10 Steps to Conquering Information Overload
The difficulty in understanding a problem and effectively making decisions when you have too much information about that particular problem – this is the definition of information overload, and we’re certain that you can relate to it.
So, how does one person handle so much excessive information that is received daily?
Answering this question becomes more and more problematic.
As technology advances, the human attention span is getting shorter and shorter.
Currently, the attention span of a fish is 9 seconds, while a human’s is 8 seconds.
That’s right, we have a shorter attention span than fish.
This information is very worrying since our attention span was 15 seconds back in the 2000s.
As the internet, and especially social media evolved, it became harder and harder to keep someone’s attention on one thing when there are so many interesting things out there (on the internet).
With all of this information only one search away from us, it’s becoming impossible to process everything as you should in your daily life.
We can’t even measure the number of sources of information we’re exposed to – newspapers, television, mobile phones, e-mails, the internet, and so on.
The consequence of information overload is the paralysis to make decisions with so much information available.
So, today, we will cover how to overcome this.
We will guide you through the process of conquering information overload and help you to stop delaying your decision making, and help you make the right decisions. Grab a pen and paper, you’ll want to remember this!
Let’s get to it!
STEPS TO CONQUERING INFORMATION OVERLOAD
Step 1 – Figure out where the information is coming from.
Maybe you feel overwhelmed because you are bombarded by news and the media? Maybe you have a lot of exams to study for? Maybe you’re making an important decision and you’re projecting all the possible outcomes in your head?
Whatever the case may be, figure out why you are feeling overwhelmed.
Finding the source of your anxiety helps you find a solution for it.
Step 2 – Write it down.
When you feel like your mind is playing against you instead of helping you, it always helps if you write your thoughts on paper.
Everything that’s been troubling you, once written on paper, becomes like less of threat.
Whether you’re panicking about a big choice you have to make, your long-term plans or your big to-do list, writing it down helps you calm down and think clearer.
Grab a piece of paper and dump your mind onto it.
Everything that is in your thoughts should be on that paper.
If you’re debating yourself on a big choice you have to make, write out the pros and cons for every option, narrow your choice down to a couple of best options and look at which feels better or which gives you things that are more important for you.
If you’re planning for the future you can draw your perfect future in 5 or 10 years and then reverse-engineer it. Write down everything you need to do to make that picture come true.
If you’re feeling lost with the number of obligations you have, making a to-do list will help you get back control over your tasks.
One of the best tools for creating to-do lists is the urgent-important matrix.
This matrix is a great way to determine which of your tasks are most urgent and important, and which aren’t and can be delegated to someone else.
Step 3 – Do the most important thing first.
Most of us have the highest focus and energy when we wake up (not counting the rare so-called Night Owls, who peak late at night).
When we wake up, we are fresh and prone to make better decisions than later in the day.
This is why we recommend that you do your most important task first. Yes, even before you check your social media or e-mails.
By doing you know what is most important first, you get the sense of control – that you control your time and obligations and not the other way around.
By doing the most important task first thing you wake up, not only will you prevent distractions from stealing your time away from you, but you’ll also prevent procrastination, which is a really big problem for the most of us.
Step 4 – Group similar tasks.
Changing your focus from doing one type of task to another requires a lot of energy. Imagine ironing your clothes and then writing your essay for school.
Wouldn’t it be better if you talked to your friends about their essay’s during breaks, instead of jumping onto a completely different action?
If you have a lot of e-mail to go through, try to clear them all at once.
If you have several classes to catch up with, try to do them all at once as well. Need to make a few phone calls, try to do the same.
Well, since you’ve already started doing it, if you keep doing it, you’ll gain momentum and complete it faster than you would if you switch to do something else.
Not only will you finish it faster, but you will have a feeling that you completed something.
This feeling will fill you up with energy and the good news is that it’s addicting, so you will want to do more!
Step 5 – Stop believing in multitasking.
You’ve probably heard by now about multitasking – the ability to do two or more activities at once. You’ve maybe heard that it’s impossible to do, and we’re here to tell you that’s the truth.
Our brain isn’t created to do two things at once. When you multitask, you’re actually just switching your attention from one activity to another, you’re not doing two activities at once.
Like we’ve explained in the previous step, switching your attention from one activity to another drains your energy, so why do it?
