Q&A With April Perry: Strategies To Prevent Information Overload

I admit it! I am a total nerd. Are you one too?! It's funny how when we are younger we would never want the label of nerd, but now so many of us claim it with pride! Whether it be attending a conference, completing an online course, or even a listening to podcast…we are all in! We want to learn as much as possible!

But what if that isn't enough? What if there is more to just learning? What if just learning can actually be more crippling than empowering? I know we are all familiar with the quote “Knowledge is power,” but it's more than knowledge that we need…You have to actually do something with the knowledge you are taking in or it cannot be powerful in your life and business. To help solve all of this, I recently interviewed my friend, April Perry on the podcast and I'm sharing all her tips right here! April is going to cover two simple concepts with us that will help us solve the information overload problem and bring freedom and power to our life and business!

People always ask me, how do you actually go from conference to conference and buy all these courses, but then you seem to actually take action and get things done? People always want to know what the magic secret is? How can people actually do this? I thought of April immediately because one time she actually stood up in front of our mastermind and shared how she did it and it was so systematized and it really felt pretty simple! That's the best part about it.

April: “That's the goal! Well, let me step back for a moment. Anytime you're investing time and money to go to a conference or listen to a podcast or read a book or do something, you want to feel like it was worth your time and you're getting something out of it! I know, I'm an entrepreneur, I have children, I have a lot going on in my home and I need to be able to sit down and get to work. Every time I invest time doing anything outside of being a person, a wife and a mother, it better have a positive ROI or it's a waste of time. So I'm excited today just to talk about two simple concepts. It's #1, how you actually take notes and put information in a place where you can find it easily and #2, how you pull the action items out of that and put them in a system so they'll actually get done. You figure those two things out and you're good to go!”

I like that you just brought up time because I was really thinking money. But you're right, for anyone who is reading this, they're not spending dollars, they're spending time.

April: “Really, when you look at it, it's your time that you can never get back. It's time that you have a finite amount. So when I think about it, yes, of course I mean, you and I both, we invest heavily in ourselves because we see it pays off, but when you really think about it, it's the 10 minutes here, the 10 minutes there, the 4 days you're going to a conference, that's a big deal. So whatever time you're spending, I think we want to be able to incorporate things like podcasts and videos and time on social media, right?”

Yeah, absolutely! Let's kind of dive in…I want you to be picturing the event you're going to be going too soon or the next podcast you'll listen to, the list of courses you've maybe purchased but haven't even opened or gone through. I know you have a big framework that you work through on this, so do you want to take over and start and I'll kind of ask questions as we go along?!

April: “Yeah, we have a full system. We have a program called Step, and we teach people how you build a command central, this Atep command central. I'm not going to go into all the details of it cause it's a full system, I don't want people to feel overwhelmed! I want people to say, here's 2-3 things that I could just do it now without building a whole system. Obviously having a whole system is what you want eventually, but let's just start at the beginning.

So first of all, let's just talk about where we're going to keep information, we'll just focus on an event because I know you do events or bringing people together and they're taking notes, that type of thing. Let's just talk about a few things that you'll want to do before you go to the event.

#1: You want to actually have your questions in mind. What is it you want to get out of it? I mean, I have a mastermind call in an hour and I'm writing down what are the things I want to get out of this call? When you go to a conference it's fine sometimes just to go with a blank slate, I'm just exploring. But usually when you go with that frame of mind, you just kind of come back with a whole lot of stuff. So if you actually know, I need to improve my marketing in this area, or I need to get my social media going or I'm really looking for more encouragement on those days that are hard. If you have a list of things that you know you need for your business or that you want just for your personal life, it‘s going to help impact who you're going to sit by at the conference, who you'll have conversations with on breaks, what classes you choose to attend while you're there and which sessions you want to attend.

So just having a list of questions I think is really important. And then I actually use a few symbols. As I'm taking notes, I'm a paper/pen person and you could do the same thing if you're taking notes in Evernote or somewhere in your computer, it's fine. But you want to be able to add some symbols and I just use 5 while I'm going through the conference, so at the end I don't have 50 pages of notes and I'm like, ah, I got to go through all those because I've watched what people do at conferences and tell me if I'm wrong, but this is what I usually se….they show up with a big notebook or binder or a blank sheet or a digital note and they take notes rapidly and are taking pictures of slides.

