Not Waving But Drowning : 9 Great tips To Fight Overwhelm And Stop You Going BONKERS

Do you sometimes feel like you are drowning in a humungous wave of information overload?

I write a lot first thing in a morning and a bad morning used to look like this…

Start writing a post. Search for an image for the post. Check email. Check to do list. Realise I haven’t done any of it. Write another to do list Feed the cats to stop them mewing at me so I can concentrate. Update twitter. A bit more writing. Feed the kids so they stop shouting at me. Check Facebook. Check email. Delete junk emails. Reply to emails. Write a bit more. Break up a fight between the kids. Check email. And all this before 7am.

I’m already stressed and the day hasn’t even started! Phew.

With so much multi-tasking and things which we feel we really need to keep on top of it’s no wonder that we can start to feel as though we are drowning in information and communication overload.

However, I have developed some strategies which have helped me keep (a tiny bit) more sane in the face of this onslaught.

Important things I have learnt.


I have learnt that…

Multi-tasking just doesn’t work.

It can impact on your creative thought processes and turn your brain into a big wobbly jelly mush. Concentrate on one thing at a time and you will achieve more.

The internet MAY be changing the way we think.

There is a school of thought that the fact that we are constantly plugged into The Matrix MAY be actually rewiring our brains to make us less able to focus. Read more here. It may be wise to just be aware of this and give your brain a little time off for R&R now and again.

So… My brain saving strategies.


Have a “Disconnect Day” once a week.

I think this is the most important thing you can do. I try and “step away from the computer” every Sunday. Although I’m not always successful {I fully admit I am an addict}, I find that consciously distancing myself from the web leaves me fresher and more able to enjoy it when I go back.

Don’t check email first thing and set specific times to check.

The random gratification we get from email {ooh, has anyone sent me anything exciting since I last checked 3 minutes ago} actually means that it is mentally addictive.

This is due to what psychologists call ‘operant conditioning’ Read more. Because email is random and we don’t know if any mail will appear when we hit the “get mail” button, we behave like lab rats, frantically clicking in the hope that some juicy morsel in the shape of a video of a kitten in a duck hat doing a dance will be delivered onto our plate.

Speaking as a recovering addict, do one big thing and try and close your email programme. Set yourself specific times to check. I check around 10.30, 1.00 and 4.00. Try and stick to them. This will save you a TON of time and stress. However, as any addict knows it’s extremely easy to fall of the wagon…

Don’t try to read everything

There is so much information flying at us that if we try and process all of it our brains will melt into a pool of quivering jelly. Well maybe that’s a slight over exaggeration but seriously the skill of SELECTION is becoming more and more crucial in the modern world. Ruthlessly weed out those things that are a time waste {marketing emails being the main culprits} and send them straight into the trash folder. Being ruthless gives you more time to spend on the really important things.

Don’t do too many types of social media.

It’s easy to spread yourself too thinly and then beat yourself up about the fact that you havent updated something for a week. Concentrate on maybe a maximum of 3 channels of communication and enjoy them. If you arent enjoying them, STOP.

Mindmap your way to sanity.

As a massive list {and lists of lists} maker I know that keeping your lists organised can actually become a huge task in itself worthy of it’s own list. {warning – this way lies insanity} I have been trying a new method which Cynthia Morris expounded on her blog.

Basically, instead of getting lost in the tiny minutia of the list, look at the bigger picture and mindmap your projects. This method gives you a much greater overview of your commitments and stops you going round in ever decreasing circles until you disappear up your own backside {speaking from experience here}

And some indispensable tools.


Update Twitter, Facebook and various other social media sites from one place. Most importantly, see all your Twitter feeds in one interface and be able to schedule tweets into the future. You can spend 20 minutes in the morning preparing Tweets and then leave Tweedeck to sort it all out.

Tadalist & Netvibes

I KNOW I said I was trying to step away from the lists, but these two tools are pretty handy. They enable you to store to-do lists online. is a simple list maker. allows you to create a wide variety of lists as well as handling various other things including RSS feeds. V handy.

{Just don’t use tadalist to organise your netvibes lists as I was doing at one point!}


Evernote is my SAVOUR on the Internet. It’s a tagable and sortable repository of all the bits and bobs you find on the Internet and need to keep a note of. You can clip information directly from a web page and file it in categories and tags. You can even search scanned text! No more piles of printouts cluttering your desk and brain. File it all in Evernote



Take the pressure off yourself…

The main thing that taking a disconnect day every week has taught me is that  THE WORLD WILL NOT END IF YOU WALK AWAY FROM THE INTERNET for a little while.

