Information overload isn't going away, but your struggles with it can

How To Cope With Information Overload

Mar23
Buried in information but not sure what to do? If history has anything to show, the problem isn’t going away. In fact, it's getting worse.

The concept of information overload isn’t unique to the modern era. Ann Blair wrote in her 2010 book Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age that the term has been mentioned throughout history, most notably after the invention of the printing press. But it does seem that information is piling up deeper and faster than ever before.

An infographic from Qmee says it all: more information gets created every minute than you can possibly deal with in several lifetimes. I mean, 204 million emails, 72 hours of YouTube videos, hundreds of blog posts, and even more new websites created. Every single minute!

That is a lot of content. And it seems that the pace of information saturation continues to climb.

Many of us are afraid to take a vacation, for fear that when we return we will never catch up with email or what had transpired when we were offline. Or worse yet, we constantly check our email and social networks to stay up-to-date, afraid to even let our phones out of reach even when we sleep.

Multitasking seems the norm nowadays. Workers no longer seemingly have the luxury of being able to do just one thing at a time.

But you don’t have to wallow in TMI. There are several ways you can cope.

Focus

“Be pointed about everything you do. To stay on track, prioritize your information into three categories: must know, should know and nice to know,” recommends Fox Business writer Lindsay Broder. It is a good exercise to mitigate information overload, and one that shouldn’t take too long.

Maintain

Another often-mentioned technique is to maintain a zero email inbox, or at least, trying to keep it that way. This means keeping just a few messages in your inbox and handling the vast flow immediately. The more unread messages that pile up in your inbox, the more out of control the world seems. I know many people who never delete a single message, or who are somewhat proud of the accumulation, as if it is some sort of badge of honor. Start using folders and archiving messages that aren’t important, and use that delete key liberally.

A related effort is to put a “pause” button on your email account so you don’t have to be constantly responding to messages. When CA first deployed its email system in the 1990s, they automatically disconnected it for several hours during the work day, claiming it helped people get more done if they weren’t constantly checking it. That practice seems quaint now, but maybe they were onto something.

Stay on task

We all have been in situations where minutes or hours are lost to surfing the Web researching for work (or reading your favorite blogs). Again, remember to review your daily priorities and keep them in sight. Information overload doesn’t just impact you and the team around you, but your company’s broader workflow and processes. If one employee is bogged down in too much information, the bottleneck they create can cause a ripple effect all the way down the line, and that’s bad news for productivity.