How to Reduce Information Overload
We live in a world full of information being thrown at us, every moment of the day, constantly demanding our attention. In our everyday lives, we are being constantly hit with streams of incoming information. I recall days where I just felt so ‘full’ from information that my mind feels numb, and I’m sure you can relate.
Information overload occurs when we try to receive more information than can be processed. The noise this effort creates in our minds and our lives can be overwhelming. Here are the reasons that I decided to consciously reduce my information appetite:
- Productivity Loss – In the face of too much information, we can easily get lost in the details. We waste time focusing on unimportant information and lose sight of our goal and purpose. The extra data distracts away from our major tasks for the day. How often have you turned on your computer to check email, and ended up surfing the net for hours?
- Mind Clutter – The noise created by media, and other sources of information, clutters our mind and takes away from our inner peace.
- Lack of Time – Rich or poor, young or old, we all have the same limited amount of time in a day. And instead of spending a good chunk of my day filtering through incoming information, I’d rather spend the energy on bringing more enjoyment and fulfillment into my life. I want less time catching information and more time to live life.
- Lack of Personal Reflection – I found that if I am constantly consuming information, then I forget to connect with myself. I have found that valuable personal reflection comes when we create a ‘space’ for it in our lives. An example is the person who constantly has the radio on. If there is always noise, then we won’t have the mental capacity to reflect within.
- Stress & Anxiety – Information inflow creates the illusion that we have more tasks to fill our lives, than we have time for. Often, we might suddenly feel nervous without understanding why. Every piece of information carries with it energy, which demands our time. Even if we consciously ignore it, part of us saw that data and recorded it within our subconscious. So, we feel that we have lots and lots to do. This can create stress.
Too much of a good thing is never good, and this is especially true of information. We can’t live without a certain amount of information, and much of it is unavoidable anyway.
The following are ways to reduce your consumption to diminish the chaos and bring peace of mind:
- Reduce Information Intake to the Essentials – Decide what your essentials are. Which types of information and source actually provide value to you? Decide how much time you truly need to spend on things like TV, Internet, magazines, news, etc. After you’ve decided, make it a habit.
- Stop Checking Email Every Two Minutes – Most of us can’t stop using email completely, but there isn’t a reason to check it obsessively all day. Choose set times and durations dedicated to email, and then stick to it. I know that I am guilty of this. I used to check email 20+ times a day, now I check email 3 times a day for 30 minutes or less. I check email for the purpose of filtering and reducing information. (link: 4 step guide to banish email clutter). Reduce email checking to a schedule with a time limit. Scheduling is a great practice to ‘batching’, where we gather and work on similar tasks consecutively.
- Purpose – “Start with the end in mind” before you’re about to do something. Doing this helps you become very efficient at managing your time. Having a clear purpose to your time keeps you on track and focused, while allowing you clearly recognize distractions.
- Planning – Schedule time to ‘work’ on each of the essential information tasks. You might want to break these tasks into smaller items. For example, I have scheduled times during the day to check email. I do heavy filtering into my 4 email buckets and answering quick replies. I have a second scheduled time slot dedicated to answering long emails and emails that requires additional action. I also schedule different time slots for personal emails, emails for this blog, and for work emails.
- Set Time Limits – We all have our information weaknesses, whether it’s checking the latest blogs, playing online games, watching too much TV, or carrying a cell phone or blackberry. I learned that if I don’t set a limit before doing something, I could be doing it ‘mindlessly’ for hours and hours. Web browsing or reading blogs for example, can easily take several hours if I’m not conscientious about it. By setting time limits for tasks, it forces us to get down to the bare essentials. Getting a timer helps, as using the timer on my cell phone became tedious and time consuming. I just purchased a ‘sexy’ little physical timer for this purpose. You could also find free downloadable software timers.
- Don’t multitask – You’ll get more done if you focus on one task at a time and keep yourself from getting distracted. I know how tempting it is to start doing one thing, and then diverging on something else. Before you know it, a couple of hours passed with nothing to show for it. I know multitasking can give us the illusion that we are very productive and smart. But since we can truly only focus on one thing at a time, multitasking forces us to do extra processing due to the cost of ‘context switching’ (the time it takes to switch our minds when we move from one task to another).
- Try An Information Diet – Decide to go without checking an information source for a set amount of time. Many people try giving up TV for a week, for example. Once you have completed the fast, evaluate your feelings. Did you notice a positive difference in your life? Did you loose anything by not consuming that piece of information? Is this something you would like to give up (or greatly reduce) permanently?
- Low-Tech Days – Choose a day of the week when you shut down and go ‘low-tech’ for the day. This allows you to recharge and process all the information you received during the week. If you can’t go all day, a few hours can also make a difference. No email checking, no phone calls, no reading blogs, no watching TVs, no reading the news.
- Reduce Gradually – Be gentle with yourself, and reduce gradually. For example, if you’re addicted to TV, try reducing the amount you watch a day/week/month and commit to stick to that schedule. This way, you start to reduce your TV watching to the most essential or most valuable to you.
- Email Fast – Go on an email fast for a day or several days. This is challenging if you’re addicted to email, like I am. But you’ll find a sense of liberation at the end of it. You’ll find that the world is the same as you left it the last time you checked email.
- Phone-Free Periods – Turn off your phone, or put on vibration mode in the evenings or for several hours during the day. You’ll be amazed by how much you can get done without interruption.