Dealing with Information Overload: Good-to-Know VS Need-to-Know

It's happening.

Six months into your new entrepreneurial life, your time starts to escape you. You have 2 email accounts ready to explode at any minute, and 12 different ToDo lists on 3 different task management tools. You tell yourself that you'll reply to Skype messages later. And you've given up on listening to all your voice messages. But as the head of the company, leader of the pack, captain of the ship, there is one thing you just can't give up no matter how busy you are - reading.

More specifically, reading online. Why wouldn't you want to stay on top of industry news, learn the latest productivity hacks, and find the best free UI design template for your web/app projects? It's hard to say no to free advice and free resources online when they seem to relate to what your company does. Even remotely. Running an ice cream shop? How can you pass up on this excellent article on "How to Create a Great Header Image for Your Facebook Fan Page!"? Creating an iPhone game? How about "20 Best Free 8-bit Art Resources Online."?

How-to guides, free resources, expert advice...etc. You can spend hours just reading all theses articles in the name of gaining more knowledge. We all know that feeling of wanting to absorb all the latest information into our brain, our system. I've used Delicious, Diigo, Evernote, Zootool...etc in order to bookmark and keep a copy of every free piece of advice I can get. I've wasted hours and hours trying to grab every thing out there that has a remote chance of making me more productive, more aware, more resourceful.


The truth is, 99% of what I bookmarked doesn't matter. They sat in the remote server and never got read again. The only purpose they served was making me feel better when I hit the "bookmark" button. Perhaps it made me feel productive, in-charge, on-top of things.

I call this 99% of information the "Good-to-Know" knowledge, while the 1% that I actually benefit from, is what I've labelled the "Need-to-Know" knowledge. The Good-to-Know knowledge makes you feel like you've accomplished something while gaining that information, but provides little actual value. The Need-to-Know knowledge provides real insights, changes the way you operates, opens your eyes to new perspectives, drives key decisions, and makes you a better person.

How do you know what is Good-to-Know and what is Need-to-Know? The first step is fairly straightforward. When you look at an article and say to yourself "that's good, maybe I can use this in the future." or "it'll be good to learn how to do this.", that's when you are REALLY saying "this is good to know." So it goes into the GTK box. Need-to-Know items are obvious. They are the ones that if you don't know about them, your boat could sink.

Another thing to pay attention to when deciding if an article is in the GTK camp or the NTK camp is to look at your role. If your responsibility in your organization is in the technology field, skip the PR and marketing articles. They might be good for you to know, but are not a necessity. For people wearing multiple hats, PRIORITIZE your responsibilities and "read" accordingly.

Be ruthless. Your time is the most valuable asset you have.

p.s. but you just have to keep up with the latest in the industry? I skip Techcrunch / Mashable, and skim the headlines on Techmeme. I also subscribe to two email newsletters - Digital Media Wire and GamesIndustry International. Email newsletters are my favorite as they are usually limited to 5-10 headlines so they have to be picky and find the most important news. Reading them in email form without the potential distractions on the web is also a plus.