If someone says that they’re good at multitasking it just means that they can switch their focus from one thing to another really fast. Think about it, you can’t be at a meeting and answer a text at the same time.
Once you open the text on your phone and you start reading it, you will think about how to reply to it. Just like that, you’ve left the meeting.
Even though your body is still present, your mind is somewhere else, thinking about that text, and not about the topic of the meeting.
Think about the last time you tried studying while the TV was on. How did that go?
Maybe you didn’t watch the entire episode, but your attention certainly switched to the TV at one point in time.
This is why multitasking is one of the worst habits people have.
Plus, it doesn’t give you that feeling of accomplishment. It just makes you feel rushed and more anxious, so it actually makes you more overloaded with information.
Step 6 – Filter out the information you’re getting.
Nobody knows what is important for you than you. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I really need to read every e-mail with equal focus?
- Do I really need to be subscribed to this list?
- Should I really spend so much time on social media?
- Should I answer all of my messages?
These questions will help you optimize the sources of information better.
Maybe it’s time to completely distance yourself from some sources, while it may be time to better group some of them.
For example, you could mark your e-mails by threads, or you could delegate some communication to a co-worker.
Step 7 – Limit your distractions.
If you leave the WIFI on your phone on, you’ll never get anything done.
You’ll probably get messages, likes, comments and e-mails every minute.
Social media is built so people can’t resist to open them as soon as they think something new happened.
The urge can really be unbearable so it’s easier to turn off your WIFI entirely for a couple of hours.
Don’t worry about missing something out. If something is important, it will reach you even if you’re offline. Remember, people functioned well before the internet as well.
It’s best if you have a couple of times per day where you check what’s been going on online. This aligns with the previously explained step to group similar activities.
If you’re answering messages or e-mails, answer them all at once when it suits you.
If you’re checking your notifications on social media, check them all while you’re there.
Here is a bonus tip for you – turn off push notifications. You don’t need them interrupting your deep work.
Step 8 – Take a break.
When you feel tired and fatigued, know that it is completely fine to take a break.
Nowadays, a lot of people are talking about how breaks and sleep are for the weak and that they’re a waste of time.
Well, actually, if you don’t take breaks, naps or sleep well, not only will you be less productive, but you can seriously damage your health.
Taking short breaks in-between work helps your mind to readjust and recharge.
A break can be lying in bed for a couple of minutes, talking to a friend, watching a YouTube video (just be careful not to stay on there for too long), just whatever works best for you.
Research has shown that naps between 10 and 20 minutes help us feel fresher than we were and are just short enough so you don’t fall into a deep sleep and feel even more tired when you wake up.
If you feel sleep deprived, try having these short naps and you will see how your mind is sharper!
Step 9 – Limit the time you’re willing to spend.
If you’re like the rest of us, and you have a little perfectionism in you, you’ve probably noticed that sometimes you spend a little more time than needed on certain tasks.
For example, you finished your presentation for a project in 24 hours of work, when it could’ve taken you about 6.
But you didn’t want to use a premade template, you wanted to create your own. You could’ve used a regular font but you had to go through 10 different websites to find the “perfect one”. Does this sound familiar?
It might not have been a presentation, but it could’ve been you – cleaning your car, making that special lunch, preparing for a night out, spending so much time on social media doing nothing and so on.
We all sometimes perfect the things that don’t need to be perfect. This slows us down.
To prevent this, it’s good to decide how much time you are willing to dedicate to a certain activity and limit yourself to that time. Force yourself to finish that activity in the given timeframe and you’ll use your time better.
Step 10 – Practice meditation.
Meditating is so popular in some cultures because it helps people feel calmer and more focused. It is the art of focusing your attention on your breathing and your body.
It helps with viewing yourself from a third-person point of view, and that is why some people say that their problems don’t feel that big after they’ve meditated.
It is a spiritual process which can be very beneficiary, so if you haven’t tried it already, give it a go.
After a few unsuccessful attempts, you will get better at it and see how it helps your mindfulness.
WHAT CAUSES INFORMATION OVERLOAD?
Although a lot of responsibility for such huge information overload that is presented today can be attributed to information technology and electronics, they are not the original causes for information overload.
Actually, even centuries ago, people complained about “too many books” being available.
