5 Ways to Kill Information Overload and Start Making Progress With Your Marketing

image of massive bookshelf

How many marketing and business books (and ebooks) have you bought and then promptly … placed gently on your growing bookshelf?

How many have you read, but never used?

Between Amazon, libraries, amazing content creators, email, social networking, and the wild open web, we’ve got all the information we need … and more.

Much more.

If you’re struggling with finding marketing ideas your business, your problem isn’t one of access to too little information.

What you need is a way to turn learning into action.

Here are five tips you can use to start doing just that, right now …

1. Always have a goal in mind

Don’t buy a business book or course just because it’s the hot new thing.

Be very discerning. Read and re-read the materials you’ve bought from trusted sources in the past.

When you do purchase something new, have ultra-specific goals in mind. For instance:

  • Learn more about podcasting to decide whether it’s a good fit for my goals
  • Write my first ebook
  • Grow my email list
  • Increase my sales page conversions
  • Improve my search engine ranking

Without a clear aim, you’re going to get stuck.

You’ll either spend hours passively consuming information — or you’ll start taking actions on a whim, without any sense of where you’re going.

2. Take notes while you learn

Always be taking notes, whether you’re reading, listening or watching.

Center your notes around your goal.

Taking notes helps you engage with the material: you’ll remember more of it.

When you engage actively, you also come up with new ideas. A throwaway line in a podcast might spark an entirely new product for your business.

3. Remember the cost of “free”

The Internet is packed with free information. Hurrah — right?

Well, “free” has a cost … what you save in money, you spend in time.

It can even result in expensive mistakes.

Free information might be riddled with errors. It could be incomplete. It might well be very valuable — but it often isn’t organized for ease of use.

I’ve read hundreds of articles about blogging and social media, but I still invest in ebooks because they’re more in-depth, convenient, and structured in a way that makes them easy to learn from.

4. Follow action steps

All the business information you consume should ideally lead to specific actions.

That means you need to come up with specific action steps — or follow the ones that the content-creator has provided.

Action steps should be crystal clear, and look something like this:

  • Split-test the landing page with two different headlines
  • Create a 3-minute video post

True action steps do not look like this:

  • Try split-testing
  • Produce a video blog series

If you can, get hold of training materials that include activities or specific exercises to keep you moving forward.

Darren Rowse’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog is a great example of an ebook that’s action-focused, and the Third Tribe seminars come with very helpful worksheets and next action steps.

5. Ready, fire, aim

You don’t have to have all your ducks in a row before getting started.

Instead of writing the world’s best-ever email autoresponder series, create something simple and valuable and just get it out there.

Instead of writing a $97 ebook, create a free ebook to test the waters and see if your audience really wants the type of content you’re offering.

Instead of having the flashiest sales page in the world, settle for one that clearly explains your product and its benefits (flashy is overrated, btw).

Online, you can adapt fast. You can create, test, tweak and re-create. Your first attempt doesn’t have to be perfect.

So, what now? Take action.

I’d suggest starting with number one in the list above: decide on a specific goal.

What one action could have a real impact on your business over the next few months?

Write it in the comments below and share it with us …

About the Author: Ali Luke is a writing coach and blogger. She’s the author of The Blogger’s Guides ebook series – check it out for straightforward, action-focused support for your business goals. Copyblogger readers get a 25% discount until December 31st with the code CB2011.

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  1. Hi Ali,

    Moving into goal-oriented acts helps create order in your mind.

    An orderly mind is immune to information overload. You naturally process only materials which are related directly to your goals. Amazing, how our mind works. But you must keep the goal in mind before you seek information, while you consume the information, and while using the information. This is a task at first, but as you become goal-oriented in all you do, holding your goal becomes habitual.

    I focus on sifting through freebies. I know the good stuff when I see it, and let go the not so good stuff when I see it. Concentrate on taking in a minimal amount of information and doing a maximum amount of stuff with the information. Learn, then act, implementing what you have learned immediately instead of running off to acquire more content. What you know is useless, until you use it.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Ali.

    RB

    • Thanks RB! Great point about being goal-oriented — I agree that it makes a huge difference when you go through a book or resource with a particular outcome in mind (“I need to improve the sales page for my product” rather than “Gee, I guess I should learn about sales pages…”)

  2. Thank you for the great tips. I don’t know if you wrote “ready, fire, aim” in that specific order for a reason. I love the post, anyway. Have a great week ahead of you.

    • Thanks Josh! I did indeed write it that way deliberately — I probably should have explained why. :-) The idea is to “fire” — put something out there, even though it’s not perfect — and then “aim” — adjust based on feedback.

