When to Stop Drinking from the
Information Fire Hydrant

image of fire hydrant spraying water

I’ve been working with people and helping them figure out their personality styles for years, but I’m brand-new to blogging.

So I did the logical thing and started researching. How to write an interesting post, how to target my audience, how to find my writing voice.

If you’ve ever thought about trying a brand-new endeavor — like starting a business or a blog — you’ve probably done something similar.

Problem is, there’s so much information out there, you can start to feel like you’re drowning.

I wasn’t trying to slowly sip from a thin trickle of information about blogging and marketing. I was trying to drink from a fire hydrant. And I was getting sopping wet.

I wasn’t really swallowing a single drop of information. Instead it was just piling up all around me, making me feel frustrated, uncertain, foolish, and pretty damp.

That’s when I brought my knowledge of personality types to bear on this problem. How could I figure out how to drink from the fire hydrant in a way that actually quenched my thirst for knowledge? And when did I need to just step away from the flow and dry out?

How we take in and use information

There are literally thousands of personality profiling tools and methods, but I’m going to take just a slice of one of them to show two common ways people take in and use information.

Then we’ll go through some techniques each of those personality types can use to figure out when to keep drinking from the fire hydrant, and when it’s time to take a break.

Data gatherers

Data gatherers have an insatiable desire for new information and a seemingly unlimited capacity to take more on board.

For them, the more data there is to take in, the better. The internet is nirvana for data gatherers — a limitless expanse of information on any possible topic to be explored. They’re in their personal utopia.

Data gatherers definitely intend to take action on their information, but they don’t rush into it. They’d rather gather up all the data on any topic to make sure they haven’t missed anything before they start, and they’re always hoping to sop up some more.

The potential pitfall for data gatherers is disorganization. They have so much information stockpiled that it isn’t organized in any logical way, so they have a hard time figuring out how to take action when they’re ready. While they don’t feel overwhelmed, they certainly don’t feel ready to put that information to use.

If this sounds like you, watch out for these problems:

  • Not knowing when to take action. While the allure of new information is compelling, seeking out that latest article can be just one more form of procrastination that keeps you from accomplishing your real goal. Every now and then, stop and assess the information you already have. Do you have enough to move forward right now? If you do, go for it. If you don’t, only research the areas that you don’t have enough data for yet.
  • Not sorting your current information. You have huge piles of data, bookmarks for informative pages online, and lots of reference books — but you can’t find anything. Take the time to organize your data based on the actual goal you have in mind. Start from the beginning and find the information that helps you accomplish your first task, and keep a file for it. Then move on to the next step, and the next. That way you can actually use your information, instead of just collecting it.

Data assessors

Where data gatherers collect information for its own sake, data assessors only collect information that can be used in some way.

Data assessors want to drink from the fire hydrant, but only if they’re thirsty. They like to sort and organize data as it comes in, so they know exactly what pieces they already have in place and where there are still gaps in their knowledge.

Data assessors are quick to make decisions and use the data they’ve collected for a purpose, and they usually don’t bother to keep stockpiling information once they have what they need.

Sure, they might miss out on a juicy piece of information, but the one they already have serves their purposes, so why sweat it?

Data assessors never suffer from confusion about how to put their information to use, but they do often feel overwhelmed with information overload. For them, the internet feels like a massive abyss.

When they get too much data in at once, they don’t have the time to figure out where each piece goes. They get immobilized, because new information keeps coming before they’re ready for it.

If you’re a data assessor, you need to know:

  • When to stop taking in information. If you’re getting soaked by the torrent of information online, it’s time to get out and dry off. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, take a break and assess what you already know. When you discover specific missing pieces of information you know you need, you can hop back into the water knowing just which drops you need to accomplish your goals.
  • When to keep taking in information. Data assessors often feel overwhelmed by all the information out there, so it’s tempting to say “Stop! Too much!” Sometimes, though, you really don’t have enough — you just don’t want to face the gushing river again. Be honest with yourself about whether you’ve really mastered a topic. If you need to know more, hold your breath and dive in again. You can hop out as soon as you’ve gotten what you need.

