How to deal with information overload and retain 90% of what you consume

I’m guilty of voluntary information overload.

Filling up my Pocket app with articles, skimming over tweets or videos and consuming as much new content as I can.

This stems from FOMO (fear of missing out) and becomes an endless cycle, where I’m covering a lot of ground but not actually learning any of it. When you consume in a passive way, by skimming and moving on, you fail to maximise the learning process.

Blogging forces me to reflect on what I’ve learnt. I created this blog to teach and to put my online marketing learnings into practice. The best way to learn something is to teach it.

This is best explained with the learning pyramid.

The learning pyramid

The Learning Pyramid is a technique to retain 90% of what you consume. It explains that the most effective way to learn something is to teach it, or immediately put it into practice. We can’t always put everything into practice immediately, but we can teach it to anyone who will listen.

The learning pyramid says that people retain:

  • 90% of what they learn when they teach someone else/use immediately.
  • 75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned.
  • 50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion.
  • 30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration.
  • 20% of what they learn from audio-visual.
  • 10% of what they learn from reading.
  • 5% of what they learn from lectures.

Writing down what you learn will increase your ability to retain it. To teach something you have to digest it, interpret it, analyse it, synthesize it, and then convey it with clarity.

You don’t have to be an expert to teach, but to be a good teacher, you need to be a good learner. The first time Neil Patel taught at a conference, he was asked to give a speech on Wikipedia marketing. At the time, he didn’t have a clue about the topic, but that didn’t stop him. He quickly learnt everything he needed from Google, before going on to teach it at the conference.

My mother was a teacher, and many times she took on a course without knowing the content. She would study the topic before teaching it, and by the time she got there she was able to teach her students everything she had learnt. She would field questions from students, which would highlight areas where she needed to increase her knowledge. Not a problem, now she knew what else she had to focus on. The next time she taught it she had even better understanding of the topic.

The purpose of this blog: blogging to learn online marketing

Following the learning pyramid, the focus of this blog is to teach my experiences/thoughts/learnings on growth and online marketing. Some posts will be high level concepts and strategy, some will dive into specific tactics and practical examples. I personally find both approaches compliment each other and I need both to truly understand something.

Learn by doing: become an action taker

I write to create. The #1 problem most people have with launching their own startup is that they’re perfectionists. They’re scared of being judged, of releasing something that’s not 100% perfect. Anyone who’s taken that step knows that it never will be perfect. Every company continually iterates to make their products better. Mikael Cho from Crew says to create more than you consume and whilst I think that’s impossible, it’s a good goal to aim for. Writing encourages me to continue to put myself out there, and to never be afraid to take action.

Give to get

When you receive something useful from someone, you feel an obligation to return the favour. I write about experiences at work and conversations with team members. In each instance, bringing something unique that I experienced that I think would be practical for someone else. I write to add to the conversation and go deeper on topics that interest me and articles that I read, and new schools of thought that arise.

Self-directed learning

I write so I can see where I’ve come from. I want to be able to look back on this in 6 months and be embarrassed at what I wrote. That means I’ve learnt something. I write to continually develop my skills and capture my ongoing development. I write to get feedback. You don’t live inside a vacuum, and you can’t improve yourself inside a vacuum. Feedback is the a key part of self-improvement.

So I ask you for your honest feedback, I value it. There will be no hurt feelings here. Gratitude is good, but if you correct me and tell me how to improve something, even better. Sharing our knowledge and tips with each other helps ensure that we are collectively improving our online marketing skills.

Do something that scares you

Chris Hexton, the co-founder of Vero once told me “I haven’t done anything in the last 2 months that really scares me, so I’m putting on a webinar.” That week he announced it (with no content created), and in 2 weeks he did it. No wonder Vero’s been hitting massive growth with Chris’s attitude to life and learning. You have to put yourself out there, and writing a blog is one way of doing something that scares me.

Conclusion

There are undoubtedly more experienced and smarter people to learn online marketing from like Noah Kagan, Brian Balfour, or Peep Laja, but if you let me I’d like to offer my two cents, and share my learnings from the trenches. I’ll share my own perspective from within the companies and clients I work for. It’s nice to read about these bigger well known brands, but I can offer a view from lesser known startups that are trying to grow.

If I’m doing my job properly, hopefully they won’t be lesser known startups for long.

  • http://thethinkingdrone.com Hannah Pearson

    Information overload is definitely becoming a major problem – I think how you take it in also depends on what method you prefer to learn – some people learn by reading, others by seeing, others by doing, etc. So for me, reading it is a lot higher than just 10%. But teaching it is always the best test to see how much you’ve taken in.

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum @ Postify

      Spot on Hannah, glad to hear. As long as you can build logical connections in your mind between everything you take in and access that when you need it most.

  • http://thesumbuddy.com/ Alfred Lua

    I’m so guilty of voluntary information overload too – signing up to countless mailing lists, twitter, growthhacker.com, etc. Thanks for the timely reminder to put what I read into action.

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum @ Postify

      I know you write some good stuff over at thesumbuddy.com so I bet you’re doing better than most Alfred :)

      • http://thesumbuddy.com/ Alfred Lua

        Thanks for the nice words. Great encouragement to me (:

  • http://www.soundviewgroup.com/ Seth Baum

    I’ve purposely cut myself down to just 4 (from like 15) email “state of things today/annoucements” that I read each day – that’s all I can handle on that front (since for each one I click on at least a couple of articles that I either read right away or store to pocket/evernote) – that’s been my key to being more productive even if I might miss something it’s made me “save” another hour or so each day.

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum @ Postify

      Seth, totally agree. I’ve cut down a lot of sources, and I don’t even read “world news” anymore.

  • http://MyAffiliateMarketingOnline.com Zack Lim

    Hi Ryan,

    I am guilty of making this mistakes too as I always have the fear that I will be missing out on something.

    What I personally like to do is to go through the whole content at least one time first so that I will be able to get the generation idea of the methods that is being taught.

    The next thing that I will do is to find one method that looks practical and simply just take action on it.

    Sounds easy but difficult to do especially when a good guide teaches so many good ideas.

    But I will still try my best to implement it.

    Good reminder on taking action :)

    Zack

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum

      Well put Zack – distilling down the information into one practical action is the key.

      It’s been a while since I wrote this piece, but I’m finding more and more it’s still about taking action. The single idea that sticks with me on a weekly basis is the “create more than you consume” line. It’s more of a philosophy than a realistic goal, but it’s still a great goal to strive for.

      I came across this related post recently called “Ship or Die”. It’s an idea I could get behind: http://www.quantifire.net/blog/learn-die-ship-one-thing-publicly-per-week/

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