This was the case even when books were handwritten on papyrus rolls. After printing became a practice, more people had access to more books for a cheaper price.
This is when it happened – people had more information than they can read.
Nowadays, zillions of tons of data are being produced from smartphones, computers and other electronic devices. Everything is at our fingertips.
All we need to do to find a certain piece of information is to look it up online and voila! We have it.
Not to mention how much new data is being generated by the minute. More than 24 hours of video is being uploaded to YouTube every minute, and trillions of new texts are sent.
All of this information is being used to help companies adjust their products or services to your preference and guide your choices.
But the problem is that you never really can tell if you’ve made a perfect choice or not when so many choices are available out there.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF INFORMATION OVERLOAD?
“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher.
This quote couldn’t be truer for our generation.
Things are changing at the fastest rate this world has ever seen and no one can keep up with them.
Economical, social, technological and ecological innovations are happening all the time and companies are putting a lot of effort to just keep up with these innovations so they can survive on the market.
People always need to learn new skills to keep up with what is wanted on the market. For example, if you work in marketing, you have to know all the trends that are happening.
How social media works changes by the day, and if you don’t keep up with those changes, pretty soon you’ll be out of work.
Even the most experienced professionals, whatever their area of work may be, often feel overwhelmed by the amount of change that occurs.
Some effects of information overload can be noticed on an individual level, where some are only noticed when you look at the bigger picture and how information overload affects society.
Let’s take a look at these effects, one by one.
i. Individual Effects
A positive correlation between change and physical deterioration has been discovered by researchers.
In 1967, Holmes and Rahe created a psychological tool called the “Life Change Scale”, which measures the amount of change an individual experiences during a given period of time.
This questionnaire asks people to write down the number of important changes that recently happened to them. These changes can be, for example:
- moving to a new company
- marrying or divorcing someone
- choosing which college or university you want to get into
- birth or death of a family member
- moving to another country, and so on
The result of the questionnaire is given when the sum of all the changes is multiplied by the weights given to them.
The “Life Change Scale” proves that people who go through more changes in a shorter period of time are more likely to become sick.
One interesting thing about this conclusion is that it doesn’t matter whether the change was good (a promotion) or bad (getting fired).
As we can see, a change affects us physically as well as mentally.
Most of us love control, and when we don’t have it because we can’t control changes around us, we tend to get angry, anxious or scared. When faced with changes, people have a fight (aggressive), flight (anxious) or fright (play dead, don’t do anything) reaction.
ii. Effects on Society
Probably the biggest effect on society you’ve noticed is anxiety caused by information overload.
This is best evidenced by the excessive number of drugs being consumed for sleeplessness, tension, digestion and anxiety. All over the world people are feeling anxious because of what they see in the media and their day to day struggles which cause stress.
Nowadays, people are more prone to saving instead of investing, because they are scared of what happens next on the market. Who knows, it might crash, as it did in the past.
Plus, you never know when you might be out of a job because a machine can do what you do, so you might as well start saving now.
This is exactly what the majority of people is thinking, all because of information overload.
This uncertainty has helped religions survive since they give you the promised afterlife.
People who aren’t religious are proven to be more fearful, anxious and uncertain because they don’t think they know what comes next. Today, this leads to more new religions being created.
It’s not exactly the case that more bad things are happening than before.
Actually, statistically speaking, this is the safest time in the entire history of the world you could be living in.
But, since you can find information everywhere, you will be notified about the bad news more than you would before.
Even though water, electricity and food have never been more accessible and illiteracy is at the lowest point it’s ever been, people are still feeling insecure in this world.
Do you think that there is too much progress happening too fast? Well, some people do.
Although the majority is still unaware of how information overload impacts their lives negatively, this topic is getting discussed more and more. Information overload is beginning to be taken seriously but people still aren’t taking any action because of it.
Hopefully by reading this article. You’ve found new ways you can overcome information overload, but more importantly, you’ve understood why it’s important that you do so.
It’s getting harder and harder for people to focus and keep their attention on just one thing, therefore it’s getting harder and harder to completely finish things, especially the big projects.
It’s very normal to feel anxious or scared because you’re bombarded with information.
It’s also very normal to get stuck on decisions when there are so many factors to take into consideration.
But, as you have seen, there are numerous easy ways to help yourself calm down, recharge and get back to thinking fresh! Good luck!
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