What Exactly Is Information Overload?
Have you ever started something new, like a new business, a job, a sport, even a fun hobby and spent endless hours trying to learn everything you could about it until it feels like your brain might explode?
That may be an exaggerated example of information overload, but many of us experience it daily because we have instant access to vast amounts of information at our fingertips.
Did you know that information overload can cause physical symptoms?
It’s true! It can cause headaches, mental confusion, eye strain, stress and moodiness.
It can even lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, cardiovascular issues and more.
Aside from physical symptoms it can also cause problems in both your personal and professional relationships.
I know that may seem extreme but the reason it can take such a toll on your life is because most information overload happens by choice.
Sufferers often choose to be on social media all day.
They’re surfing the web for the next bite of juicy info, watching videos and binging on latest news stories or TV shows.
It’s almost like drinking water straight from the tap.
Anytime you want to learn about something, you can turn it on and start consuming a never-ending stream of information, especially online because it’s easy to get drawn down into the rabbit hole of unending information.
So much so that it becomes hard to determine what information is good and what isn’t.
– It can lead to poor information filtering
When you’re bombarded with so much information, your brain can’t filter it properly.
Which means that instead of filtering it in terms of importance it just generalizes all information as being the same. This is terrible when it comes to making decisions.
– It leads to bad choices
If you can’t properly filter information to determine what’s true, what’s right or what’s wrong, you’ll have a hard time making good choices.
Information overload can cause you to choose poorly on any number of issues, because the excess noise causes confusion making it hard to determine what’s right.
– It can harm relationships
Information overload can also cause harm your relationships.
If you’re always on your smartphone, looking at social media and aren’t present in your life, it can take its toll on your family.
If your partner, family and friends are always complaining that you’re spending too much time online then chances are you’re doing damage to those relationships, so take notice.
– It can lead to black and white thinking
The world isn’t black and white. The world is colorful, black, white, gray and everything in between and more. The same can be said for many issues.
There are very few issues that are either right or wrong, black or white.
If you have too much information at your fingertips and are rating everything the same, it’s easy to see things as black and white, which can make it hard to have a happy life, achieve your goal and become successful.
– It can lead to memory loss and more
When you’re suffering from severe information overload, many people start to experience mental symptoms such as short-term memory issues, confusion and even depression.
If you find that you’re feeling confused, forgetting appointments and aren’t doing your best at work or home there is a very good chance that information overload is the culprit.
Information overload sneaks up on you and it can be a big problem for a many of us. Need proof? Watch the news.
People are wrecking their cars because they’re unable to turn away from their text messages.
Who knows how much money is lost in overall productivity due to information overload.
When it comes to overcoming information overload you can do your part by trying to limit the time spent online randomly researching one topic after the other.
Try to avoid multitasking such as working on your computer, checking email, scanning social media and listing to the news all at the same time.
Instead try to focus on completing one task at a time or at least stick to one topic rather than multiple ones.
This can be extremely challenging because most of us are used to multitasking and working through interruptions.
Which (realistically) can’t always be avoided, but when it comes to reaching your goals it’s important to teach yourself to block out the noise that comes from access to too much information, especially when you’re striving towards real success.
Fact: Information Is Everywhere!
Louis Freeh a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation once said that, “Collecting intelligence information is like drinking water out of a fire hydrant.”
While you’re not likely collecting intelligence while you’re searching for information, it’s an excellent analogy of what information overload is like.
Most of what we consume will spill out, be missed and left unprocessed because it’s too much pressure on the brain.
– Feeling stressed
One of the main symptoms of information overload is stress.
It feels like your brain is being bombarded so much so that it causes you to forget things, which is what creates the stress and even compounds it.
– Lack of confidence
You would think that the more knowledge you have the more confident you would be, but this isn’t always the case.
When you have access to so much conflicting information, it’s hard to determine between fact or fiction therefore making it hard to choose the right course of action.
