16/12/2014 - 13:56

Coping with information evolution

16/12/2014 - 13:56

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Individuals and businesses need strategies to deal with information overload, which is a threat to workplace productivity.

Coping with information evolution
OVERLOADED: Too much information can be a problem. Photo:iStockphoto

Individuals and businesses need strategies to deal with information overload, which is a threat to workplace productivity.

We live in the age of information, with one recent study suggesting the average person takes in as much as 174 newspapers worth of information each day.

Even before we had the internet and 24-7 mobile connectivity, people felt they were bombarded with information; our modern tools have just accelerated and exacerbated the problem.

Dealing with the deluge that comes at us in a variety of forms can easily lead to stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. It’s essential we find new ways to cope.

The problem is that we are not built to process this amount of information. According to an international poll by global research firm LexisNexis, workers around the world are increasingly demoralised by the amount of information they have to manage. Put simply, information overload is widely viewed as a growing threat to workplace productivity and the bottom line.

Essentially, too much information stops individuals from taking action. The constant flow of data becomes a sophisticated form of procrastination. People think they have to have all the information available before taking a decision, when in reality they only need what is necessary to be able to do the job at hand.

The key is to be more selective, consume information that relates to your goals. Use your goals to help guide you when prioritising your information consumption; ask yourself if all the extra information will help you move towards your goal or away from it.

Decide what information is crucial for you to consume given your goals.

• If it doesn’t help skip it.

• If it helps, ask how soon will it help?

• If the answer is ‘immediately’, then read it.

• If it’s not going to help you for a day or two, skip it for now.

Only consume and digest information that can be used immediately and helps you achieve your goals and plans.

So, to tackle the issue in a little more detail, how do you keep up with emails, text messages, blogs, Facebook, videos, WhatsApp, Twitter, phone calls, meetings … and the ever-real busy-ness of life?

Here are five ways to help you cope.

1) Schedule breaks throughout the day. Your brain is constantly working while surfing the internet, writing, talking, etc. Walk away from the computer. Go somewhere quiet. Try to leave the phone behind for even just a few minutes. This will give your mind a chance to relax and sort information it has been gathering all day.

2) Batch what you need to read/surf and do your reading/surfing in one hit (or maybe several concentrated, focused hits) each day. Before you start reading, ask yourself what you want to get from the information; e.g. One new idea? Five new ideas? Do you want to unsubscribe from the least useful source? Do you want to find a piece of information that will benefit your most important client? Having a purpose for reading keeps you alert and engaged in the activity.

3) When you have finished reading, capture your insights. What did you learn? Which newsletter is the most useful? Save the information in a tool like Evernote so you can retrieve it easily again. Asking yourself a question gives your brain a chance to digest and integrate what you have learnt.

4) Don’t try to keep up with everything. Reassure yourself that if you need something, it’s only a search away. Focus your attention on important information first (e.g. emails from your boss or clients) then use your tools to filter out the rest.

5) Last, but not least, step away from the electronics. And have some electronic-free time. The latest thinking suggests that as well as (or even instead of) work-life balance, we need to consider our online-offline balance – find time to be offline each day. Give your brain a break and give your family your undivided attention it deserves.

In the end, the only way to stop information overload is self-control and deciding for yourself when enough is enough.

Decide and commit to implementing one idea this week, the one that resonates with you the most and notice the difference the change makes.

 

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