How to Combat Information Overload and Maintain Your Sanity!

By Lorie Rosenberg

Today people are bombarded with more information than ever before, and this phenomenon is literally taking over their lives. If they're not actively involved in a particular activity, they're either on the computer, on the phone, or watching some show on TV. You seldom see someone quietly sitting or fully engaged in a face-to-face conversation, because most of the time they're on their phone texting, checking their Instagram or Facebook account, or seeing what's happening in the news.

And for some people, this information overload is not only making them less productive, it’s literally lowering their IQ. Studies have shown that checking an email while handling other tasks can lower your IQ as much as 10 points. And if you’re in the habit of constantly checking email, then you’re probably pretty much brain dead by the end of the day!

And that’s the essence of the problem. We’re all constantly distracted from our “real” work by interruptions from e-mail, text alerts, Tweets, personal interactions, phone calls, Facebook, and Instagram. And the list of new apps, games, and other technology continues to grow!

What's even more humorous is that I even interrupt myself. You might call that procrastination, but it’s not them I’m stalling on my work. I just literally think of something I have a question about and there I go looking on the calendar, checking the fitness schedule on my phone, or finding a recipe I want to make for dinner. I actually distract myself by my random thoughts and instead of putting them aside to deal with later, I become intent on getting answers right now before I forget it.

One of the reasons that  I think I do this is because it’s so easy to get distracted. Information is literally at our fingertips so when a thought comes in our heads, we respond to it! We start researching it on the web, browsing on our phone, or checking our email for the answer. And before you know it, we’ve wasted 20 minutes researching something that really wasn't that important!

So how can you get this type of behavior under control? First realize that there’s a problem. And no I don’t think you’re going to turn into an "Information Junkie," but you may be having some issues with information overload that you need to get under control so you can actually get more done each day, while maintaining your sanity in the process.

Here are some ideas that will help get you started:

Change Your Belief about Email

Will the world come to a screeching halt if you don’t answer every email in your inbox? Is it really essential that you check your email more than 3 to 4 times a day? If you answered “yes” to one or both of these questions, then you’re probably not handling email efficiently. I’m actually betting that if you’re like most people, you check your email first thing in the morning, and then pretty much continually throughout the day. And my guess is the reason for this is that you don’t want to miss any important messages and that when you do check your inbox there won’t be 50 or more emails waiting for you. Handling a few at a time isn’t bad, but the idea of responding to 50 to 100 emails is overwhelming!

You have to ask yourself, "How many of the email messages in your inbox are really critical?" And if there really was an emergency wouldn’t someone text you or call you on the phone? So is it truly necessary to constantly check your email or even worse yet, get a notification every time an email shows up in your inbox?

Any productivity expert will tell you that it is better to handle like tasks at once because it saves time. Therefore, a more productive way to handle email is to set aside a particular time each day to manage your email list, such as just before lunch or when you’re ending your day. Then you can handle similar tasks together and save time. And you wouldn’t get distracted from more important work every time an email comes in.

The Truth about Facebook and Instagram

A lot of people are on Facebook and are actively posting items on their wall. And while it’s fun and it’s great keeping up-to-date on people’s lives through their Facebook posts, the truth is that Facebook doesn’t really add much else to your life. And it eats up a whole lot of time. As Betty White put it when she hosted Saturday Night Live several years back…”I have to say that now I know what Facebook is, it seems like a huge waste of time.” And no truer words can be said about Facebook. It is fun to look at posts from your friends and family and see all the many friends (or acquaintances) you have, but it isn’t going to build your business or make substantial money for you! It may build some awareness for you and your company, and you may get some actual business from it, but in reality it probably takes up more time that it’s worth.

No News is Good News

Now that our kids are grown and out of the house, I’ve come to realize that, “no news is really good news.” At their ages, they usually call if they want to tell me something that’s good or something they're angry about. So when I see their face come up on the phone, I’m hesitant about answering because I’m not sure which one it will be. And while I want to be supportive no matter what, their bad news really negatively impacts my day.