For example, there is a ton of conflicting information surrounding the Atkins diet.
Some saying that it’s good for your health and others stating just as strongly that it’s bad for health. How do you know which information is right and which wrong?
If you can’t figure that out how do you proceed?
This leads to lack of confidence and can cause people to not make any choices at all or even worse feeling bad about the choices they do make.
Now imagine how that lack of confidence can impact reaching your goals. It can literally keep you from making the decisions necessary to achieve success.
– Improper filtering
We touched on this briefly in your last article, but I think it’s very important to understand that when too much information is transmitted to the brain, the person receiving it often shuts off in a way.
Normally the filtering process categorizes information as important or not important, but when there is too much there is often improper filtering.
This essentially means that everything processed is general and all information is the same.
– Not knowing what’s right
When there’s so much information with seemingly factual studies supporting them, it’s hard to know what’s right or wrong.
For example, is a Paleo diet better or a vegan diet better for weight loss and health? Which studies are right? Is there any way to know?
– Feeling confused about common things
When you don’t know, what information is real and what isn’t it’s hard to determine what you should believe let alone what you can base decisions on which ultimately leads to confusion about things that you’ve generally known to be true.
– Fear of change
When you can’t determine what the information you receive means, it can cause you to fear change because you don’t know if that change will be good or bad.
Since information overload leads to black and white thinking, this can increase the fear of change that most people have naturally.
Sometimes information overload from the feeling that you can multitask everything. Which is an extremely common side effect of today’s society.
We feel as if we have to juggle everything at once just to keep up, but the truth is humans aren’t designed for multitasking.
In fact, studies have shown that it can significantly reduce efficiency and performance because the human brain can only focus on one thing at a time.
Multitasking has become a way of life for many of us and goes hand-in-hand with information overload.
You may not even realize you’re doing it because it becomes second nature especially if you’re a parent trying to juggle work, home and family.
It’s also an extremely hard habit to break because we often feel guilty when we aren’t trying to do several things at one time.
Exercise: To help control the need to multitask and avoid information overload try limiting your exposure to screens if possible or at the very least try to focus on one task at a time.
It’s important to avoid multitasking whenever you can especially when it comes to achieving your goals.
At first this may feel as if you’re wasting time and not getting as much done, however with practice you’ll find that you are accomplishing things in a more efficient manner.
You may also notice that your thought process is clearer and your performance is enhanced.
How to Avoid Social Media Overload
We all know how popular social media is.
We also know that if left unchecked it can become a real-time suck, but what most people don’t realize is that it can send your brain into information overload faster than any other form of information consumption.
This type of overload can quickly lead to symptoms such as confusion, lack of decision and decreased productivity. It can also cause others.
For instance, looking at screens and seeing the streams of (often contradictory) information on your social media accounts can lead to eye strain, headaches, stress and even high blood pressure.
Even if you’re doing it for work, you have to admit that sometimes it isn’t, at least not the productive kind of work you should be doing.
However, if you can focus on productivity instead of activity, you’ll be amazed how much more you can accomplish.
– Schedule social media time
The first step to avoiding this type of overload is not checking your social media at random.
If you use any type of social media, then I’m sure you know how a quick peek at your Facebook or Twitter feed can easily turn into an hour or more scrolling through, checking statuses, replying and tweeting to friends and followers.
Instead, create a plan that gives you certain times and days that you spend on social media. This will help keep you from getting sucked into the abyss.
I know this can be difficult at first but if you teach yourself to stick to a schedule, you’ll start to notice that you’ll feel less overwhelmed and become much more productive on and off social media.
– Use automation
Did you know that you can automate certain social media tasks? This is especially great if you are using social media for your business.
Smart automation can help you get the most out of social campaigns without causing overload.
For example, with tools like Hootsuite and Sproutsocial.com you can automate post scheduling, so you can get meaningful content out consistently without having to create it every single day.