  3. I find that the more I put information into action, the clearer my needs for specific information becomes.

    It becomes a virtuos loop.

    For instance, I wrote a sales page using education I purchased. Then, it became much more obvious that I needed to use some other education I purchased to promote that sales page. The information went from “good to know” to “absolutely need right now!”. No more overload.

    My one suggestion is to have a good storage and reference system for both your information and your notes. I use Google Docs because allows me to search across the ebooks and notes and audios I have.

    • I think this ties in with Ryan’s point above — having a goal in mind (ie. being prepared to take action) before you start absorbing information.

      Great point about a storage/reference system; this is something I definitely need to work on, myself..!

  4. Interesting blog post, I think I am at the point of information overload myself… I now have nearly 30 eBook/articles saved but not even half of them read! I do wonder though why you say that buying an eBook rather than relying on free downloads would be better, with self-publishing these days surely someone could easily give wrong information in a eBook as well?

    Thanks,
    Jo

    • Jo, great question. Yes, the information in an ebook isn’t guaranteed to be reliable. Most ebooks I’ve come across have been well put together and useful, though; an author needs a fair degree of commitment to a topic in order to produce an ebook. However, you definitely need to use some good judgement (e.g. Are there testimonials for the ebook? What credentials does the author have?) before making a purchase.

  5. Making realistic goals and following them religiously is important. And as you said, everything free has a big cost associated with it and it is important that you waste your time in doing stuff which is useless

  6. These are essential points! I’ll have to remember these!

  7. I know that building an email list is a top priority. I will be searching for a book to teach me how to develop an email list in my geographic area. My blog goes anywhere the blogosphere goes. Readers in North Dakota do not make me money in Texas. So many gurus say that email is the key to the older generation. I have had a little business as a result of my very small list. Right now I only have 20-40 readers per week. I need to figure out how to increase that to 3000-4000 readers a week.

  8. Thanks for this blog article. It’s such a great reminder that we have to balance ongoing learning and education with action. I’m a big Dan Kennedy fan and investor and he recently blogged about the answer to the commonly posed question: what one marketing action would you recommend taking that would have the biggest impact? His answer is: everything. It’s all valuable, and if you can you should do it all. But the next words from his mouth are: just start. It probably matters where but in the end, just start.

    In fact, the more I think about it, perhaps the formula could be: fire, ready, aim. I’m going to try that. Thanks Ali.

    • Thanks, Marc! It’s tricky finding the balance — and I guess Dan Kennedy is saying that ANY action is valuable. In the end, doing something is far better than doing nothing, even if you don’t make the very best choice.

  9. I can relate totally to this article. In that I want to be the worlds best graphic designer before putting my first website out there.

    It’s time to set some goals and get my ass into gear.

    Thanks

    • Good luck, Steve! And I’m sure you’ll find your learning accelerates once you’ve got a live website out there, with visitors interacting with it. :-)

  10. Hey Ali, Focus is the real key here and as you mentioned, you have to have a goal in mind. That’s where setting up your plan for the year, month, day, etc is so important. Without that, distraction sets in and it’s hard to really accomplish anything if you’re jumping around from idea to idea and getting information overload.

    I’m reading ‘Zen to Done’ by Leo Babauta which is about getting things done, planning and focusing. It’s a good read if you’re struggling with taking action steps and making progress in your daily routine.

    Thanks, Liz :-)

    • Thanks Liz, I’ve heard lots of great things about ‘Zen to Done’. I guess I’ll add it to my list of books to buy (once I’ve managed to read/use all the ones I’ve currently got… ;-))

  11. Many have give similar, excellent advice. Thank you for reminding of the basics. I have found a free course at volunteer ministers.org that covers goals and targets. It is quite simple, yet gives actual direction on how to write a plan and doable targets tahat one can set and achieve.

    • Thanks, Edwin. I know a lot of the advice in my post is common sense — but I find (for myself, at least!) that I often have to hear something several times before it really sinks in…

  12. Aarggghhhh…this is my Achilles heel. There is so much useful information out there; so many things to do when you are launching a business, building a blog, growing your brand. It’s really hard to be systematic and focused, but these are indeed good tips. Pacing yourself, evaluating progress and resisting distraction are also part of the mix, in my opinion.

    • Great additions, Ruth. It’s so easy as a small business owner to run yourself into the ground trying to do everything at once — not recommended!