It’s hard to strike the balance of knowing when you need more and when you need to turn off the hydrant to catch your breath. But it’s worth it to start putting that data to use in smarter ways.

How about you — are you a gatherer or an assessor?

Do you ever have a hard time figuring out when to stop drinking from the information hydrant? Let us know how you’ve dealt with it in the comments.

About the Author: Jill Chivers still has the learner plates on her blog I’m Listening, but she’s moving along as fast as she can between rest stops.

Looking for a resource that will give you the most important information on marketing your online business, without glutting you with a torrent you don’t need? Subscribe to Copyblogger’s Internet Marketing for Smart People newsletter. It’s free, and we’ll give you what you need without overwhelming you.

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Comments

  1. Definitely a data gatherer here, and a disorganized one at that. Being overwhelmed by information when I set out to start blogging ended up being a trigger to start me ‘blogging about blogging.’ So now I help contribute to the information overload :)

  2. Hey Jill,

    Reading this post I’m clearly a data gatherer. Thanks for showing the strong side and how to work with it. This is going to help out. :)

    Chat with you later…
    Josh

  3. I really don’t know which one am I, a Data gatherer or a Data assessor. As I think I do both of these sometimes!

    You are correct about information overload though.

    There is so much information out there that newcomers fall pray to what is called ‘information overload’ i.e. ‘I should know this’, ‘I should know that’, ‘I should read that eBook’ ‘ I should download that’ etc.

    They are forever in a state of ‘starting’ and never actually ‘doing’

    I think we should first see through to completion what we have begun. We will never know Everything – and that’s fine.

    This business is a marathon – not a sprint.

    Nabeel

  4. gatherer here. i rely on tools like delicious and evernote so that i can tag now and sort or search for the information later

  5. I also managed to find myself there. I consider myself something inbetween. I am often overwhelmed by the information but that is because I am gathering as much as possible.

    So am I taking the best or worst out of those two? :-)

  6. There was a time in my blogger life that I was a victim of this information overload. The time when I was still studying how to blog professionally. Oh boy, I gathered about 8 GIG of information, softwares, video tutorials, ebooks, all kinds of stuffs with all those hypes etc. I don’t know where to start.

    So I decided to really get down on my laptop and start pouring out all that I have inside me. It’s like opening a faucet a tank full of information.

    Now, I already have learned my lesson and I am only sticking to those blogs and information that really can help.

    These 3 blogs and website impacted me the most. And I am happily enjoying the fruits of my writing.:) Thanks to you all!!!

  7. I am getting more organized as time goes on and I’m kind of both, I think. I’m actually finding that, even though I’ve been blogging for about 7 months now, and I know others who’ve done it for longer or shorter time spans than that, there’s still missing information out there and so many people thinking in the same way which isn’t getting them the results they’re looking for.

  8. Just saying thanks for the great stuff you guys put out everyday.

  9. One of the problems is that the internet is always evolving. Google changes its algorithms so you have to be on the look out for new information just to stay ahead. Finding a reliable informer saves on the overload.

  10. Very interesting Jill,
    There’s a real need to stop periodically to assess the amount of information that we have. Organizing it is definitely a smart move.

    However, I think that the biggest challenge is to be able to evaluate the quality of the information that we get. That’s particularly true with blogs. For a surprisingly large crowd, that’s not an easy task.
    Thanks for the great post.

  11. Bullseye!!

    Thanks Jill. This is just the push I needed to stop swimming around 3T (procrastinating), subscribing to yet another seminar (Shy Networking) and get on with it.

    I am your classic data gatherer. But in my business, I had the good sense to a partner with a great data assessor. Together, we usually keep each other in check.

    Still, some things, (like 3T) are so seductive even she can’t help me.

    Thanks again for putting it so succinctly.

    Judi

  12. Data Gatherer here. You are so spot on with this post. I am getting to my saturation point and have unsubscribed to so many blogs, etc but Copyblogger will always be in my in-box because the info is too good to forgo.

    Now I’m off to distill and do some of my OWN writing. Data gathering is, after all, just another form of procrastination.

