distance yourself from the comfortable reliance on your gut instincts, which can sometimes be harmful to decision-making. Opposing ideas also help you recognize any potential bias blind spots, and this allows you to come up with solutions that you may not have otherwise.

3. Paint a Clear Vision of Your Desired Outcome

Using the data gleaned from step 2, decide which goals you want to reach. Paint a clear vision of the desired outcome of your decision-making process. You should also recognize that what seems to be a one-time decision may turn out to be a symptom of an underlying issue with current processes and practices. Make addressing these root problems part of the outcome you want to achieve.

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4. Make a Decision-Making Process Criteria

Make a decision-making process criteria to weigh the various options of how you’d like to get to your desired outcome. As much as possible, develop these criteria before you start to consider choices. Our intuitions bias our decision-making criteria to encourage certain outcomes that fit our instincts. As a result, you get overall worse decisions if you don’t develop criteria before starting to look at options.

5. Generate Several Viable Options

We tend to fall into the trap of generating insufficient options to make the best decisions, and this can lead to analysis paralysis. To prevent this, you should generate many more options than you usually would. Generate several viable options that can help you achieve your decision-making process goals. Go for 5 attractive options as the minimum.

Keep in mind that this is a brainstorming step, so don’t judge options no matter how far fetched they might seem. In my consulting and coaching experience, the optimal choice often involves elements drawn from out-of-the-box options.

6. Weigh These Options and Pick the Best One

When weighing your options, beware of going with your initial preferences. Try to see your preferred choice in a harsh light. Also, do your best to separate each option from the person who proposed it. This minimizes the impact of personalities, relationships, and internal politics on the decision itself.

7. Implement the Option You Chose

For implementing the decision, you need to minimize risks and maximize rewards, since your goal is to get a decision outcome that’s as good as possible.

First, imagine that the decision completely failed. Then, brainstorm about all the problems that led to this failure. Next, consider how you might solve these problems, and integrate the solutions into your implementation plan.

Next, imagine that the decision absolutely succeeded. Brainstorm all the reasons for success and consider how you can bring these reasons into life. Then, integrate what you learned into implementing the decisions.

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Finally, develop clear metrics of success that you can measure throughout the implementation process. This will enable you to check if you’re meeting the goals you identified in step 3. It will also help guide your goal-setting process—something to keep in mind when you use this decision-making technique again in the future.

8. Set a Reminder to Use the Process for Future Decisions

Regularly check if it’s time to employ the decision-making process once again. As discussed in the first step, there may be times when there’s no explicit crisis that cries out for a change, even though underlying issues might already be signaling that it’s time for a tough decision.

Setting a reminder—perhaps a visual one such as a note on your desk, or even just a scheduled alert on your phone—will ensure that you can catch decision-making cues before they’re due.

While Lily and the tech company initially had to fight off a lot of discomforts when using the process, they were ultimately rewarded with sound decisions they were immensely satisfied with.

This battle-tested method will do the same for you. It will certainly propel your decision-making and, at the same time, help you thwart analysis paralysis and avoid decision disasters.

Conclusion

Nobody wants to make the wrong decision, but you also don’t want to take too long and miss opportunities. By using a data-driven and research-based approach to decision making, you can nip analysis paralysis in the bud and make the best decisions.

More Tips to Overcome Analysis Paralysis

Featured photo credit: Muhmed El-Bank via unsplash.com

Reference

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