That’s what bad news does. It brings negative energy into your life, and the more you’re exposed to it, the higher your stress level. Years ago, before the advent of television and mass communication, when a tragic event occurred, you know about it if it was in your local community and you dealt with it on a personal level. Today, you know what’s going on in your city, your state and on the other side of the world. You are exposed to it everywhere, and most of what is televised is tragic. When you listen to all of this negative news on a daily basis, it can contribute to your depressed state of mind; it can cause you increased anxiety or even elicit intense anger.

And while it’s good to stay current on what’s happening in the world, for most of us, we have little control over what’s going on. That can cause a powerless feeling  because we're helpless to do anything about the many horrible things happening in the world.

That’s why it can be good to limit the amount of news coverage you watch each day. Rather than listen to the news, I listen to music, which brings me peace and uplifts my spirit. And while sometimes I’m a little clueless as to what’s going on in the world, I tend to be a little happier living in my insulated environment.

What’s important is to understand how news affects you. If you can manage all the negativity that the news creates, then you’re probably okay watching it. But if it’s depressing you or causing anxiety, then you might want to limit the amount you watch or determine the type of coverage that offers the least impact. TV news coverage may be too graphic, so try scanning articles online. This may reduce the intensity of emotions you’re feeling and still enable you to be current on what’s going on in the world.

The More Choices…the More Decisions to Make

Having more choices is not necessarily a good thing. In the past, there were fewer choices to make in life. From the clothing you wore to the food you ate, there were far fewer choices to make. The grocery stores were half the size of the big super grocery stores so there were fewer choices to make. Now you can spend hours trudging down each of the aisles making decisions on the foods, brands, sizes, non-gluten, non-GMO, no coloring, low sodium, and other options to ensure you’re eating the right foods.

There are more brands and styles of any type of product you can imagine. And now you can shop in the store or online with thousands of products to choose from. It’s mind boggling the number of decisions you make each day just to live a “normal” life. And this doesn’t even take into account all of the online business tools and apps that will help  make your life easier. Or do they?

Where Will It End?

Face it…it’s never going to end. Technology is moving at an incredibly rapid pace…and innovations are being developed every single day. The difficulty is trying to keep up. It seems as if you tackle one type of technology and there’s another one with more features and benefits ready to take its place. And another one you’re going to have to learn.

That’s where you have to set your own limits and boundaries. Develop habits that minimize the useless information you're exposed to. Set boundaries to block out negative information that causes you stress and impacts your health. Basically create behaviors that shield you from all of the information that can overpower your brain. Here are a couple of tips that may help:

  • Limit the amount of news you listen to on a daily basis…unless it’s good news.
  • Only check email when you absolutely need to and minimize the times you check Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, Wikis, discussion forums, Weather.com, and other phone and computer apps.
  • Check out one of the new apps that help you filter out your email more effectively to reduce the amount of spam and unimportant email from your inbox
  • Shop at smaller grocery and department stores and buy only what’s on your shopping list
  • Use online shopping sites such as Amazon to help you with your purchase decisions
  • Don’t get sucked into the latest, new app that needs more care and feeding and takes up even more of your time
  • Take time off from phone, email, and computer to get unplugged and away from information that’s cluttering your brain
  • Incorporate meditation, exercise and stress-reducing activities to cope with the challenges of life

Recent studies have shown that on average, knowledge workers spend around 20 hours a week managing email. This is staggering when you consider that most people are being paid for a 40-hour work week. Yet most people are unable to get all of their work done in just 40 hours a week, and are using time outside of work to handle email and other communications. This really cuts into their quality time at home.

The bottom line is that it’s up to you to handle information and its impact on your life. You can let it take control of you…or you can modify your thinking and behavior to manage it more effectively. The decision is yours to make!