Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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:

Advertising

  • 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.

Advertising

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

How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1 7 Ways to Improve Your Management Leadership Skills The Importance of Delegating Leadership (And How to Properly Delegate) Why You Need Spirituality Goals To Enhance Your Life Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Overcome It)

Trending in Brain

1 7 Most Effective Problem Solving Techniques That Smart People Use 2 How Cognitive Bias Influences Our Decision Making 3 10 Natural Brain Boosters for Enhancing Memory, Energy and Focus 4 10 Brain Vitamins for Enhanced Brain Power 5 4 Steps of Cognitive Restructuring to Help You Think Clearly

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Published on May 26, 2020

7 Most Effective Problem Solving Techniques That Smart People Use

7 Most Effective Problem Solving Techniques That Smart People Use

Problems are, by their very nature, problematic. There are life problems, work problems, creative problems, and relationship problems. When we’re lucky, intuition takes over, and we solve a problem right away. When we’re not so lucky, we get stuck.

We might spend weeks or even months obsessing over how to write that term paper, get out of debt, or win back the love of our life. But instead of obsessing, let’s look at some effective problem solving techniques that people in the know rely on.

Ideation Vs Evaluation

It’s important to first understand and separate two stages of creativity before we look at effective problem solving techniques. Ideation is like brainstorming. It’s the stage of creativity where we’re looking for as many possible solutions as we can think of. There’s no judgment or evaluation of ideas at this stage. More is more.

After we’ve come up with as many solutions as possible, only then can we move onto the evaluation stage. This is when we analyze each possible solution and think about what works and what doesn’t. Here’s when all those good ideas from ideation rise to the top and the outlandish and impractical ones are abandoned.

7 Problem Solving Techniques That Work

Everyone has different ways of solving problems. Some are more creative, some are more organized. Some prefer to work on problems alone, others with a group. Check out the problem solving techniques below and find one that works for you.

1. Lean on Your Squad

The first of our seven problem solving techniques is to surround yourself with people you trust. Sometimes problems can be solved alone, but other times, you need some help.

There’s a concept called emergence that begins to explain why groups may be better for certain kinds of problem solving. Steven Johnson describes emergence as bottom up system organization.[1] My favorite example is an ant colony. Ants don’t have a president or boss telling them what to do. Instead, the complicated organization of the ant colony comes out of each individual ant just fulfilling their biological destiny.

Group creativity can also take on an emergent quality. When individuals really listen to, support, and add onto each other’s ideas, the sum of that group creativity can be much more than what any individual could have created on their own.

Advertising

Therefore, if you are struggling to solve a problem, you may want to find a group of people with whom you can collaborate, so you can start riffing with them about possible solutions.

2. Regulate Your Emotions

The next of the problem solving techniques is to be honest about how you’re feeling. We can’t solve problems as efficiently when we’re stressed out or upset, so starting with some emotional self-awareness goes a long way in helping us problem solve.

Dr. Daniel Siegel famously tells us to “Name it to tame it.” [2] He’s talking about naming our feelings, which offers us a better chance of regulating ourselves. I have to know that I’m stressed or upset if I want to calm down quickly in order to get back to a more optimal problem-solving state.

After you know how you’re feeling, you can take steps to regulate that feeling. If you’re feeling stressed out or upset, you can take a walk or try breathing exercises. Mindfulness exercises can also help you regain your sense of presence.

3. Listen

One thing that good problem solvers do is listen. They collect all the information they can and process it carefully before even attempting to solve the problem.

It’s tempting to jump right in and start problem solving before the scope of the problem is clear. But that’s a mistake.

Smart problem solvers listen carefully in order to get as many points of view and perspectives as possible. This allows them to gain a better understanding of the problem, which gives them a huge advantage in solving that problem.

4. Don’t Label Ideas as Bad…Yet

The fourth of the seven problem solving techniques is to gather as many possible solutions as you can. There are no bad ideas…yet.

Advertising

Think back to the two stages of creativity. When we are in the ideation stage, we shouldn’t be evaluating each other’s ideas, input, and possible solutions.

When we evaluate, judge, and criticize during the ideation stage, we inadvertently hamper creativity. One possible outcome of evaluating during ideation is creative suppression.[3]

When someone responds to someone else’s creative input with judgment or criticism, creative suppression can occur if the person who had the idea shuts down because of that judgment or criticism.

