Information Overload and How to Break Through It!

What is information Overload? Information overload is a state of being unable to understand an issue and make a decision due to too much information. This term was most popularized by Alvin Toffler, a futurist, writer and journalist.

Causes of Information Overload: Causes of Information Overload include rapid technological advances that have made the retrieval, production and distribution of information so much easier to access than in earlier times. This has reduced the natural selection processes which would have otherwise filtered out irrelevant information and made the most vital information available.

Be it at home or in the office, we are bombarded by too much information and some of this information can come from the following sources;- email, voice mail, phone calls, meetings, business/personal journals, faxes,memos, manuals, web research, blogs, television. This list is in no way exhaustive because technological innovations have increased as we speak and so do the the causes and sources of information overload.

Effects of Information Overload:

  1. Diminishing Efficiency – be it in the workplace or at home. For example, In The New York Times December 20, 2007 Issue ” Is information Overload a $650 Billion Drag On the Economy?”, Basex, a business research firm, identified emails, Instant Messages and cellphone calls as being the cause of lost productivity and innovation. Also in the same article, Nathan Zeldes, an engineer at Intel claims that information overload impacted each knowledge worker at Intel, up to eight hours a week! That is a whole day’s worth of work spent in answering phone calls, or responding to emails and research on the web. At home, we turn on the TV as soon as we enter the door and we stand glued to the television set for hours thus limiting our productivity at home as well.
  2. Information Fatigue Syndrome – because of the need to keep up with technological advances so as to maintain your job or position as the “leader of the pack”, people succumb to increased tension and ill-health.
  3. Anxiety due to in-decision.
  4. Poor decision-making because we are not focused on one thing at a time.
  5. Difficulty in memorizing and remembering as a result of too much information.
  6. Reduced attention span because we are caught up in the maze.

These effects just add to the stress caused by the need to constantly adapt to changes in technological advances.

How to break through Information overload:

  1. Understand the tools you have then just apply only a few of them. For example: do not email then seconds later follow up with an IM or phone call.
  2. Do not overload others with unnecessary emails especially one word replies, such as ” Thanks!, Ok! or Great!” and avoid the use of “reply to all” or “CC” unless it is absolutely necessary.
  3. Focus on one task at a time, avoid switching until you have finished the task at hand.
  4. Set clear and concise objectives by breaking down goals into manageable tasks for the year, month, week, day, then hour just to keep you on track.
  5. Be accountable either to your group, clients, spouse or employer. By holding yourself accountable to someone, you will be motivated to finish the task at hand before proceeding on to something else.
  6. Get unplugged – take a few hours during the day away from computers, television and phones just to reconnect with nature, family and friends.

Conclusion: We are more and more wired into technology in the hope of improving productivity but what we really need is to get unplugged from it all once in a while and let us refocus our energy. Too much of a good thing is dangerous and so the need for moderation. The technological tools we have at our disposal are meant to enhance and optimize our natural abilities to manage and process information. Instead we have become so dependent on all these sources of information that we feel odd without them. And now with the introduction of the Apple iPad, we want to grab that too just so we do not miss out on the latest advances although, it is quite clear that the tools we have at hand are quite sufficient to accomplish the tasks at hand. According to PC Magazines, John C. Dvorak’s article on dated February 2, 2010 “Apple’s Good for Nothing iPad” John says that, the iPad has nothing good to offer and it is destined to flop. Chances are that you already own an iPod, a smart phone and/or an MP3 player which is basically what an iPad is, so why not save yourself some money and use the tools you have in hand already? Let technology work for you and not you work for technology.