Overcoming the ‘everything everywhere all at once’ of content

Content people don't have to fix everything, everywhere, all at once. Really.
A woman trying to fix everything everywhere all at once, surrounded by chaos

I shared a slightly glib tweet earlier this week that I wanted to write more about:

This is how content feels a lot of the time. You’re being tasked with looking at one little thing, but in doing that, you hear that everything is broken, everywhere. And naturally, you want to fix it, all at once. Because I think a lot of us content folk care deeply about doing our absolute best for users, colleagues, and our organisations. I love that about us. But it’s a problem, because trying to fix it all makes work feel like a Sisyphean task. And, for the avoidance of doubt, a content job shouldn’t make you feel like you’re being punished by vengeful gods.

In a content role, you’re extremely likely to learn about issues with IT, marketing, HR, learning, culture, customer service, and pretty much every area of the organisation. But it’s not up to you to fix all of it. Moreover, you can’t fix all of it.

When I run into these everything everywhere all at once problems, I find it helpful to use the model of control, influence, and concern . I list out the issues and organise them into three categories:

  • Control: things you are in control of. This is your lane, and it’s where you should focus the majority of your efforts and energy.
  • Influence: things you have influence over. For these things, I make a plan for how I’m going to use my influence: who can I speak to, what do I want to ask them for, how can we work together?
  • Concern: things that concern me, but that I can’t do much about. These are the things I’m going to try my best not to focus time, energy, or worry on, because what’s the point?

Here’s a theoretical scenario where you might want to use this model:

Your organisation – a charity – has a huge bank of FAQ content to respond to common user needs. User research and data has shown you that the FAQs doesn’t really work: people can’t find the info they need, so they’re calling or emailing to get an answer instead. There’s nowhere else on the site to put this content at the moment, and no suitable alternative content type. Frontline staff use the FAQs to support service users, and they’re very resistant to changing this section of the site because they’re familiar with it. You also have a hunch that the questions and needs people have might change a lot over the coming year as the cost of living crisis deepens, and you’re not sure if the charity is prepared for that.

Your circles might end up looking a bit like this:

  • Control: You can rewrite the FAQ content to front-load the keywords in the heading and make the answers clearer and more comprehensive. You can signpost answers to the most common questions on your contact page and see if that makes a difference to the number of calls and emails.
  • Influence: You can compile evidence and make a case for scrapping FAQs and replacing them with new, more suitable content type.
  • Concern: You can share your evidence and concerns about changing needs with senior leaders, and ask them about what’s happening at a strategic level. You accept that can’t change how frontline workers feel about FAQs, so you let them have their opinions (even if they’re wrong).

I find this really helps me focus and avoid feeling overwhelmed. I think it’s a useful tool to use as part of drafting a strategy and thinking about which stakeholders/teams you’re going to focus on.

If you give it a try, let me know how you get on.

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