  13. Oh, I’m definitely a data gatherer. It seems like I have tons of information, resources, ebooks, etc stacked on my computer desk. I like having the information around me, but need to get motivated sometimes to actually do something with all that information.

    I think that you just have to stick with a system that works for you. It’s so easy to get distracted by all the data, especially on the net.

  14. Classic hunter/gatherer/procrastinator here. That idea someone upthread had about collaborating with an assessor is intriguing. Gotta find me one of those. Any volunteers?

  15. Annie Stith (Gr8fulAnnie) :

    Hmmm…

    I’ve just been considering this while my inbox is so overloaded I’ll have to delete many in order to read just a few. I’ve been hesitating, tho, because everything I’ve signed up for is valuable to me in one way or another. (1000 Awesome Things and I Can Has Cheezeburgersand Gapingvoid are about starting my day with a smile, not info.)

    So, as I wade thru everything, I can see I need to find a bookmarking site, too. *Sigh* Another decision…

    Annie

  16. Thanks for the insight. I’ve always known I was a data assessor and your two pitfalls are right on–when to stop and when to keep on…One book that really helped me was Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. It wasn’t so much the info, but the confidence I gained from knowing there is a point where I have enough info to act and if I keep gathering after that, I can actually go backwards.

  17. Mary E. Ulrich :

    I’d call myself a data assessor.
    The information I need to move forward is starting to come together to make sense. It is overwhelming, I wish I had the resources to just “outsource” the things I’m not good at (tech stuff). But, every day I’m able to prune the trees for a few new blossoms.
    Sticking with the data analogy, guess I could use a data processor–but then that would be another tech thingy.

  18. Hey Jill,

    You put together a nice post. I am intrigued at the premise of data gatherers versus data assessors. I’ve always tried to look at my writing from the old Type A, B, C and D personalities. Your examples are simpler and easier to relate to.

    I try to hold the interest of the skimmers and still satisfy the researchers. It’s not easy. My style is to get cranking on the substance of the post while I still have it in my head. I’m going to mull over your article for my re-writes. That’s when I seem to see the readers more clearly and can edit for a broader base.

    Thanks a bunch,

    Steve Benedict

  19. Jill,
    thank you for defining the ‘data gatherer’ and ‘data assessor’ concept so clearly. I have been a data gatherer for a long time and still struggling to put the information to appropriate action.

  20. Ari Meermans :

    Perfect timing, Jill! 4:00 a.m. this morning and I was drowning. Threw myself across the bed in frustration and exhaustion ready to just give up on the whole thing. I’m not quite sure whether I’m a gatherer or an assessor because I’ve gathered so very much but am still afraid I’ve missed a critical piece.

    In any case, it’s definitely time to take a step back and just start writing.

    Thanks so very much for a very timely post.

    Ari

  21. @Jill

    I got a fevah…and the only perscription is more fire hydrant!

  22. Jill

    Great article. I have the pleasure of being both a “gatherer” and an assessJill

    Great article. I have the “benefit” of being both a “gatherer” and an assessor” I constantly fluctuate between the two. At times I simply intentionally force myself to stop the gathering and assessing and jump to doing.

    One thing that helps is random information breathers. I simply turn off everything around me; TV, newspapers, radio etc. It is hard to do, but I have yet to miss anything really important. At least not that I know of . . . maybe I should go turn on my TV?!?!?!
    or” I fluxuate between the too, and unless I stop to think I can at times, never get off the treadmill towards action. I do take information respites at times, and simply turn off everything around me; TV, newspapers, radio etc. It is hard to do, but I have yet to miss anything really important. At least not that I know of. :-)

  23. Heh, I’m a gatherer, plain and simple.

    More, more, more!!!

    More stuff to read!! More ideas!! More intelligence, wisdom, wit and insight! I need more!!!

    *twitch*

    Maybe some of you can relate….

    The benefit is, of course, there’s always some new, innovative, stimulating thing just around the corner. The problem is that I’m often ignoring the here and now for that new, innovative, stimulating thing just around the corner. :)

  24. I would call myself an assessor. I definitely overload from time to time, occasionally to the point where a given topic becomes uninteresting to me for months or even years.

