Dealing with Information Overload
Knowledge is power, and technology can help us work better and faster. But it can also lead to information overload and end up making life more difficult and/or stressful. One study found that every day we see the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information, which is five times as much as 30 years ago. With technological advances, we don’t even need our hands to access emails, texts, voice mails, instant messages, tweets, or phone calls—at all hours of the day.
Having easy access to information has benefits, but it can keep you from accomplishing the tasks at hand and can impact relationships. One way to stay on top is to develop a system for sorting and managing not only the information, but the amount of time spent using technology.
In our “always on” 24/7 world, information can follow you wherever you go. Here are some tips on coping away from your workplace.
Take time to disconnect. Spend some time each day disconnected from your devices. Turn them off at a certain hour, or leave them behind while you take a walk or spend time with others. Some people feel rejuvenated by taking “data fasts” where they go an extended period of time without devices.
Make the most of vacations. Try to disconnect completely for a while. Ask co-workers, family, and friends to contact you only in an emergency, and try to avoid regularly checking work and personal email. Staying connected during your downtime might negatively impact the benefits of time away from work and stress.
Drive safely. When driving, focus your full attention on the road. If you need to make a call, pull over to a safe location. Talking on a phone while driving raises your risk of having an accident, even if both hands are on the wheel. Never text and drive. In addition to being dangerous, it is illegal in most states.
Plan ahead. If you sit down at your computer or open your device without a plan, an hour can go by before you know it. To save time, make a checklist of what you want to accomplish. This might include checking and responding to email, reading the news, searching for specific information, checking social media, or shopping online. Set time limits for activities that could take up a lot of time, like reading the news, shopping, or checking social media.
Screen your calls and texts. Letting calls go to voice mail allows you to focus on the activity at hand without interruptions. Return the call at your convenience. Most text messages don’t need immediate responses—turn off alerts so you can check them at a better time.
Use a separate email address for messages from shopping and social media sites. Don’t let messages from social media sites go to your work email address—the notifications may distract you and may be against company policy. Check the inbox for these addresses once or twice a day before or after work.
Share your plan. You may find it easier if you let others know what you’re trying to do and ask for help. For example, you might say to your partner, “I’m going to turn off my cell phone for 20 minutes so we can talk. Let’s turn off the TV, too.”
Organize. Save digital files or photos in a way that allows you to find what you’re looking for quickly. You might save some items on external hard drives or in an online storage site, such as Dropbox, iCloud, or Google Drive, so they won’t overload your main hard drive. If you have a lot of digital photos, look into software that will help you organize them.
Reduce the amount of incoming information. Unsubscribe or cancel subscriptions from email newsletters, magazines, and newspapers you don’t read. Avoid giving your email address to retailers who send ads and offers, or create a junk mail account so these emails don’t clog your important inboxes. Limit the number of people you follow on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Fine-tune your internet search techniques. This will help you find accurate information faster. You might start with “How to search on Google.”
Think carefully about the technology you use. Make sure any new device—whether it’s TiVo, a tablet, a Fitbit, or a smart watch—will really help you before purchasing it