Be informed, not overwhelmed

Learning about your industry and competitors will improve your effectiveness but we often don’t prioritise it. Here are some strategies for making the time.

Do you ever feel daunted by how much there is to learn at work? How much you need to stay on top of each day? Do you struggle to find time to get up-to-date with customer and industry insight? Even if you do somehow manage to keep up with it all, it can feel like a real challenge to not just be consumed by ‘doing’ and actually make time for thinking.

We have to accept some truths about our jobs. Things are not going to slow down. We are not going to get less work. There is only going to be more to learn.

The challenge of staying informed without being overwhelmed is only going to get harder.

Other than the feeling of being overwhelmed, there are a few tell-tale signs that may indicate a need to make some adjustments to how you’re working. If you’ve got hundreds of unread emails, if you haven’t read about your industry or professional trends in months and if you’ve got no visibility of your competitors’ actions and performance, it’s a sign that changing your approach to how you’re managing information is something you should consider.

Prioritise knowledge

To be happy in our jobs and contribute the most value to our companies, we need to develop our ability to filter, absorb and respond to the detail that surrounds us. Our jobs as marketers often put us right at the centre of the information maelstrom, making this need even more of a priority to address. Developing the ability to traverse through the mass of information we are faced with and emerge with meaningful insight is fundamental to our success at work as individuals, managers and leaders.

All too often ‘I haven’t got time’ just means ‘this isn’t a priority for me’.

Of course, it’s not easy, and the most common reason people give for not being able to get control of information is that they are too busy and haven’t got the time to stop. Let’s be honest, though. While it can feel like we are stuck on spin cycle, the reality is that we can hit pause.

All too often ‘I haven’t got time’ just means ‘this isn’t a priority for me’ and maybe that is true. Maybe you can surf through your role, skimming information and reacting in the moment. But at some point, this approach will stop working for you and limit your effect.

Gaining a deeper understanding of what’s going on in your business, your industry and your profession will help you to provide more considered opinions and make better decisions. As a result, you will be more valued and more valuable.

If you do want to take on the challenge, there are a few things that I have learned through my own experiences and from my network that will help you to take back control.

Focus your attention

Staying on top of every single piece of data is an unrealistic expectation. There is simply too much information, changing too quickly. However, rather than skimming everything to have a surface level knowledge, think about where it would be most effective to go deep right now.

If there is a gap in your team on competitor knowledge, could you challenge yourself for one quarter to make that an area of expertise? Perhaps you could think about getting up to speed with the priorities of the other functions in your business and generating ideas about how you could collaborate.

Assess where your biggest knowledge gap is and where you could  add the most value to your business. Once you’ve got that focus, give yourself a specific window of time to address it.

Create learning habits

Now you know what your information priority is, you’ll need to develop a new learning habit. We’re all busy, but you’re going to have to create the time to train your brain.

One of the easiest ways to do this is through ‘habit stacking’. Habit stacking means building a new habit onto an existing habit. For example, if your goal is to have a greater understanding of the latest trends in marketing technology and you have a habit of exercising, you could listen to a relevant podcast while you’re heading to the gym. Or if your goal is to learn more about your business and you have a habit of leaving the office to grab a coffee, why not make a practice of inviting a colleague from another function out with you.

For me personally, I work from home two days a week and on those days, I use the time that I would have spent commuting for digesting new information. This gives me a four-hour window each week to ring-fence for the purposes of my knowledge priorities.

The more explicit you can be about how you’re going to find the time, the more likely you are to make the change.

Share and apply knowledge

Improving how you absorb information may be beneficial for your confidence and feelings of being in control, but being able to share this with others is where you really increase the value from your efforts and feel the rewards.

This can be as simple as discussing what you have learned with a peer or asking more informed questions in a meeting. But being intentional about this from the outset will provide a north star to evaluate yourself against. For example, if my intention was to learn more about digital marketing innovations, I might set myself a goal of writing a blog post on a team site and invite questions from my colleagues.

Imagine yourself three months from now: what would you be doing differently if you had a better understanding of your priority area? Make that your goal.

We might not be able to control the flow of information we receive, but we are all in control of how we respond to it. Being intentional and realistic about how we do that is a key to getting the balance in favour of being informed and not overwhelmed.

Helen Tupper is marketing director at Microsoft DX and founder of Amazing If.