It’s a relief to discover that when you don’t keep up, when you don’t Tweet or Facebook or email NOTHING BAD HAPPENS. The world will not implode if you take a day off.

It’s actually YOU putting the pressure on yourself.

Relax and give ourself a break. That way, you are much stronger to shrug off overwhelm and enjoy yourself online.

Please share your tips for survival in the comments…

And if you are wondering where the title of this post comes from, here is a video of the wonderful poem of the same name by Stevie Smith.

Photo credit by Akuppa

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12 replies
  1. Cynthia Morris
    Cynthia Morris says:

    Thanks for including my ‘plate mindmapping’ strategy among your resources. It’s helpful to see your other resources; it’s invaluable to have recommendations when there are so many things out there!

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      No problem Cynthia. I’m finding your mindmapping strategy really helpful and got lots more tips shared through the comments too. Lots of great resources. We all need them 😉

  2. Nan Engen
    Nan Engen says:

    Great article Helen. Count me in the number of people on information overload. I’m looking forward to trying some of the new tools to help keep me organized and, hopefully, spend less time doing so.

  3. Tara
    Tara says:

    Hello, I just popped over since you started following me on Twitter and am loving this site so far! So much useful info.

    On the organising front, I use You can see the whole week at a glance, move things around easily, cross them off (very satisfying), and there’s space at the bottom for things you don’t need to do in a certain time frame. All really simple. I have the page open in my tabs all the time.

    Off to read some of your articles 🙂

    • Helen Aldous
      Helen Aldous says:

      Tara. So glad you found us. Im liking the look of Teuxdeux!. Off to play with that now. This post has been ace as it has fed my love of organisational software. Have become quite obsessed with too which is also fabulous.

      Monette. Its still not sutomatic with me. Think it will always be a fight 😉

  4. Monette Satterfield
    Monette Satterfield says:

    You’ve said it so well – this is the thing I’m struggling with too.

    Lately, I’ve been staying away from my computer where I get caught up in the “busy” work and spending more time in my workroom actually creating things.

    It’s working, but I have to tell myself to step away from the computer. I hope it becomes more automatic soon 🙂

  5. Laura Cousins
    Laura Cousins says:

    This is a superb post. I like to have at least one day a week where I am not ‘plugged in’, and I get to do other stuff – stuff for myself, not for my clients – like writing or playing the guitar. I use a little list app on my iPod Touch called “ToDo” (aptly enough, I suppose). Where I fail is in time-management. I tend to get carried away in things. One way I’ve found to combat this is to not allow myself to do the things I WANT to do until I have finished the things I HAVE to do. This is astonishingly effective 😀

  6. Helen Aldous
    Helen Aldous says:

    OOhWertle. I Like the loo of Workflowy!. That’s my Saturday morning sorted now organising lists on that. 😉 Hadn’t heard of it before. Thanks for the tip.

    Wild C. I WISH I could get my inbox to Zero ;-( Sadly the task is too gargantuan but I dream of a day when it may happen 😉

  7. Wertle
    Wertle says:

    I also find workflowy ( to be a great list organizer. Its simplicity and the ease with which you can nest and un-nest and rearrange things make it adaptable to different list styles, and it’s the only organizational site that I’ve been able to stick with for a long time.

  8. Wild C
    Wild C says:

    Inbox zero is key for my organization – but I keep falling off the wagon – and also a virtual GTD ‘inbox’ where I dump EVERYTHING that comes into my head and process it later.

    Evernote is also a new fave of mine.

    (He he, I realise that once I set up a gmail filter to send certain mail directly to a folder without hitting my inbox, I’m really never going to read this mail! This eventually happens with all forums, it just happened with LinkedIn! It’s not that the chat isn’t interesting but I simply don’t have time to read it. Out of sight, out of mind but somehow less brutal than ‘UNSUBSCRIBE’! )

  9. Helen Aldous
    Helen Aldous says:

    Thanks TJ
    I sometimes wonder if everyone else has a secret to organisation but Evernote is as close as I have got 😉 LOL

  10. TJ
    TJ says:

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing Evernote. I can’t wait to check it out. I sit here wondering how the heck everybody seems to be able to keep track of stuff… best wishes from germany, tj


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