How to stop drowning from information overload

Information overload is a real problemIn my first ever office job I suffered from information overload. I had access to the world on my laptop but I could never work out quite where to start.

I would love hearing, watching, reading and surfing news. I knew everything that was happening in the world –or so I foolishly thought.

Every morning I would check international news websites at work, so I could see what I had missed overnight. Plenty apparently. There were murders, car accidents, assaults and all kinds of terrible news. Interestingly, the gossip column on the right side of the page was equally prominent. It was as if the editor considered tales of celebrity crushes, cheating, weight loss and weight gain, like “Is she pregnant or just plain fat?” just as important as a civil war that would change an entire nation.

Okay, it was my fault. Well, our fault as readers really. The editors were simply trying to appeal to our crazy fantasies and above all; our need to be constantly entertained. Well played Mr and Mrs Editor. So, news is not there to inform as much as it is to entertain. More akin to a circus than a news site.

News is there to keep us engaged with a brand. Therefore we spend minutes, and sometimes hours, seeking entertainment rather than information. Time waster number one.

That’s not all that overwhelms us. We are in an ever changing world of faster communication, more efficient travel, increasing globalization and a more competitive business landscape. In some ways we are in a smaller world, thanks to modern technology, but it seems we have more than ever to worry about. That can be overwhelming.

Gone are the days when office distractions were simply an office phone, a fax machine and an annoying colleague or two. Today we are bombarded with constant distractions from websites, email, social media, skype, instant messaging and smart phones. These distractions follow us home too. Smart phones let us stay in contact 24 hours, 7 days via calls, texts, email, social media and IM. Add to that a TV, smart TV, radio, flyers in the mail, newspapers, a partner or two, a family…

Don’t worry. It’s not all bad news. I can teach you some techniques I have learned, which help me deal with information overload on a daily basis.

Start with a clean slate. Set your home page to a blank page, a search engine or something more productive than world news. Start the day only with information relevant to your current task or project, so you can avoid suffering information overload.

Cut out the ads. When you need to research or search articles online you will often be exposed to ads in headers, side bars and pop up ads. One of my favourite features in Microsoft Edge (the new Microsoft browser to replace Internet Explorer) is the reading view. Reading view lets you block out ads and sidebar distractions with a single button click. Make sure, whatever browser you use, you turn on your pop up blocker.

Narrow your search criteria. If you do often need to conduct research in your role you should consider using Google’s Advanced Search. Make your search more specific, so Google’s results will return information that’s much more specific to your search term https://www.google.com/advanced_search.

Downgrade email subscriptions. Most websites will sign you up to get alerts every day and sometimes twice. Just because you want to join a website doesn’t mean you need to let them spam you every hour. Update your subscription settings to be once a week or not at all if you prefer.

Turn off desktop alerts. Change settings in your email, social media and other software, so they don’t interrupt you with notifications throughout the day. You’re busy enough without being interrupted several times per day. Email is not urgent. I have worked with several successful corporate managers who only checked their email three or less times per day.

Filter incoming information. You don’t need to read everything on the Internet to obtain the information you need. One way to do this is to sign up for Google Alerts. Google Alerts let you enter a specific topic or search term, so you can be alerted when anything new comes up. This is a great way to gather competitive intelligence without actively searching for it.

Sort your email with rules and filters. Most email software now lets you apply a filter or ‘rule’ to your incoming email. I believe the simplest method I have found for sorting mail is to create a rule, so that everything that’s not addressed specifically to me goes into a folder marked non-urgent. That’s all there is to it. Of course you can set up a more complicated sorting system, like I have in the past, but I have found this is by far the quickest way for me.

In my current work role these methods continue to save me about 4 hours per day, so I can take that time to focus on more pressing activities. I also enjoy the fact I get to have dinner at home and spend time with my family; without needing use my laptop at the kitchen table or in my bed.

I hope you find some of these practices work for you too, so you can spend more time on what really matters.

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