Breaking Free of Information Overload

“I need more information on this”,  “What’s happening on Twitter Today?” or “What are the people on Facebook up to?”. We all know this feeling. Every single second of the day, something new pops up on our feed or our inbox – and we always feel the urge to pause and take a look or read just a little bit. At the workplace, we do this almost all the time even when working on demanding or important tasks. Some of us can’t even finish doing a chore at home from start to the end without touching our phone. The fear of missing out (FOMO) has eaten right into the core of our existence. Technology has giving us access to the information we otherwise wouldn’t have access to especially when we need it, but it’s also creating new psychological disorders that affect people in real life.

So, what exactly is Information overload? The definition I like to use comes from the man who coined the term ‘Information Overload’. Bertram Gross, professor of political science, in his 1964 work, The Managing of Organizations described it this way, “ Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Decision-makers have fairly limited cognitive processing capacity. Consequently, when information overload occurs, a reduction in decision quality will likely occur.” From this description, when you have more information than your brain can process, then you’re suffering from Information overload. As Gross also explains, this condition affects the overall quality of your decisions. Which means you tend to make poor or bad decisions.

One may ask, what are the causes of information overload. The truth is there are many causes and we’re living with them. There is just too much information everywhere about anything and everything. Huge volumes of new information are being constantly created. There is pressure to create and compete in information provision – leading to a quantity over quality effect in many industries. The channels to receive information have also increased these including social media, radio, television, print media, websites, e-mail, Smartphones, blogs, etc. Also, the increasing weight of historical data available together with the high volumes of conflicting, contradictory, and plain old inaccurate information that we consume everyday affects our decisions. There are also no simple methodologies for quickly processing, comparing, and evaluating these information sources. The lack of clear structure in groups of information and poor clues as to the relationships between those groups all contributes to the reason we’re so knowledgeable than any other generation in history but yet so depressed.

I also have my share of information overload. I didn’t realize it until sometime last year while I was working on a project. Each time I go online to do research or study I begin to feel stressed. I became so uncomfortable, at a point I thought it was my workspace, that I needed to get a new chair or perhaps change my table. Also, I used to feel like I was not making progress, even when I did. Eventually, I had to ditch the project and that was the end of it. However, a few months later I started to observe another pattern. Anytime I check social media even for just a few minutes, I end up spending more than an hour. Hence my entire workflow gets disrupted and so was my productivity. Such distractions cost companies a lot of money. Recent research shows that Intel loses about $1 billion annually as a result of reduced efficiency, in the form of time lost to handling unnecessary e-mail and recovering from information interruptions by employees. I had been thinking of how to tackle information overload, so I went in search of new information (got overloaded again) and successfully made a list of some ideas which I’ve since tried. While I’ve made significant progress with some, I’m still battling with others.

If you want to ensure that you don’t fall victim to information overload again. I’ll suggest adopting any or all of these tactics.

It’s okay to ignore information. Even though I won’t suggest that you ignore an email from your boss or client. It won’t hurt if you don’t click on the new post made by your crush or your favorite celebrity or blog.

You don’t need all the facts to make a decision. The truth is I learned this accidentally and in retrospect after I realized that some of the best decisions I made were the ones I didn’t spend too much time researching or learning about.

Learn to bookmark or save for later. No rule says you have to deal with information as it arrives. Learn to create an information queue and tackle it regularly. Anytime I find something interesting, I put it to one side and tackle it later or in a quiet time of the day.

Filter information ruthlessly. Create filters on your email and ensure that only priority material catches your eye during the day. Use filters in your searches to reduce the amount of information you get on Google. Unfollow or unfriend irrelevant information sources. Only deal with what is relevant and/or important.

Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. If you work in a team or have people under you, It’s not compulsory to know everything; encourage people to specialize and then rely on their understanding to help you make better decisions.

Learn to skim. Almost every information contains a few important key points. You don’t need to read the whole 5 minutes article to get the most out of it. You can process any information quickly and still gain a lot from it by virtually learning how to skim.

Let me know if you enjoyed reading this article. You can also share your experience with me on Twitter, i’m always looking for new ways to tackle information overload.

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