Today I want to talk about dealing with high loads of information and how to process it (this post might contain a lot of info as well haha). A friend of mine asked me whether I had any studying tips and it got me thinking. Over the years I’ve had to process quite some information for my studies, which all came to me in different ways. However, most of the time, it was through books, articles and lectures. However at my current job, almost all information comes by just talking to persons, and I’m having quite a hard time processing this information. Sometimes when I ask for something and someone gives me a verbal and long explanation, I’m really having trouble to take it all in. It feels like my mind goes blank and I’m unable to react to it (also why I have trouble with participating in discussions and brainstorm sessions). When something like this happens, it makes me feel really stupid and I start questioning myself. I am just not that smart to be able to react in a quick way on what is being told? What’s wrong with me for feeling like my mind shuts off sometimes, am I in a sort of depression? The answer to those questions is NO, of course not! It’s just not my learning style.
First step in processing information is determining what learning style works for you: just listening to information, seeing it visually or just reading it (maybe there are even more, I don’t know). For me, its visualizing it. Most of the time when I learned something I know exactly where saw it, so I visualize the words and context to remember it again.
If you have this learning style as well, I can recommend you to print the information that you need to process, as it’s easier to comprehend from paper than reading it plainly from a screen. Then thing I do next is highlighting the most important text you want to memorize. If I go over the highlighted text then a few times I’m able to remember it easier. Working with color is key to visualizing information, it makes things stand out. Even when listening to a class in college, it might be useful to work with different colors pens when you’re taking notes. Differentiating between definitions of terms, bullet point lists or other important facts you need to remember.
Something similar as adding color to your information is adding music to it. It might sound silly, but it’s not! We all know that we can remember song lyrics for years (it’s crazy!), but when it comes to school stuff we forget it quite fast. But not if you add a melody to it! In high school we had to memorize a list of german propositions to know what case we should use. Because I added a melody to the lists of words, I can still remember them up until this day (know them for about 10 years now):
An, auf, hinter, neben, vor, unter, über, zwischen, in
Aus, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu & bis, durch, für, gegen, ohne, um, entlang
It’s hard to explain the melody I have in my head with them, but I think it’s a bit like a children’s song melody ;) Other ways of visualizing are for instance creating tables, mind maps, graphs anything. Or if you want to gain knowledge on a certain topic, see if there are any video’s about it on youtube instead of having to read large amounts of text.
If you’re learning style is listening, video’s are also good as long as the moving images are not distracting for you. Another tool that might be nice is to let your device read the information that is on the screen for you, instead of having to read it yourself. Sometimes there’s a tool available on a website or sometimes your computer can do it for you (Google it!)
Whatever learning style you have, the following 3 steps will come next:
For my work I had to deal with it large amounts of information as well, the problem here is that it came to me very unstructured and all from different people. The most important thing I can advice you to do is summarize. Make notes during a meeting of as much as possible (context), and take a look at it later and summarize the most important things that were said. If you’re unable to write down stuff during a conversation, but feel like important things are being told, write it down immediately after. Or ask the person telling you the stuff if he/she can send you the information again by e-mail. In this way I can peacefully go over the information again, and it also makes the other person feel like you’re really taking into account what their saying to you. This is not only convenient for visual learners but also for people who are good readers.
Also, if someone asks you a difficult question after receiving new information and you feel like your mind blocks and you can’t answer (this happens to me occasionally). There is no shame in telling them that you like to get back to that question later. It gives you time to think and you will be able to answer in a better way than having to come up with something straight away.
Then, when you have gathered information from different sources, to make sense of it all, I can recommend you to categorize. What are the main things you can take from the different sources of information. To which categories belong they? Can you combine information from the different sources? Doing this creates a good overview and makes you less lost in all the information. It’s what I’ve tried to do with this post as well, organizing the things I wanted to tell under different headers/paragraphs.
Last thing I can recommend you to do is to prioritize, which highly relates to the previous discussed topics. You are unable to remember everything you’re being told or that you read. Make an overview/planning of things that are most important to recall and make a planning on how to take further actions with the information you have gotten and eventually change it into knowledge!
So, I hope this post can help you out breaking through the clutter of information. I was really overwhelmed with all the new information I got when starting my first job some weeks ago. However, through these steps (and most importantly time, don’t try to rush things!) I am better able to make sense of it all and make it ready to recall !:)