Then at the end of the conference you literally have 100 photos of slides and maybe 20 pages of notes, all scribbles and everything that you know if I implemented all this, my life would change…but then you get home and you've got to go check email and your family needs you, and then you get back right into the next thing you were doing and then every conference you attend, you end up not doing anything!”

I think if we had statistics on this right now, nobody goes and checks when people hold up their phone and take a picture, and I do it too! The amount of people that actually go back to those photos has to be slim to none! I think setting an intention, like you said, coming there with questions is key. This isn't a podcast, this is like an in person meet-up, this could be a group coaching call or your mastermind. If you go there with an intention you're more likely to feel successful after it's over. If you go into it going, let's just see what happens…then that's what will happen. Then somebody else has put more control over it and it might not be what you've needed. So I think you have to have an intention with everything you do.

April: “So these five little symbols that I use work for whatever your intention is. Here's how it works. First, I have a little question mark with a circle around it. Now if you're typing, I would do just parentheses around it or something like that or people color code. The question mark with a circle around it means these are questions I need to think about later, like questions to really consider what is it that really lights me up in my business? Sometimes you're hearing an inspirational speaker and they ask a question like, hey, if you look at your day and your time and how you spend it, what does that really say about who you are and what you value and what your purpose is?

I mean, sometimes there's some really deep questions and you can't really sit and think about those and introspect while you're in a conference, but you don't want to forget those powerful questions because when I look at my business and what's actually helped me to grow and scale as an entrepreneur, it's these kinds of questions. Next is I just do a big arrow and that means first priority because as you're going through notes, there's a lot of just like, oh, that was interesting, that was a good thing, I don't want to forget that, but sometimes someone will say something like, did you know if you used this texting service, it's going to raise your show up rates on your webinars by 20% or whatever and you're thinking that is my need right now!

So first priority, because you don't want this getting lost. Now I also will just star things that are great ideas and I'll tell you where I'm gonna put those later. But a star means yes, I want to do it at some point or I think that's awesome and I don't forget. That first priority is the arrow and that means when you get home, this is what you're doing. I also draw a little picture of a book for books to read because when you're around other leaders, other thinkers, they're sharing awesome books and I'm always reading books and audio books, because books are my oxygen! So I wrote a little book symbol and because I'm going to be adding that at the end, right to my Amazon cart and either buy now or wait for later.

And then my last one last, are brackets and that's my executive summary to share with my husband or your team or business partner or something like that. What I found is that most of the time you need to communicate what you've learned at a conference or in a podcast or whatever. You need to communicate that to the other people who are helping you succeed, who are your business partners or your family or your team and they don't want to sit down and have you read through 50 pages of notes. But if you can bracket things like, oh, this needs to be shared with so and so, then when you get home and they're like, oh hey, how it was it, you don't have to have everything totally organized and give them all your introspection but you don't tell them everything, they don't need that.”

I love the symbol idea. I really think you guys need to do it. You're right about the book. I just went to a conference last week and I think I walked away with five books they said I had to read. I mean that's just how that works because we're also invested in the best version we can be. So yes, I would definitely agree. One little note that I've been doing that I've been adding myself is I'll put the just SM, standing for social media. So what happens is when I'm in a conference, I'll hear really great stories of what the speaker is saying and that's where one of my downfalls is. I forget to tell stories. So when somebody tells a great story, it almost reminds me of a story that I could be sharing. I'll come back and I open up my notebook and I have so much social media content that I would never have thought of at home.

April: “Everyone's life is unique, everyone's business is unique. But the point is that as you go to more and more conferences and you notice patterns, you notice I usually get social media content or maybe if there's someone who does a lot of affiliate work, they would have a symbol for potential affiliates. The other thing I do is I never take business cards and I never ask people for business cards. I just write down their contact information and then I put it in the system because I had 150 business cards from a blogging conference I attended in like 2009! 

