We all know the feeling—you are reading online news articles on a certain subject while listening to a podcast or the news on TV, and then BOOM! You feel too overwhelmed to figure out what to do next. You are stricken with a bout of what is commonly known as “information overload”—all you can do is sit and think about everything you just read or heard, making it hard to focus on any tasks you may have at hand.
Wouldn’t it be so ideal to be able to immediately move forward on future projects you need to do, rather than sit and ruminate over and over again about all of the information you consumed? One thing is certain: you would definitely get so much more done.
Well, no need to let society’s never-ending abundance of information keep you down. This article will help anyone understand exactly what information overload is and how to overcome it.
You will no longer be stuck staring at your computer screen in frustration when you need to write that proposal for work, put off your workout so you can scroll through “just one more” article on your smartphone, or let social media distract you from all of your household tasks!
So, without further ado, here is an overview of what to know about information overload and surefire ways to overcome it.
Table of Contents
What Is Information Overload?
Information overload is the act of learning so much that it hinders you from taking action.
For example, maybe you just read countless news articles, white papers, and other sources of information on a certain subject. Or, you listened to a lot of informational podcasts or radio shows and then felt completely inundated with varying perspectives and opinions.
The most common manifestation of information overload is “analysis paralysis” in which we get so much information about something that we can’t decide which decision is the best one to make. There are simply too many options brought forth by all of the information you just consumed, so you just think about all of the different avenues without moving forward.
Information overload can cause us to become so stressed out that we decide not to make any decision at all (which is in and of itself a decision). Also, according to Psychology Today,
“Information overload can lead to real feelings of anxiety, feeling overwhelmed and powerless, and mental fatigue. It can also lead to cognitive issues such as difficulty making decisions or making hasty (often bad) decisions.”
Therefore, information overload can be extremely detrimental to our psychological well-being.
Why Do We Get Information Overloaded?
Information overload is more common today than it has ever been, and there is one reason for this: we have easier access to more information than we have ever had in all of human history.
Think about it. With the advent of the internet, most of us—and if you are reading this online, then you are one of them—have access to almost every bit of information in the world now at our fingertips.
We now have WiFi-connected laptops and high-tech smartphones that allow us to scroll through and actively consume news articles, opinionated statuses on social media, e-magazines, videos on YouTube, etc. any time and any place. We have unending and immediate access to them all. All of this media consumption can affect how we live.
Are You a Media Multitasker?
Let’s not also forget all the ways we media multitask, such as when we play a show on Netflix in the background while getting caught up on our TikTok and Instagram feeds for the day. Or, when we read online news articles while listening to a podcast.
According to Good RX, “people who media multitask perform poorly on tasks requiring focus and filtering out unnecessary information.”
This can mean issues with productivity and maximizing work output in your professional life.
Don’t Forget About Passive Consumption
What about all of the information we passively consume without even trying?
Yes, we are constantly consuming information as we read ads on our subway commute to work, listen to the radio and glance at billboards while driving, keep our TVs playing as “background noise” while we cook dinner, etc. We are still processing this information without even being aware of it.
What does this all mean? That we are all bombarded with information all day long.
As humans, we were simply not designed to process this much input. We exacerbate the situation with the way we work today in the “information” economy. We have come to the point where we consider the act of gaining and passing on information (through mediums like email and sharing content on social media) the same as being productive.
This means that the more information we get and the more we pass on, the more we think we are getting done. Yes, there may be a few jobs—like executive assistance—where this is true, but for most of us, it is just overloading us with information and hindering us from actually doing work and taking action.
How Do We Overcome Information Overload?
The overabundance of information can weigh us down mentally. Yes, we all have heard the expression that “information is power”, but that is not actually accurate.
It was Jim Kwik who said,
“Information is not power, it is potential power.”
The real power is in the action that you put forth with the information you consume.
Information Is Potential Power
To overcome information overload, what you need to do is actually use this information. Don’t just let all of it stress you out and cause anxiety—apply it in your everyday life as you see fit.
That ingenious article you read in a recent industry publication? See how you can apply some of the learnings to your next business strategy. The interesting political take you heard on the radio? Share it with your friend when you two are discussing current political events.
The key is to get good at determining the amount of information you need for the task at hand. Then, once you have that information, you apply it to the task.
Do this for everything, whether it’s for your projects at work, side hustle, DIY projects around the house, or other hobbies.
Yes, this method may mean you will occasionally make a mistake. However, the feedback you get from making the mistake—more information—will help you move towards your goal more efficiently and quickly than trying to learn everything before even getting started.
This “learn as you go,” hands-on process will help you figure out the info you need to keep and filter out for tasks.
Technology Can Help
In addition to only seeking info when you need it, Harvard Business Review also recommends using technology to hold onto information that you don’t need for an immediate task. They recommend “creating a Word or Google document in which you write down information that your brain doesn’t need to remember or store. In the early days of a new job, this is a clever way to offload the overload.”
Setting the excess info aside can give you the chance to sort out and organize your information, determine what is needed right away, and then use the extra info later if needed.
How Do You Prevent Information Overload in the Future?
Shoot, ready, aim.
In my own experience with growing the Live Lingua online language school, I have found that the best way to avoid information overload is to start on a task before going and looking for any information. Yes, this means trusting your instincts and the knowledge you already have before doing any real research.
For example, I will work on something as far as I can until I don’t know what to do next. It is only at this point that I will look for the information I need to overcome the roadblock I face at that moment.
Once I have just enough information to overcome the issue I am dealing with, I go back to work and work as long as I can until I get to the next roadblock. I then repeat this process until I finish whatever I am working on.
This means that I spend just enough time gathering information as necessary, and I get the task done more quickly. Try this method out, as it can help prevent you from going down any internet wormholes, getting confused by various perspectives and articles, and then deciding you need a quick “brain break” by scrolling on social media, ultimately stifling your progress.
To Wrap It All Up
In today’s digital era, we are all constantly bombarded with information from all angles, every single day. This can cause information overload and all of the emotions that come along with it: overwhelm, stress, anxiety, and so on.
You can overcome any information overload you may currently be experiencing by using and applying the information in your life and determining what you need for a task. Then, in the future, prevent information overload by starting on a task before going and looking for any information.
Featured photo credit: freestocks via unsplash.com
|||^||Psychology Today: Is Information Overload Hurting Mental Health?|
|||^||Good RX: Digital Overload: What Is It, and How Is It Affecting Our Mental and Physical Health?|
|||^||Harvard Business Review: How to Save Yourself From “Information Overload”|