Instead you can spend an hour creating a weeks’ worth of posts and set them to go out once a day.
This way it looks like always there for your followers, even while you’re busy doing other things.
Tip: They also have aggregators that can pull in relevant information that you can share, making your job that much easier.
– Focus on what matters
If you’re using social media to connect with customers then money-making tasks should come first, then relationship building, then personal activities.
If you don’t have a plan of attack when you check your social media, you’ll get sucked in.
Find someone to help you with social media if you’re using it for business. There are many social media managers who are good at helping you do the job properly.
If that’s not your main money-making activity, let someone else do it.
– Turn off notifications
It’s all too easy to get sucked in when you see one notification after another pop up, so turn them off especially when you’re working, with your family or out with friends.
The world won’t collapse if you aren’t in constant touch with social information, so only turn them on during designated times.
– Don’t lie to yourself
Many times, being “busy” feels good. It feels like you’re really accomplishing something. But, the truth is, not all activities that keep you busy are productive.
It’s important to be honest with yourself about why you’re doing something.
When you can do that, you’ll naturally start avoiding information overload, gain more clarity and focus.
How to Manage Your Email More Effectively
Avoid wasting time and feeling overwhelmed by your overflowing inbox.
There are a lot of time wasters in life and when left unfettered email is one of them. You open your inbox and see a hundred messages all clamoring for your attention.
The next thing you know you’ve wasted an hour sifting through all the information, although it may be useful there’s no way for a person to ingest every bit of it.
It can be overwhelming. Even if you delete your spam, there is still a lot left over that can be difficult to manage.
But, you can get a handle on your email by following these simple tips.
– Check on a schedule
Depending on your responsibilities, it’s best to limit the amount of times you check your email. For me one to three times a day works.
For example, I check my email in the morning, then before I finish working for the day and sometimes right before bed depending on what I have going on.
Set up a schedule that works for you and keep in mind that fewer trips to the inbox mean less wasted time.
– Unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t read
I’m guessing you’ve signed up for several newsletters and while they may be full of information you know you’d love to read, you never do.
You just save it for later and later doesn’t come.
If you have an inbox full of messages that you haven’t opened for months then chances are you can live without it, so unsubscribe.
This will not only reduce the amount of email you receive it will help you focus on the more important ones.
– Reply, schedule, delete and save
It might be tempting, but you don’t have to reply to every single email. When you open an email, if you can answer it right away, do it.
If you can’t, put it in a “reply by date” folder. So, with each email, you should be able to reply, schedule a reply or delete it.
There will be very few emails that meet the “save to read later” category. Ensure that you are very picky about this.
If it’s not something you know you can act on, delete it and make sure you delete your saved emails every thirty days.
– Extract important information
Instead of leaving emails sit in your inbox try saving the important information.
For instance, if you read an email that links to an article that will help your research copy it and put it into a word file, visit it and bookmark it or use something like Evernote to keep track of it.
Then you can delete the email and move on.
– Set up a receipt folder
When you pay bills, or shop online you’ll get a lot of receipts and you may need to save them for tax purposes.
If so, set up a folder for receipts to go into, with the tax year on it; for example, 2017. Then filter all receipts into that folder.
That way you’ll have any receipts handy when you need them.
– Use an autoresponder
Even in your regular email you can set up an autoresponder that lets people know you received their email and will respond to them as soon as possible.
You can also use it to provide other information such as alternate methods of communication. That way, if something is important they can reach you.
Autoresponder are a very powerful tool especially for business, because you can set them up to perform multiple tasks like following up with customers after a purchase or to send a monthly newsletter.
– Set up filters
Most email programs make it easy to filter information, so that before you even look it’s labeled a certain way. This way you can manage the email more efficiently.
There are some emails you simply don’t need to open and read. This way you can delete them more easily and see the important messages faster.
For example, you can filter messages that have certain words to be labeled with that word, so you can search that word and answer them faster or delete.