We just don't want to ever come home with just piles. That's the goal because what we do is we help people stop drowning in piles! So right now I'm trying to help you stop drowning in piles of stuff. It's just you don't want to come home with more clutter than you need. So let's just pretend that you've just completed this awesome conference. You have your 50 photos that you've taken on your phone, you have all your notes but you've made them with your symbols so you're feeling pretty good. The key to making this actually easy to find, easy to locate is using Evernote.

I cannot say enough about Evernote. You can use Google drive or whatever you want, but Evernote, I love! The reason why is because all I have to do first, I lay out my notebook and I take a photo of every page of my written notebook. Evernote can scan your handwriting for keywords. So if I've written something awesome about easy webinar or something like that, that I'm using my business and then I searched that in Evernote, it'll bring up my handwritten notes. So that just saves you time and having to transcribe as long as you take notes neatly. You can also go into Evernote and after you insert the photos of your written notes, you can just upload all of your photos that you actually took of the slides or the people who are there or whatever.

I have a notebook stack in Evernote called education and I have one notebook in there called courses and conferences. Then I have a note for each conference I attend or each course I take. When we would go to our mastermind, I would say February 2018 mastermind, you know where it was, all of that there and then now if I ever want to go back and say, Oh, what did we talk about at that last one? I can just pull it up and all my notes and everything is in one spot.”

What I like about that is sometimes you're at an event and there's great content, but it doesn't pertain to you right now, or you're not in a place to really hear it. But then you go to ask a question, and what if I was like, well, April last year we actually talked about all of that at this conference. You get to go back and look at my notes because now it makes sense for me to look at this.

April: “So then the other key to actually implementing it is the executive summary, and this is where we have a little worksheet we give with three little sections on it. So section one is just what you want to do as soon as possible. It's just this short little list when you get home, here's your punch list of what you need to do asap.

Then the next one that I have is to consider in the future. So that's my next in line projects like it's good, but I don't need to do it right now. Then below that I just have key ideas to remember. I actually sit down, and this is important on timing, do this before you get home. So it's either on the airplane or in the airport or one time I finished a conference and I went and sat in the corner of the conference center as everyone else is leaving and I just did this there and it takes about 15 minutes. You go through all your notes that you took and look at all your symbols and everything. And then things like those books that I need to read right away, that's going to go here and as soon as possible say here's some other ones for later. Organize your brain where any great ideas that you heard where the inspiration, because you know when you leave a conference and you think I can conquer the world!

The more you go and you don't implement, the less you feel hope that you can change anything, So I feel like this is that key to help people to actually make that happen. So let's say you're leaving your conference, as soon as possible, here's what I'm going to do then here's what I'm going to do next in line. Then here's just great ideas I want to remember.”

On the to do as soon as possible list, is there a maximum number you suggest putting there? Because trust me, I can go away with lots and lots of to do's. So what do you think to really make it doable?

April: “Yeah, I usually have maybe 10 -12 something like that. It feels good to me and that's usually things to do in the next month! And some of them are things like, oh I'm going to email so and so on and set up a podcast or some of them are I'm going to set up quarterly reviews with my team. So those are quick, just set up a new routine or we really need to get this Youtube channel up.”

I like the idea of using the airplane ride home or in the conference. Another thing that I tell people to do, but sometimes people don't have the willpower to keep it, is just block your day out the next day when you get home to work on the conference material. I say that and I'm pretty good at sticking to it, but a lot of people go, but I have to catch up and my emails are just pouring in from this weekend and so it's really easy to get in catch up mode versus actually implementing what you've just learned.

April: “But you know, you could even do that same thing and set it 4 days out. Because I find when I get back, my family misses me. They just want to sit like right next to me and you really want to do that too. But I think that's a good idea. Typically having some kind of a calendar trigger. I do an April Day every Tuesday, that's my high level thinking day. I don't plan any meetings. I don't do any webinars, it's just April day. 

