Overcoming Information Overload

In this age of information, overload is a universal concern. According to a study done by UC Berkley professors and their students, each year, 250 megabytes of new data is generated for every man, woman and child on earth. That’s enough information generated to fill roughly 30 FEET of books per person per year.

The endless stream of emails, instant messages, phone calls, coupled with the piles of magazines, newspapers and regular mail take a toll on even the heartiest among us. Psychological researchers have found that the constant barrage of “informational clutter” leads to higher levels of cardiovascular stress, impaired judgment, and a noticeable drop in civility to others. If you find that you are drowning in this sea of information, you need to learn how to stop swallowing and start swimming!

Alicia on “Establishing Boundaries”

“The most important step in taking control of the information flowing your way is to set up clear rules for what information you will and won’t review. Every day there are approximately 2.5 billion emails exchanged, 1000 books published, 20 million words of technical information recorded, and 260 million minutes spent on the phone. You cannot possibly digest everything that comes across your path. Trying is like drinking from a fire hose – dangerous. So let go of the notion that you will be a failure if you miss something in the onslaught. Instead focus on the relative handful of topics that truly matter to you.”

Sarah on “Creating Filters”

“Creating filters is essential if you want to have the bandwidth to absorb truly important material. It’s safe to assume that 20% of the information you are presented with during the day is critical and the remaining 80% is not. Break incoming materials, phone calls, emails and other data into two groups: (1) need to know and (2) nice to know. You can use technological filters to identify significant data, have others sift through the detritus for you, or evaluate it on the fly. But before you open anything, evaluate it!”

Taming the Beast

Here are steps that will help you establish meaningful boundaries and create useful filters.

#1: Use Technology Wisely

Information can be distributed to you in any format you choose, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The sad fact of the matter is, the more formats you adopt, the more information you will receive (it’s a bit like major highways – the more lanes they build, the more traffic grows). But you can take control. Select one dominant technological format for receiving information about a particular topic. For example, you can choose to receive crucial facts about a high-profile work project via phone or in-person only. Match the immediacy of the delivery format with the importance level of the incoming information.

#2: Unsubscribe

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a portion of the information you voluntarily receive off the table. Review the magazines, email newsletters, and newspapers you subscribe to and reduce the total number by 50% – 80%. Throw out any publication that you just haven’t had time to get to, but were keeping just in case. Take two minutes at the start of your week to unsubscribe to any automatically generated email or newsletter you don’t want to receive – or relegate it to a junk email folder that you automatically delete once a day.

#3: Unplug

Schedule regular time to unplug. Be completely unreachable for at least 30 minutes during every work day – at lunch, after dinner, or at the start of your day. Hit the “do not disturb” button on the phone, shut down your email, sign off of instant messenger services. Whatever information is sent to you in that window can wait. Use your “free” 30 minutes to clear your head, free associate, walk, connect with a friend, or simply to think.