Patty McPherson: Information overload

Patty McPherson

Do you spend a lot of time on the computer or reading?

If you’re like most people, a good portion of your day involves the printed word (certainly if you’re reading this article). Add the daily influx of mail, numbers, dates, events, etc. we receive on the phone and in conversation, and we’re talking information overload.

Be realistic about what you really want to read on a regular basis. Limit magazine and newspaper subscriptions. Be brutal about keeping reading materials you get in the mail and buy from the store. Use an upright magazine holder to hold periodicals and catalogs. And once it’s full, purge.

If you find an article or coupon in a magazine, rip it out then put the page in your “To Do” or action file; don’t store away entire magazines for future reference. Do not put a magazine aside with the idea that you’ll look at it again later and get to that task. That’s how periodicals pile up. And you won’t remember why you kept them. The same goes for catalogs: Almost every page has the Web address or company name on it, so you can always order an item later.

A popular guideline for reading materials is “one in, one out.” When you buy a new book, choose an old one to donate or sell. Or share magazines or books with friends and family.

For your home or work computer, take the time to “unsubscribe” from unwanted e-mail sources (the link is usually on the bottom of the e-mail), instead of just deleting it. If the spam gets too out of control, consider changing your e-mail address.

Bookmark Internet pages you want to look at later, but then make time to purge your “favorites” or delete Web sites you don’t need anymore.

Irecommend reviewing, from time to time, how your files are set up on the computer and doing some sorting and purging (just like real de-cluttering). Sometimes I make too many sub-folders and it is like conducting an archaeological dig to uncover a document – too many layers. Highlight and move all your files back into the main folder or onto your desktop. Then look at the list, delete anything that’s no longer relevant or not needed and see if more logical categories present themselves.You want to be able to find and access computer files just as easily as you would if they were paper in physical folders.

Keep in mind that successfully taming information overload involves organizing how you collect information. 

Do you have a myriad of sticky notes, slips of paper and envelope corners with return addresses stuck into an old address book? 

If you cannot retrieve phone numbers or dates easily, this adds to the stress of information collection.  An address book is essential, but you can have a classic tangible one or a contact database stored in your PDA or computer. You can make a list of Internet usernames and passwords to keep handy for when you’re online.

Takeout and delivery menus can be stored in sleeves of a 3-ring binder close to the phone and the kitchen. Don’t forget an organizer’s best friend – labels – for containers such as magazine holders and bins. 

The important thing here is that you are able to access the information when you need it in a place you can rely on. Treat the information you get at home as seriously as you would information at work. After all, the dates, paperwork, and reading you do may affect your whole family.

Patty McPherson is the owner of Orderly Manor in Plymouth, Mass., and a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, the American Society of Home Stagers and Redesigners and the Real Estate Staging Association.She can be reached at 774-269-6519 or by e-mail at