  13. Great article. Have a good idea of what you want to accomplish. Don’t spend a lot of time getting ready to get ready. Concentrate on money making activities, namely sales. Finally remember, you don’t have to get it perfect. Just get it started.

    • Thanks Mike. Good reminder there about the importance of actually making some money in business — finding out how to get more comments/tweets/likes is all well and good, but the focus needs to be on activities that actually keep your business afloat (and, ideally, growing!)

  14. Hi Ali, great article! I often find myself overwhelmed by the quantity of available information and it can be difficult sifting through it all to find something of true value! Your point that relying on free information is bound to create more problems than it prevents really struck me, and I wonder if you could recommend some reliable sources of marketing information (podcasts, newsletters, etc)?

    • Regarding marketing, I find that anything on Copyblogger is top-notch. :-)

      I’ve had a lot of solid information from Naomi Dunford’s blog http://www.ittybiz.com — be warned that she has quite a distinctive style that doesn’t suit everyone (she swears a lot). She’s not been blogging much recently, though she does have a newsletter list.

      The book “The Personal MBA” from Josh Kaufman at http://www.personalmba.com is a great, solid overview, and I wish it’d been available when I started out online.

      I’m a member of the Third Tribe marketing community (run by Brian and Sonia from Copyblogger, plus Chris Garrett and Chris Brogan) — there are a ton of great seminars there with recordings and transcripts, along with regular Q&A sessions, plus forums full of helpful folks.

      I don’t listen to any podcasts (I much prefer to read) so I’ll leave others to step in and recommend those…

  15. Ali – all these points are great, but the two that stuck out for me wre #2 and #4. I recently had the opportunity to learn from a series of videos on Conversion – 7 videos in total. I started watching them in a vague, half-of-my-attention way – I may have even put my laptop on the kitchen counter when I was making dinner. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that approach. Except it’s hard to take notes whilist simultaneously chopping onions.

    When I changed my perspective and saw these videos as a CLASS, my approach changed. I wouldn’t bring in some onions and a chopping block into a live workshop – I’d pay attention. I’d take notes. So that’s what I started to do. For each video, as clearly as it was explained (and they were very clear videos, which good visuals) – I still took my own notes. I kept a separate page for actions, and I made those actions specific (such as ‘put CTA buttons in my pricing section’ – not just ‘review ways to make pricing more confident’). This approach made all the difference in the world to (a) what I took out of those videos, which was a whole lot of learning and (b) what I did as a result of those videos, which was take specific, targetted action that I have as much confidence as its ever possible to have will be effective and make a difference.

    So thanks for a very helpful post – much appreciated!

    • I think this is a great way to approach video. I like to learn by reading or by being in a live class — I’m very bad at sitting still to watch a video or listen to audio! But I absolutely agree with you — I find it hard to learn when my attention is on housework/cooking dinner/etc, and ideally I like to take thorough notes when watching a video.

  16. This is a great outline for keeping not only information in order but this format is helpful for those who have been trying to figure out how to keep the great ideas in order as well. This article is definately a great bookmark to review over again for rememberance! Thanks for sharing…

  17. I knew I had it, but didn’t know what it was called. I am at the point of information overload right now. I have just come to being infatuated with marketing and copywriting in the last 6 months or so and am excited to find so many great resources. Even with daily blog posts sent to my email (not only this one), I am taking in so much information that it’s becoming more of a hobby just to read it, rather than read it and apply it.

    I honestly just need to start writing and applying these techniques, rather than wait for my mind to get to that perfect balance of knowledge and preparedness, because in reality, that will never come. Thanks for a great article.

    • Thanks Chris, glad to help. The *applying* bit is crucial — and I know how tough this can be for writers in particular, so you’re absolutely not alone. But maybe it’s time to stop reading and take the plunge! :-)

  18. I thought I was the only one that took notes while reading and learning new things. I believed that so much that I thought I had my own personal and secret way of learning things quick, easy, and comfortably, but I was wrong.

    It’s a good thing you made this post, because not many people know to read and take notes at the same time.

    Great post, obviously, though.

    • I am a major note-taker. I have an office full of notebooks and binders. I don’t often refer back to them, but that act of note-taking makes things stick better for me.

      • Yes, I am exactly the same way. Sometimes to the point where I have to rewrite, or paraphrase an entire paragraph. I thought I was nuts for having to do this. Haha

  19. Hey Alie,

    Nice post there and i totally agree with all the great information that you have provided. Reading while taking notes will surely make you educate yourself much faster because i have applied this for my examinations and as well as for my online marketing business. So it is so nice to have someone to post such a great master piece in educating ourselves more effectively.

