// Internet Duct Tape

Delete It – Tips for Managing Information Overload

Lifehacks and Productivity

We’re deep into the beginning of the Information Age, as you can see from the propagation of information aggregators like Google Reader and the meta-aggregators like Friend Feed. There’s only one tip for handling information saturation that has any success: delete it.

You Aren’t Going to Need It applies equally well to digital information as the clutter in your house. When I was a young whelp I spent all my money at the comic book store, diligently bagging collector’s items I didn’t even enjoy reading. They’re still holed up in my parents’ house somewhere, and no, having that meticulously maintained collection didn’t improve my life in any way. It just sucked up my time.

The same thing holds true of your digital information. Delete it.

  • Blurry photos? If it isn’t worth printing then it isn’t worth keeping.
  • 5 photos with slightly different angles? Pick the one where you look best and get rid of the rest.
  • That song you always skip on your favorite album? If you delete it, then you don’t have to press skip anymore.
  • Why have friends on Last.FM who don’t have similar music tastes?
  • That movie you downloaded, watched and didn’t like? Don’t keep anything you don’t want to re-experience.
  • Old software you don’t use anymore? Uninstall it.
  • Those feeds in your RSS reader you always jump past? Nuke them.
  • That friend on Twitter who only uses it to display their blog posts? Unsubscribe.

My obsessive compulsive need to collect and keep information takes up too much time. If you have less information to manage it takes less time to manage it, not to mention fringe benefits like it’s easier to backup and keep track of. Having less of an information burden makes it easier to integrate new information into your life (more hard drive space for photos/music/movies, more time in your daily info gathering to read new sources).

Here’s some quick tips for different aspects of your digital life:


  • Filter your photos before you organize them.
  • If it’s too blurry to print, it’s too blurry to keep.
  • Try to pick the best shot out of groups of similar photos.
  • Having less photos makes it easier to backup and easier to select which photos to print.


  • Just because you bought a CD/MP3 doesn’t mean you have to keep it if you don’t like it.
  • Use play counts and ratings to cull your music list from the stuff that sucks.
  • It’s more useful to only keep the two songs you like from that album, than it is to have a complete discography for that artist.
  • If you haven’t listened to it in the past year, then why keep it?


  • If you aren’t using it then it’s wasting space on your hard drive.
  • Software often installs services that run in the background even though you aren’t using it — uninstalling software can make your computer run faster by freeing up memory.
  • If you don’t know what the software does, check Google before uninstalling it.


  • Unsubscribe from automated emails you don’t read like newsletters and notifications.
  • Switch to Gmail because having super-fast search is much more efficient than moving emails to folders.
  • Using Gmail means you have less information to back-up and you don’t run the risk of your email program coming to a standstill if it has too many emails.
  • Delete emails you aren’t going to want to re-experience. They’ll be in the trash for 30 days if you change your mind.
  • Use filters and labels to track emails that aren’t urgent.
  • More tips here and here.

Google Reader

  • Learn the keyboard shortcuts. J, K, S, Shift-S, V, U, ?.
  • The first time you read an item: star it if you want to revisit it later (S), share it if you want to push it out to another service (Shift-S). Stay in Google Reader unless you’re leaving a comment (V).
  • Unsubscribe from any feeds that you don’t want to pay full attention to. Use other partial attention sites to let information find you.


  • Just because they’re your friend in real life (or virtual life) doesn’t mean they have to be your friend on Last.FM.
  • If you keep your friends down to people who have similar musical tastes, your “friend radio” becomes much more useful.


  • The strength of Twitter is that it is a mesh network of people who find each other interesting.
  • The other strength of Twitter is that it is information you can miss. Twitter is for partial attention.
  • Unfollow people who you don’t have two-way communication with, especially if they’re too prolific.
  • Subscribe to your @replies feed using another service so you don’t miss people communicating with you. (I use Netvibes)
  • Block people who are spamming your @replies.


  • People don’t get a message when you unsubscribe to them on Facebook — use that fact to get rid off all the people who aren’t really a part of your life.
  • Facebook application spam is the devil.

Friend Feed

Photo by deapeajay

16 Responses

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  1. Ross said, on April 16, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    I’m in complete agreement with everything except “If you haven’t listened to it in the past year, then why keep it?”.

    Because two years from now I’ll want to listen to it again :)

    Otherwise.. totally agree. I’m in the middle of my 2nd major downsizing of physical goods. I plan to move cities in the next year, and I’ll only be bringing two suitcases with me. I find a minimal lifestyle to be much more to my liking.

  2. Webomatica said, on April 16, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Great tips – especially the one about digital photos. Since they don’t use film so many of us snap hundreds of photos when one would suffice. Also, I’m already where my FriendFeed feed is getting unwieldy after only a month or so.

  3. mpb said, on April 16, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for books. I once got rid of an expensive reference book on the Arctic because I figured having lived in New Zealand and living in New Mexico, why would I keep it? Two months later I was offered a job in Fairbanks working for Arctic and sub-Arctic peoples.

    I do keep old software on backups because sometimes those programs work better than the gussied up ones. Sometimes it is the only thing which will read old data. Just means I have to move ancient CDs but they weigh less than books I tell myself.

  4. Eric said, on April 16, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    It’s also important to organize your work, at least in my experience. I like to keep all of my writing, but the documents folder quickly becomes a bottomless pit without intuitive organization.

  5. […] Delete It – Tips for Managing Information Overload :: Internet Duct Tape – Eric (aka engtech) with some simple tips for dealing with information overload we all feel at some point. […]

  6. Henry said, on April 17, 2008 at 12:14 am

    In many situations less is better as non-essential data creates noise that can hide the critical data. Speaking about a very plain approach to coping with information overload, I’m using my own application – Context Organizer – to summarize my reading material. When at a click of a button I see the keywords and the most important sentences – that helps me to quickly decide how useful the information is. In my experience summarization helps with finding specific information in a sea of disparate content and is critical in quickly focusing on the most relevant information.

  7. A.Ho said, on April 17, 2008 at 4:07 am

    Nice, a once and for all article

  8. Mike Shields said, on April 17, 2008 at 11:32 am

    You do know that you could sell your comic book collection for a small fortune, right?

  9. engtech said, on April 18, 2008 at 11:14 am

    @ Mike Shields:

    I doubt any comic collection start after 1985 is worth anything. I could be wrong though.

  10. Guy said, on April 18, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    “Twitter is for partial attention.” So true.

  11. […] Delete It – Tips for Managing Information Overload « // Internet Duct Tape There’s only one tip for handling information saturation that has any success: delete it. […]

  12. Stanium said, on June 09, 2008 at 6:10 am

    Totally agree on everying but one point (same as Ross) – “If you haven’t listened to it in the past year, then why keep it?”

    I disagree for the same reason: a song may not be payed for over a year, but if its a good song, I will definitely listen to it sometime again. However I do filter some song out over time, as some songs are only ok for a week or two.

  13. JeanAnnVK said, on July 21, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Thanks for the tips…I have to confess, FriendFeed seems like an endless time suck…but I am willing to hang in there till I discover how to manage it…or they figure it out first!

  14. […] Poor performance because emails are never deleted […]

  15. Physical Matters » Information Overload said, on January 19, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    […] Overload” written by William Van Winkle who had some hints I might try. Then there was Internet Duct Tape that just suggested I “delete it all…” alt f4 and have a nice day. […]

  16. Ninth Agenda said, on February 26, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    Nice article. I am in complete agreement and have the same philosophy. I recently deleted some Google Reader feeds which I was not really using.

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