Information Overload: Overview, Effects and How to Avoid It
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published 26 April 2022
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Information overload occurs when you want to digest too many materials simultaneously. This occurrence is prevalent in every aspect of society, including professional environments. Despite the vast amounts of knowledge on the internet and other sources, it's important to avoid consuming excessive information to avoid overwhelming yourself and reducing your job performance and satisfaction. In this article, we define information overload, describe its importance and outline strategies to avoid it.
What is information overload?
Information overload is a term that represents what occurs when the input of excessive data into a system overwhelms it. This process can occur when you feed a digital device like a phone or laptop more information than its processing power, causing the machine to reduce performance or stop. Information overburden can happen to people, too. It's common when using the internet, multitasking or rushing to complete a task.
Your brain may not be able to handle constructing speech, listening, reading and typing at the same time. This can lead to poor comprehension and the inability to listen to what the other person is saying. When using the internet, you can land on a website that displays textual, audio and visual content. If you don't choose what form of content to consume and try to digest everything at once, you can overwhelm your senses. It's vital to know how to identify when you're experiencing information overburden and to learn how to prevent it so you can achieve optimal results.
Importance of avoiding information overburden
Here are reasons to avoid overloading yourself with information:
Overloading your messages with too much information can overwhelm your audiences and make it difficult to share ideas. Whether you're emailing or sending a data report, ensuring your message is clear, concise and direct can improve its impact on the recipient. Giving people too much information not only prevents them from getting the essence of your letters, but it can also create room for misinterpretation and waste the person's time.
Make better decisions
When you have too much information, choosing which is best and most beneficial can be a problem. This can be an issue when you want to make decisions, especially those that require you to act quickly. Having too many variables can prolong the decision-making process, robbing you of the flexibility to take time-sensitive actions that can affect productivity and efficiency.
Enhance focus and mental clarity
Information overburden can make it difficult for your brain to focus on one thing at a time. This is why many people attempting to multitask end up being less productive. To compensate, the brain shares your mental powers, resulting in a situation where you can't achieve peak performance on both tasks. By consuming the ideal amount of information you can handle effectively, you give your mind the chance to achieve a high level of clarity to allow you to perform a task effectively and achieve quality results.
Improve relationship with data
Constantly getting overwhelmed with data can make you averse to tasks related to collecting or analysing it. When you regulate how you consume and use data, you can develop a healthy relationship with data and its application to your work. That way, you can use data points to improve performance and efficiency rather than something that prevents you from learning and gaining new insights about your work and career.
Information overburden can reduce your productivity and efficiency. When you're trying to remember things in excessive detail, it can become difficult to focus on knowledge that can benefit your work. By reducing information consumption, you can achieve mental clarity to deliver high-level and consistent performance.
Strategies to avoid information overload
Here are ways you can prevent overloading yourself with information:
An effective way to avoid overburden is to select the information you want to consume carefully. You can restrict yourself to only reading about certain topics related to specific skills vital to your job duties. For example, many people complain about their inability to keep their email inboxes clean.
Trying to answer all emails immediately can distract you from more important work and make you feel overburdened. Instead, create a specific time to check your email and reply to messages. That way, you create a barrier that prevents you from consuming knowledge that may not offer any benefits and only drains you of energy and time to do more meaningful activities.
Take a break from the internet
If you use the internet for work, you may realise that you require some level of self-control to avoid visiting your favourite social media websites. Combining activities on social media with your regular work-related internet searches can quickly overwhelm you with a deluge of information. One way to prevent this is to limit the time you spend on the internet. You can do this by scheduling the time you operate your phone during work hours. When working with colleagues, taking time off the internet can help you have meaningful conversations to contribute effectively to projects.
Have an information management strategy
Besides scheduling time to check messages and restricting internet access, it's important to create and use an effective information management strategy to avoid getting overwhelmed. One way to do this is to speak with your colleagues about your plans to better organise the information you receive. You can have physical meetings to reduce paperwork and emails and ensure that sessions are brief and straight to the point. That way, you can reduce unnecessary information and focus on the details that matter.
It's also vital to let your team know the best way to reach you, so they don't send messages repeatedly. For example, you can give them an email for the team and let them know whether you prefer text, audio or video conversations.
Skimming means to scan a piece of information for the most important details. Nowadays, many publications break their articles into manageable chunks with subheadings and bullet points. Some websites even include a table of content that allows you to go to the part of an article that interests you directly instead of reading everything. Skimming allows you to get the key ideas in an article before committing to read the entire piece. That way, you can quickly leave the page if the rest of the content doesn't interest you.
Use productivity tools
Using productivity tools can help you reduce information overburdening. One way these tools work is by blocking access to certain websites so you can focus on work. Some block advertisements on your computer, reducing the chances of you clicking on an enticing deal that distracts you from searching for quality information required for work. These tools can even have features that help you set productivity periods, during which you focus solely on a task without distractions.
Use reliable information sources
If your work requires performing online research and using the internet, one way to avoid overwhelming yourself with information is to use a few trusted sources. You can do this by assessing your data requirements and searching for the most relevant and trustworthy publications to get information. That way, you can streamline your searches and reduce the chances of coming across irrelevant information.
Having an organised workspace and planning your daily activities effectively can help prevent information overburden and other time-wasting activities. One way to do this is to avoid clutter in your workspace, as that reduces the amount of paper and documents near you. Having a schedule and creating and following a detailed calendar can help you focus on tasks that matter to your role. When you have a priority list of tasks to complete each day, it may be easy to remain mindful and avoid consuming information that's not related to your job duties.
Take a walk
Sometimes, the only way to escape excessive information and the resultant brain fog is to take a break from the office. It might be taking a short walk around the office block or going outside without your phone and just enjoying a break. If you can, a short period of mindfulness exercises can also help clear your mind and make you refreshed for higher performance.
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