    One of the best post i ever encountered

    • Thanks, glad this helped! And yes, exams are definitely another time when we’re in danger of information-overload (thankfully mine are all behind me now ;-))

  20. Excellent points. For the note taking, I’d add two things:

    1. If you haven’t ever learned how to research, take some time to do so. I thought I knew, but I happened across The Craft of Research in a library sale and read it. I’d never been taught research, and it turned out there was a lot I didn’t know. I’d personally like to see a book like this customized for writers, because only a few chapters were relevant.
    2. Take notes that work best with your learning style. I’m kinesthetic, so my notes look rather different than the more standard ones. I try to find a way to illustrate the concepts different than sequential notes. I’ve drawn timelines, columns. For my research on DC, I had to do notes on the four sections of the area. So I took the atlas and traced the map, then divided into the four areas, and made notes in each of the quads. It was much for interesting — and shorter — than the typed notes I’d had.

    • Linda, you ought to take the ideas that are relevant & adapt them for your own ebook/product. Obviously don’t plagiarize the words, but take the ideas and spin something new, with a credit back to your source. It sounds like it would be a great resource!

      • Agreed! Research trips up a lot of writers — it’s so easy to get bogged down in trawling through yet another source, with diminishing returns. Sounds like a great resource. And I really like your visual approach, Linda; even visual/verbal learners like me want to shake things up once in a while!

  21. What a great way to wrap-up year 2011. Thank to CopyBlogger team! May we all have a prosperous New Year!

  22. Hi Ali,

    All the point that you make above was really nice and effective also. but the one that strikes my head is 4th one.
    Follow the Action…. Quite a good advice that everybody should follow. because lots of people just read content to get info but don’t show too much interest in putting what they learn form the content into real action.

    “what’s the use of reading all those valuable content, if you don’t put it into action to see how effective they are. because reading is simple process that anybody can do, even 4 year old guy can read ebooks and blogs.”

    So one good point is made by Ali. Follow the action that content says……

    • Thanks Romy! Taking action is crucial … there’s nothing wrong with reading for entertainment, but I’m guessing that most people suffering information overload aren’t just reading for the fun of it. If the information you take in doesn’t get translated into action, there’s not much point in even reading it in the first place.

  23. My experience is that it is sometimes better to allow time when you do not have a goal so that you can give your mind space to freewheel and come up with some new ideas.

    I’m not against goal setting but I just believe that it can be overdone.

    • Good point, David — but once you’ve got those ideas, you’re presumably going to want to put them into action, and that’s when having clear goals in mind can be very useful. I do think goal setting can be overdone, though (usually when people try to tackle 10 goals all at once).

  24. Hi Ali,

    I am so guilty of the “growing bookshelf” syndrome! When I first started this amazing online venture, I bought up so many books that have sadly sat idle on my bookshelf. I occasionally look at them, and might even give them a little tap and say, “I haven’t forgotten you. I promise, I’ll read you someday”.

    I love the suggestions you provide, especially taking notes and following a clear, specific action plan. I have incorporated both in my attempt to tame the “information overload” monster. My action plans usually span a four-hour period, during which I dedicate each hour to one specific task.

    I will take to heart your warnings of “free isn’t always truly free”. I did succumb to the tempations of hording as many free reports and ebooks when I first started but am in complete agreement with you! It has sucked much of my time and often ended in frustration and exhaustion.

    Thanks for such an informative post,
    Sara

    • Thanks, Sara! And I’m glad I’m not the only one with an overflowing bookshelf… ;-)

      I like your four-hour action plan period; that sounds like a great way of making meaningful progress without feeling like you have to have a whole day free to work on something.

      Hope some of your books get an airing in 2012! :-)

      Ali

  25. These are great tips.

    The common newbie mistake is analysis paralysis and becoming overwhelmed.
    I’ve learned over the yeas, free certainly does impact opportunity cost and makes you even more frustrated.
    Breaking project down in the “very next task” , taking notes from your learning resources and taking measurable action is the way to go.

    Have a great 2012!

  26. Hi Ali,

    This is a Great article, I really have toubles prioritizing and not “majoring on the minor’ I seem to spend hours spinning my wheels on a task then when I realise it probably wasn’t a really important task to spend all that time on I get frustrated and anoyed with myself. I need that little man on my shoulder to pipe up earlier and say “cmon Steve this is really not that important.”
    I wish I could realise before I invest large amounts of time on a task that it is not really that beneficial to what I am aiming to achieve.
    Best regards Steve