How to Prevent Information Overload

How to Prevent Information Overload

Written by Professional Academy Management and Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights

More data was created in the last two years than the previous 5,000 years of humanity. And in 2017 it is predicted by Sencha CEO, Art Landro, that we will create more data than ever before. As the amount of information increases, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed or succumbing to the fear of missing out. You need a plan for dealing with it and you need it now.

If you've ever felt stressed from not being able to keep track of everything, then you’re not alone. In this blog I’ll uncover what’s going on when you expose yourself to too much information and share some tips for regaining control.

Fear of Missing Out

Fear of missing out (FOMO) is the anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere. It can also be the thought that knowing more or having more information will help us make a better decision or enrich our life.

The big problem with FOMO is that it drains us of valuable recovery time. We put so much pressure on our bodies to keep seeking out new information that we forget to stop and re-charge our batteries – leading to stress and burn out.

So, what's driving FOMO?

Some people have suggested that it is a lack of awareness of self. When you are unsure of who you are, what your values are and what you should focus on then it is easy to get pulled in many different directions. It’s much easier to put off the big ‘what is my life purpose’ questions by spending a few minutes on social media. However, when we truly know what makes us happy and what our values are, we find it much easier to remain focused.

Steps to overcoming FOMO:

  1. Accept that you can't know all things - you can't and don't need to know every piece of information that exists in the world. If you need to find answers to questions then get savvy and seek out people who can help you. For example, if you need to book a business trip ask someone who has visited the same area to share where they stayed ad how they got there – even better, get a personal assistant. Seeking out subject matter experts is a much better use of your time than doing all the research yourself.
  2. Pick the things that are the most important – when you are clear on your values and your priorities it is easier to pick out the things you should spend time on. For example, if you want to get a promotion at work make sure you spend time working on the tasks that will help you get there. These are likely to be the trickier tasks and projects that stretch your skills, rather than the ones you have completed countless times before.
  3. Let everything go – remove yourself from meetings, clubs, organisations, mailing lists and groups that are not relevant to you. If you’ve unsubscribed from an email newsletter don’t worry about missing out on future information. Be comfortable in the knowledge you have stayed subscribed to the newsletters that bring value to you. Keep in mind that if you unsubscribe from just one weekly newsletter it will reduce your inbox by 52 emails every year.

Zeigarnik Effect

In psychology, the Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. Couple this with the habit that most people have of receiving information and not actioning it immediately and it’s easy to see why most people feel stressed most of the time. Smart phones add to this problem because we often check our phone and aren’t in a position to be able to take action with the information immediately so we create an uncompleted task.

Task Managers

The prevalence of the Zeigarnik effect is why task managers are so important. Task managers let you know what you should be working on and when – keeping your head clear.

When you are faced with a new piece of information you have three options:

  1. Do nothing - ignore / delete it
  2. Deal with it now
  3. Put it in your task manager - for handling at a later date

Getting into the habit of capturing new pieces of information in this way and turning them into a task will help you manage your time more efficiently and stop the Zeigarnik effect.

Inbox Management Inbox Management

It’s likely that you will have a number of inboxes that you manage. These are the channels in your life that are providing most of the incoming information. Identifying these and having a trusted process for dealing with them will help you avoid information overload.

Here are three steps to help you manage your inboxes:

  1. Identify your inboxes – these will mainly be found on your phone and laptop (email and apps). They also include your snail mail and your work desk in-tray.
  2. Decide when to process the inbox – once you have identified your inboxes take the opportunity to do some housekeeping with your electronic ones. Delete any apps on your phone and laptop that you don’t use. Then switch off notifications / badges on the remaining apps – it’s paralysing seeing how much you have left to do. Those nagging alerts put you at the mercy of your device rather than the other way around. Be in control of your technology. The next thing to do is to schedule into your calendar when you will process each of your inboxes. It might be daily, weekly or even monthly. Whatever route you take (and I suggest a blend) make sure you stick to your habit of only checking your inboxes when you are scheduled to do so.
  3. Resist FOMO – trust in your system. MOST OF THE TIME EVERYTHING IS OK. Switching from a reactive to a proactive approach will mean you have much more control in your life. And simplifying your world will allow you to give greater focus to the things that really matter.

Mental Health

Change can feel uncomfortable. Not every system works for everyone. Try out one new approach at a time and see what works for you – making adjustments to suit your needs. In the long term you will reap the benefits of feeling less stressed and having a clearer mind – both of which are great for improving your mental health.

If you need further advice, get in touch via My Website or LinkedIn.

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