    Like someone else suggested, looking at personality types like this might be a good key for those looking to collaborate with others. A gatherer and an assessor working together sounds like a strong team to me.

  25. Definitely a gatherer looking for the latest and the greatest. It’s the curse of being American that I’ve been conditioned that bigger and newer is the way to grow. Growing is good, right? Just ask the yeast in your last bottle. We all know how they end up, dead at the bottom poisoned by their own waste.
    Too much cheer.

  26. I am a data gatherer AND assessor. I use my forums to list and organize all the information I get from the fire hydrant. Sometimes I feel like I am being drowned in the hydrant though. At such times it is best to stand back from the gusher and try to dry out.

  27. I just found your site today (I know… where have I been?!) and wanted to thank you! I can’t stop nomming on your posts! Excellent material. Nom nom nom!

  28. Serial data gatherer here. FEED ME, SEYMOUR!

    When I started my own business, the first thing I learned was that there was a HELL of a lot to learn. I soaked up every single crumb, subscribed to every blog, bought every book, watched every video…you get the picture. These days, 70% of the stuff that lands in my inbox is just going over old ground, but I still feel compelled to read it all. What if I miss something? Something vital? The horror!

    By the way – for organisation, I’ve started using Evernote, which might just change my life.

  29. Welcome to the world of blogging, Jill. Your post reminds me of the movie UHF, where the kid that wins the prize on a game show gets to drink from a fire hydrant.

    Since we are all part of the problem as well as part of the solution, since we are out there creating good content that adds more content to the hydrant, your post comes at a good time.

    As a definite data gatherer (umm hoarder) I can empathize with your personality type listed above. As long as you understand that the data you collect is never going to be enough, or all of it, then you can live a much happier life.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  30. Lots of data gatherers here today then…. The gift of the gatherers is their thirst for more – it’s like the tap is always on. The downside is it can start to feel like Chinese water torture to those who have stopped taking in info. The reverse of course is also true for those of us who assess info as its coming in — we can feel like a wet blanket to those who just want MORE.

    And naturally, they are beautiful complements when there is true understanding and respect about the gifts each brings (although that doesn’t mean you don’t drive each other nuts from time to time).

  31. How about a data gatherer with attention deficit disorder? I never seem to make it all the way through the information. It’s not the source of the material. It’s definitely me.

    I try to grab what pearls I can and put those into action and not guilt-trip on what I didn’t get to.

  32. I think I’m about 90% a data gatherer and though I revcognize my problem, I don’t know what to do about it. I appreciate the suggestions you offer but it’s not as easy as it writes. I always feel like there’s something I’m missing, an article that will offer a new idea, a report that will give me more stats to shed more light on the topic or question. I tell people the Internet is a dangerous place for me; it’s much like editing your work — you can really go on forever, never stopping, and never really be done.

  33. Ms. Campbell :

    This is perhaps one of the most intriguing content I have seen, because it is relatable.

    My organization trait makes me a data assessor, but my lack of knowing when to execute makes me a gatherer. This is scientific proof I need to act NOW. Ironically enough, it is regarding the initiation of my blog.

    Thanks again for the insight.

  34. Nice one Jill, me and my husband are both complusive data gatherers. We still manage to get stuff done but we’re probably a bit over-hydrated at times:)

  35. Very interesting. I used to work for marketing survey company and I have seen data gatherer being disorganized since they keep on getting tons and tons of data and don’t know when to stop.

  36. I believe I am a data assessor. I love information but I cannot take too much of them. Those that I do have will be organized in one way or another.

    For me, I don’t want to allow information getting in my way of doing things so I will segregate when to get information from different sources.

    When to use Twitter, when to check the email, when to read all those RSS feeds and so on. Having everything opened all at the same time is unproductive.

  37. Those are some might fine distinctions you’ve got there, and some good labels for the patterns you see.

    One of my friend’s uses a simplistic distinction for catering to their crowds — he talks data to the “scientists” and he talks inspirational or creative for the “artists.” It’s a generalization, but it’s been effective for him.