Because what happens in your brain, I'm sure this happens to you too, is that when you have a flood of exciting ideas and when you have a purpose in your life, but you don't have clarity as how you're going to prioritize those projects to help you accomplish your purpose, it makes you grumpy, it makes you on edge, and it causes you to feel, it's kind of this cognitive dissonance because you thinking, I know what I should be doing and I know I have all these ideas, but I'm not actually implementing it and everyone needs me all at the same time and I'm just responding.

Then you kind of go into a panic mode. So if you can step back and actually have some order to it. I'm literally just taking one item at a time and putting it into the system because then I'm going to be able to breathe.”

I think that's huge because our to do lists are never ending. You have to get out of your head that someday you will be caught up on your to do list. It's a myth…that is not happening! So when you have it prioritized, I think you can at least feel good that you have it all in the right order and you will get there.

April: “I want to comment too, because you're so right with the to-do list. I mean, as long as we're living and breathing and making an impact, the to-do isn't going to end. And I think that that needs to be seen as that's an exciting thing. That means we're still alive, you know? Realizing a to-do list means life and energy and purpose and that's exciting. But I think what we can do is make our lists for a day and for a week and for a month, short, so we can actually get to the end of them and then you feel ahead.

I think that's one of the biggest benefits to creating a very, very simple system. Like right now on my list, I have 5 things I need to do today that are important for today. Now, are there also a million other things I could do? We'll sure. But today I've decided I'm doing these 5. Then when I finish those 5 I get that little burst of dopamine. Right? I have just done something and I've gotten to the end and especially if I finish those 5 things by like five o'clock, then the whole night that I'm with my family or hanging out, I feel like I'm not behind on anything, I'm ahead of the game! You have to convince yourself and help yourself to see that you're making amazing progress everyday.

When you can help yourself to be able to see what I'm learning at these conferences and what I'm learning through these podcasts, what I'm learning through all of this, it's awesome and I'm making progress. But sometimes the most important things aren't even on the checklist and let's set ourselves up for success so we can have that balance and ultimately feel excited and really good about our lives.”

When I go to a conference and let's say for some reason I did not have time to process my notes or something happened and life got in the way, I think, well, what did I do? I didn't get anything out of it, but you naturally start doing some of the things that they talked about there. You actually are getting some of your return back, but you're not acknowledging that it came from that event. I like when you're documenting your to do's and you can actually check it off that you've done it, all of a sudden you're going, wow, I actually did quite a bit from this last conference or last podcast or event. So I really think it's great to acknowledge what you've done because of whatever it was you've just invested in.

April: “Yeah, that's such a good point. I've had multiple conferences where I attended and then we went on a family vacation or something right after, you know, and you're just like, ah, I just can't…But it's almost a similar thing when you make a vision board and then you put it away for awhile and then you come back to it. I know how it feels to be exhausted in your life and your business and to feel like there's so much to do. I totally know that and I feel like the reason I've become really good at organizing all this is because I'm really bad at being exhausted. I just can't do it. I don't know how they're like super humans out there who could do everything, but I have meltdowns. I fall apart. You know? I get stressed.

I find that the more I can do exactly what you just said, be gentle on yourself, acknowledge that you know that you're working, you're building relationships, you're moving in a good direction. Giving yourself credit for that I think is huge. And then I think if you can couple it with some kind of a system that at least lets your brain know, hey that was worth your money, that was worth your time and if you want to move forward, here's what you could do now!”

So let's dive into your implementations part. I know this is pretty cool too!

April: “So essentially there are just a few little sections. When we build a command central, we help someone to organize their mind and I have several parts of a command central, but I think of it like parts of a car. You know, you've got to have your starter and your engine and your brakes and your gas tank and all this stuff. And a lot of times people think, if I just have a calendar and a to do list, that's good and I can just get everything done. I actually think that's very similar to saying, well what if I just have four tires and an engine? Then I could just drive, right? Really you can't! There's four super simple things, if you just put these things in place it will at least get you going.