Organize Your Life
in a way that helps you avoid information overload and frees up more time.
We all have times when we feel as if there is too much to do and not enough time to get it done.
But, how does that explain those people who are super-productive and seem to get so much more done than the average person?
The best way to explain it is that they’ve learned how to focus on what’s most important to them at the time.
They’ve taught themselves to block out all the noise that comes from the internet, social media and email that leads to confusion and overwhelm.
– Determine what’s important
When it comes to achieving any type of goal it’s important to prioritize and learn how to say no to habitual time wasters.
Let’s face it there are some things that we do daily that may seem important but they don’t really propel us towards our goals.
We’re all guilty of this from time to time, but if you want to be successful it’s important to determine what’s most important, so you can focus.
To help avoid this, sit down and make a list of your daily tasks. Divide that list in to two categories. What will help you reach your goal and what won’t.
After you have your list prioritize the tasks according to importance.
Of course, you’ll have things on your list that you must do like laundry and errands that won’t necessarily help you reach your goals, but by prioritizing the goal oriented tasks you’ll gain greater focus and clarity.
– Schedule everything
Once you know what’s important, use a good calendar to schedule everything, including leisure time.
Spontaneity is nice, but we don’t always have time for it and while it may not sound romantic to schedule date night with your spouse at least it will ensure that it happens.
Just make sure when you’re scheduling things to be realistic about your time, so you don’t overbook yourself.
– Say no
You probably have a lot of people, family, friends, your co-workers asking you to do all sorts of things to help them and while being kind and helpful are wonderful traits that will serve you well in life at some point there must be a line drawn.
If the things they want help with are keeping you from reaching your goals and they are perfectly capable of doing them themselves then (for you) they are time wasters.
Realize that it’s OK to say no to things that just don’t align with your goals.
It’s even okay if people think you’re a horrible person for saying no, but most of the time they won’t, especially if they care about you.
They’ll either get used to it and find someone else to do it or better yet do it themselves.
– Turn off the TV
It’s amazing how much time TV can suck from your life, not to mention how much information it floods into your system.
Talk about too much, now that we have Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming technology, anything we want to watch is available on demand.
Binge watching is becoming an all too common thing and it can steal your whole day.
Try limiting your TV (show watching) time to a certain time of day. Better yet, only watch it if you can combine it with physical activity to help you stay healthy.
Save the binge-watching for when you’re on vacation or sick in bed.
– Get offline
This is a tough one, because the Internet can be an important tool for business.
Many of us, myself included run a full-time business online so it’s impossible to stay offline.
However, we can limit the things we do online as we discussed in a previous paragraph.
Start by tracking your time online.
Be brutally honest with yourself and determine how much time you’re actually working and how much time you’re surfing from one website to the next or scrolling through Facebook under the guise work or research.
Find out how much time you’re wasting, then set a limit.
– Automate daily tasks
With ever changing technology there are so many tasks that can be automated.
The more things you can set on autopilot the more time you’ll have to focus on reaching your goals.
For example, if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can get many household items like paper products, cleaners and even food that you use regularly auto shipped to you, which will save you a trip to the grocery store.
There are also many stores that allow you to shop online like Sam’s Club and Best Buy. They will get your order ready so all you have to do is pull in for pick up.
Check your local stores to see if they offer it.
– Hire help
I know what you may be thinking why hire someone to do things that I can just as easily do myself?
A lot of things such as yard work, housework, and even cooking can be done by someone else.
If you don’t like doing it and you can pay someone else, it will give you more time to focus on the tasks that will help you achieve your goals.
By taking the time to organize your life in a way that helps you avoid information overload it will naturally free up more time in your daily schedule.
At first you may find it difficult to make the changes we have discussed in this course and there will be days when you still feel overwhelmed, but if you start with small changes and work towards eliminating excess information you’ll soon find that you’ll have more time to on focus on reaching your goals and be that much closer to achieving real success.