    Speaking of personality types, have you found any compelling correlations between the MBTI and the strengths work by Martin Seligman or the strengths work by Marcus Buckingham?

  38. Great post! I am a little bit of column A and a whole lot of column B! I do get overwhelmed with the amount of information that is available and have to remind myself that you don’t have to be abreast of everything all of the time. This week my subscriptions get blanked, next week I may dabble once more!

  39. Assessor here. I drink from the hose when I need answers. Otherwise there’s so may things to accomplish.

    I use the Social Style Model in my business. Simple profiling system and so easy to read people. Just 2 questions – Are you a listener or a talker? Do you tend to be more emotional or less emotional in nature?

  40. Interesting article Jill!

    I can’t really decide whether I am a data gatherer or an assessor. I may be a hybrid with certain tendencies for both. I like surfing the internet to gather a lot of information, but I also like having a purpose for what I research instead of just reading just for fun. I really enjoyed your post and learned a lot. Thank you!

  41. @Ren, I’m the same, a gatherer, but serially. I get very intense about a topic for awhile, and then at some point I am rather suddenly done with it.

  42. It’s interesting that just over half the people who’ve commented (quick poll) are pretty clear on which one they are – a gatherer or an assessor. That’s so fascinating! We’ve just taken one slice out of a model which has more dimensions to it – even used ‘incompletely’ it’s still relevant and usable.

    @JD, no not aware of any studies that correlate MBTI with Strengths work… although most of these models can be used together by a skilled coach/facilitator. Self awareness is usually the road you find these tools/models used on.

    @Toronto Dentist. Social Styles is a simple model, which means its easy to remember and work with, and lacking some sophistication. No right/wrong there – I use a version of it myself depending on the context.

  43. Thank you Jill! I know I have a problem – the information gatherer type – but I’ve never seen it and the data assessor
    types described as well as in your article … I like to say
    that “I never get tired of learning” but I’m really getting tired of not making money at this point so I’m going into rehab …
    somehow …
    Fran

  44. Thanks for sharing this. I think I’m both gatherer and assessor. Sometimes I tend to suck all the information, and not taking action. In the end, I was not productive, instead, i just read and read and learn and learn but not really applying what I’ve learned. But of course, I’ve grown now and definitely taking steps to move forward.

    Cheers

    Gary

  45. I’m both Jill. I’m one of those rare breeds. And, I have ADD/ADHD to a profound degree to boot. Go figure…

  46. Used to be a more gatherer, turning into more an assessor. Takes work.

    Probably similar to Mike Fook, so off to visit his neck o the woods.

  47. I think I’m BOTH different types at different times.
    All 4 pieces of advice were helpful so THANKS!

    Dunstan

  48. Jill: Great post! I am definitely a data assessor. But I use Mindmapping software to help me organize large volumes of information. This helps me deal with the information overload because I can organize it while I collect it and never feel overwhelmed. Yet still have enough. Again, great post.

  49. you hit on my biggest problem. Too much info and not enough action. I’m Trying to change!

  50. I gather, gather, gather without action and when I go to quote some fact, I try to grasp where I found it. I am informed but it needs to get back out or my brain mulls on it, mulls on it, mulls on it like a stuck record and the scratches get worse until it is unintelligible.

    I need to put more action deadlines in my routine.

    eileen

  51. Thanks for the great post. I am definitely fit into “Data Gatherer”. I feed this especially when I look back at before and after I started to use internet a lot. Not only for blogging, but generally in my life. Perhaps staying away from internet every now and then is a good thing? and concentrate in outputting.

  52. I think I’m both.

    Mostly a data gather but only getting so much then moving on to other data after getting discouraged due to an obstacle or road block.

    Then for a brief a while I’m a data assessor with a partial plan on what to do with the information then again when things do not go as planned an obstacle or road block gets in the way and detours me in a completely different direction with something completely new and so I never finishing what I start.

  53. I am definitely a data gatherer. Any ideas on how one can break free from the habit of gathering more data and start taking more action?
    I keep planning and hoarding more and more information, and changing my plans. All this reading online has actually made me more confused, if not anything.