The parts we'll just talk about today, it's just calendar, your routines list, your projects list, and your next actions list. I'll just review them really briefly. So calendar, it's just that we want to make sure we only put on our calendar what we have to do that day. What most people do is they write down everything they want to do and then they forward it to the next day and the next day, the next day. And if it's digital, they just keep changing the dates or you go look in someone's, Asana or whatever and it's like all these red numbers of everything that's overdue. We don't want that because that's like an instant, you're failing in front of you. So our calendars are super simple. I like to think of it like a canvas, like white space.Today I just have my meetings on my calendar and the 5 things I need to do and then nothing else. So that if that's all I do today, I'm successful and I'm happy and I'm fine and I have a nap everyday!

Second, your routines list. It's really important to differentiate between routines and then projects because a lot of times I'll ask people, what's the project you're working on? People will say marketing my business, you know, or laundry or something like that. Those are great, but those are routines because you're never done marketing your business. You know the laundry is never done. It's like our to-do lists. Now I do mine in Asana, and people who haven't heard of that, you just get a free account, super simple. There are lots of digital resources out there that can help you organize routines but if you can just take your routines and keep those separate from projects, that alone is worth the time.

I keep my business and personal ones separate, but let's just talk business routines today since we are talking to entrepreneurs. So business routines, it's daily and then you write down what your daily routines are. Asana calls it a project, so I have one project called April's Routines. I have daily as a subheading, all my daily routines, weekly, monthly. I do twice a month, quarterly, semiannually and annually. But you just have these little headings and you write down what your routines are. Just being able to see them and then being able to work with that list when you get new ideas will be awesome. So if Stacy's like, hey, I'm going to start doing these Alexa briefings, how often do I want to do them? How often do I need to record? That's going to go on your routines lists so you can just see that you're going to do it. Maybe you're going to launch a podcast, you know, or have a new episode once a week. Maybe you're doing a quarterly mastermind, maybe you're doing a monthly meeting in person with your team or something like that. There's a lot of things that are just routines and if we can make sure those are all on one list and those are simple, that's going to help. If you're going to a conference and you get these new ideas for routines, just put them on the routines list.”

What I like about the routines list is it probably shows you a red flag of, I've got a lot of stuff on here. Is this even possible? Do I need help? Should I start outsourcing a little more? I would think that would really help you!

April: “I think that is huge because I think one of the biggest things, especially as women, we don't often acknowledge how much we've committed to you and if you're like, oh, and everyday I'm going to exercise and shower and meditate and do this, and you have all your lists, just self care, you're like, well, that takes up 7 hours a day. When you really look at that, then you start feeling a little bit overwhelmed. When you can delegate or my husband has this awesome thing that he'd helped me learn, which was called your multiple choice perfect day, which I love!

He's like April…somedays you're going to get a shower and do your hair and makeup. Some days you're going to get an awesome workout, or some days you're going to be on a podcast or you're going to do a podcast and some days you're going to lay in bed all day and just take a break. But recognizing that you don't have to do every routine to have a perfect day. You can pick a few and still call that a perfect day. So I think we want to get into that frame of mind where we're not beating ourselves up with our list but that the lists are there to support us.

So then current projects and next actions are the last two. Projects are multistep tasks that can actually get accomplished. So that's something like set up my podcast. Meaning you know, you've got the cover art, you've got the music or I'm going to go implement this new webinar service, we're gonna go buy it, get it. So projects are things you can actually check off as opposed to our routines, which we do over and over. The problem with projects is if you sit down and talk to most entrepreneurs, then you say, well what are your projects you're working on? They'll list like 5-10 things and then when you really dig in and say, well, are you doing this and are you doing this? And then they're like actually I've got this thing and 50-100 projects is what I've found is the norm. I'm sure you can understand that!

The exciting part is that projects are what fuel your business. You need projects. That's the only way you're going to get anything done. The only way you're going to start earning revenue, which is great, and the only way you're gonna really start serving people is if you can accomplish projects. Having a long list of projects is okay as long as you have it segmented by priority. So the way that we do it is we have a team projects list and I recommend these four categories you have current, which it's like 2-3 and maybe for a team it can be 5. Then you have in progress or waiting. That means something like we've hired a contractor and they're due to have it back in a week.