Imagine you’re at a meeting brainstorming ways to boost your sales numbers. You suggest hiring a new team member, but your colleague rolls their eyes and says that can’t happen since the numbers are already down.

Now, your colleague may be 100% correct. However, their comment might make you shut down for the rest of the meeting, which means your team won’t be getting any more possible solutions from you.

If your colleague had waited to evaluate the merits of your idea until after the brainstorming session, your team could have come up with more possible solutions to their current problem.

During the ideation stage, more is more. We want as many ideas as possible, so reserve the evaluation until there’s no more ideating left to do.

Another trick for better ideating is to “Yes And” each other’s ideas[4] In improvisation, there’s a principle known as “Yes And.” It means that one improviser should agree with the other’s idea for the scene and then add a new detail onto that reality.

Advertising

For example, if someone says, “I can’t hear over your loud music,” the other person needs to go along with that idea and then add onto it. They might say, “Sorry, I’ll turn it down, but I don’t think everyone else here at the club will appreciate it.”

Now the scene is getting interesting. We’re in a club, and the DJ is going to turn the music down. Playing “Yes And” with each other made the scene better by filling in details about who and where the improvisers are.

Yes Anding also works well during ideation sessions. Since we’ve already established that we shouldn’t be evaluating each other’s ideas yet, Yes Anding gives us something we can do. We can see the merits of each other’s ideas and try to build on them. This will make all of our possible solutions more fully realized than a simple laundry list.

5. Approach Problems With Playfulness

Approaching problem solving too seriously can exacerbate the problem. Sometimes we get too fixated on finding solutions and lose a sense of playfulness and fun.

It makes sense. When there are deadlines and people counting on us, we can try to force solutions, but stepping back and approaching problems from a more playful perspective can lead to more innovative solutions.

Think about how children approach problem solving. They don’t have the wealth of wisdom that decades on this planet give. Instead, they play around and try out imaginative and sometimes unpractical approaches.

That’s great for problem solving. Instead of limiting ourselves to how things have always been done, a sense of play and playfulness can lead us to truly innovative, out-of-the-box solutions.

6. Let the Unconscious Mind Roam

This may seem counterintuitive, but another technique to try when you become too fixated on a problem is to take a break to let the unconscious mind take over for a bit.

Advertising

Our conscious brain can only handle a limited amount of information at a time. Plus, it’s energetically exhausting to use our conscious brain for problem solving. Think about a time when you were studying for a test. It’s draining.[5]

But we’re in luck. There’s another part of our brain that isn’t draining and can integrate tons more information at a time—our unconscious.

This is why you come up with your best ideas in the shower or on your way to work or while you’re jogging. When you give your conscious brain a break, your unconscious has a chance to sift through mounds of information to arrive at solutions.

It’s how I write my articles. With my conscious brain, I think about which article I’m going to write. My problem is how to write it, so once I think carefully about the topic, I take a break. Then, the structure, sources, content, and sometimes phrasing happens in fits and starts while I’m not thinking about the article at all. It happens when I’m lying in bed, showering, and walking in the woods.

The key is to get in the habit of practicing this alternation between conscious and unconscious problem solving and to absolutely not force solutions. Sometimes, you just need to take a little break.

7. Be Candid

The last of the problem solving techniques happens during the evaluation stage. If we’re going to land on the best possible solution to our problems, we have to be able to openly and honestly evaluate ideas.

During the evaluating stage, criticism and feedback need to be delivered honestly and respectfully. If an idea doesn’t work, that needs to be made clear. The goal is that everyone should care about and challenge each other. This creates an environment where people take risks and collaborate because they trust that everyone has their best interest in mind and isn’t going to pull any punches.

Final Thoughts

In order to come up with the best solutions for problems, ideation and evaluation have to be two distinct steps in the creative process. Then, you should tap into some of the above techniques to get your ideas organized and your problems solved.

Hopefully, these seven problem solving techniques will help your problems be less…problematic.

More Tips for Problem Solving

Featured photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Steven Johnson: Emergence
[2] Dr. Dan Siegel: The whole-brain child
[3] American Psychological Association: Creative mortification
[4] Play Your Way Sane: And What?: Yes And
[5] Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow

Read Next