How to Win the Fight Against Information Overload

By Esther Cohen


For quite some time now, the central problem of information work isn’t the lack of information; it’s the surfeit of it. Between email, text messages, social media, articles, videos and visual content, you have your hands full dealing with information.

Way back in 1960, psychologist and behavioral science pioneer James Miller wrote:

“Information overload is a problem of the times…The sheer physical bulk of scientific and technical publications appearing in the United States has doubled approximately every 20 years since 1800”.

Since then, the amount of information available to an average person has increased exponentially. 2.5 exabytes of new data is produced every day; the equivalent of 530M songs or 788,400 hours of HD video.

How do you cope with this onslaught of information and still stay productive? How does information overload affect your habits? And what are some tactics you can use to fight information overload?

I’ll share answers and tips in this article.

How Information Overload Affects Your Brain

The surfeit of information doesn’t just affect your productivity; it affects the way you think and perceive the world.

Writing in The Atlantic, Nicholas Carr notes:

“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. (The) Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.”

Other writers echo similar sentiments. Dr. Kenneth Freundlich, echoing a Royal Institute of Technology study, notes:

“When we continually overload the system by trying to store too much in working memory, the brain loses some of its processing power…Further, by overloading the circuits, we lose the important periods of inactivity that facilitate optimum cognitive efficiency”.

You might have felt this yourself. Long articles (such as this one) become a chore to go through. Short Snapchat videos and color-saturated Instagram pictures get millions of views.

For information workers – creatives, writers, project managers, marketers, programmers, etc. – there are three aspects of information overload that are worth noting:

The Multitasking Myth

The ability to juggle multiple tasks is worn as a badge of honor in the modern workplace. Despite its pervasiveness, however, there is no evidence multitasking is actually effective.

Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT, notes:

“[Our brains are] not wired to multitask well…When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”

This cognitive cost is called “task switching” or “set switching”. In layman terms, it means that every time you have to switch from one task to another, you have to activate a different part of the brain. This switching takes time and energy, especially if the tasks are very different in nature (say, switching from writing an article to watching a video).

For information workers, this task switching often manifests itself as information overload.

Anytime you get interrupted by an email notification, a Slack message or Go to the full article.

Source:: Business 2 Community

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