You don't want that sitting on your current list because you can't do anything for someone else. So it's in progress or waiting and that has a little calendar trigger on it so you'll follow up. Then you have your next in line projects. Those are things like, for me I want to get a Youtube channel going. But right now that's not what's fueling our business. Then you have a someday list. Those are things that you say someday I would like to do that membership or something or write a book.

So the way we do it in our team is we have those 4 categories and we have our team projects and then each person on the team has their own projects list and we keep all these shared in Asana. We can look at each other's lists. You can have a project on 2 lists, so all of us can see what's current but we know what we're in charge of, which one we want to do. If you have for each person 2-3 maximum, that's really doable. You can have 2-3 projects going. I mean even 1 if you want, you don't have to have 2-3, but the fewer projects you have on your current list, the more you're going to start making progress because you're going to get them knocked off. 

What's exciting about that is that when you can see your current projects and then when I have a meeting with my integrator this afternoon, we just sit down, we open up Asana and we say, okay, are these current projects the most important projects to get us to where we want to go? Is this really where we want to be now? Next actions though is what goes with that. If you are doing next actions just for your personal life, that means like a 10 minute task that can move something towards completion. Most people don't know how to get next actions, how to identify next actions and so they feel overwhelmed.

The thing though that you want to watch for is most people break down projects really poorly and not trying to say is in a critical way I'm trying to say it in a helpful way that you might put as a sub task, fix the texting, right? Well how do you do how you do that? What does that mean?  I can't just sit at my desk and I'm like, whoa. But I could do something like take a screenshot inside of our program where the error messages are coming from and text that to this specific person who I think could give me some feedback and point me in the right direction. That's the next action. That's gonna take some time because I've got to go in and screenshot and figure it all out and send it. But if I have that written down is the next action and I don't feel overwhelmed by it. I just know when I sit down to work, here's what I do next.”

I think what I really want people to take away is how simple April is making this. It's just all about making it as simple as possible so we actually get it done. That's what I want you to take away!

April: “Yes, absolutely. You know David Allen who wrote the book Getting Things Done and helped me learn a lot about projects and next actions. He says, the reason I came up with all these things is because I'm so lazy. I just want to be able to get things done effortlessly. We need to learn from people who are calling them feels lazy because I don't call myself that! But I will say when you can get as much off your plate as possible, you're going to get more done. People think it's the opposite. They're like, I think if I write a lot of stuff on my list then I'm going to be a high achiever. It's actually the opposite. The high achievers are the ones who know how to edit their lives, take everything out besides this is the one thing that I'm best at doing. They know how to build a team. They know how to delegate, they know how to simplify, they know how to take breaks and read and replenish and prioritize sleep. That's what the high achievers do and too often I think in the world we see everyone just hustling and doing so much and we feel like we have to keep up and it's going to do is lead to burnout. 

But when you can step back, simplify, as you're going to your conference, have just maybe two or three things you want to get out of it, you'll get more out of it, but just two or three things you're going to focus on. Put those things in a simple note, either Evernote or Google doc or something like that. Have them in one place you can find them. Have one page for your executive summary and here's my short list. Put that shortlist into a simple system of routines and projects and calendars and next actions. If every single person, the moment they sat down at their desk on a Monday morning, had a very simple, tiny prioritized list, of exactly what they needed to get done to help them reach their goals…I think that would change the world!”

You've totally convinced me at the end of my conference to make them sit down at the table and do this before they leave, they're going to have it done! I have to help people get results and if they can't get results, I mean that's part of my responsibility. So I really don't want them just to come to another event and not walk away with something amazing.

April: “You have all this experience. You know what they need, but when you know what their questions are, you know how to help and then they get the answers. That's the part that excites me the most is that when they come to your conference and when they're getting all these ideas and they know, here's how I want to build my social media, here's how I'm actually going to get clients and here's how I do it. Once the path is clear, now let's just start implementing, but you can't implement things on top of chaos. You can't, it just doesn't work. It's going to make your brain crazy but you get clear and simple and get a system in place…holy cow!! You're going to be unstoppable!”

If you want to connect more with April, check out her free class at learndobecome.com/step and learn how to stop drowning in piles of paper, clutter, emails and to-do lists!