Effects of Information Overload & How to Deal with it

You come into the office and have 30 emails waiting. Keeping your head above water is difficult, as it seems like the minute you answer one, you’ve got a dozen more waiting in its place. You attempt to clean your inbox every evening, only to arrive at the office with it filled right back up the next day.

Keeping up with “office reading” is keeping you from getting to the “real” work you need to get done in order to keep the business moving. And it doesn’t stop there – factor in the incessant IM’s, phone calls, meetings, texts, voicemails, live chats, etc., and your once neatly-planned work day is under constant interruption.

Does this sound all too familiar? This new infographic from Mindjet and Jess3 indicates that you’re not alone. (Click to enlarge)

In fact, it illustrates results from a study by LexisNexis, which revealed some shocking statistics:

  • 57 percent of U.S. workers say that since the economic downturn, the amount of information they have to process has significantly increased
  • 73 percent report that search engines give them access to huge amounts of information, but don’t help them prioritize their work
  • 91 percent of workers in the U.S. report they discard work information without fully reading it

Part of the problem is that information has simply accelerated faster than the tools we use to manage it. According to the LexisNexis survey, 72 percent of U.S. workers strongly agree that they would be more productive if they didn’t have to switch back and forth between applications to get their work done. And another 52 percent say the quality of their work suffers because they can’t sort through the information they need fast enough.

Interruptions caused by this information overload are estimated to cost U.S. companies $650 billion a year. But there are also hidden costs – the tradeoff of not doing whatever else you could be doing instead, not to mention an even greater potential cost: Burnout.

But while the bad news is that information overload is a growing problem, the good news is that it’s not impossible for workers to take back their control; with some advance planning and preparation, staying on top of those ever-growing to-do lists is not an insurmountable task.

In an article for the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Learning Innovations Laboratory Joseph Ruff, a performance management coach, lists several coping strategies, including filtering, queuing and delegating tasks as just a few ways to manage information overload. Some businesses have even implemented social collaboration tools that assist with functions like file sharing, real time collaboration, and information mapping that also help workers better manage the information overload.

It may take some time to develop a system that works best for you, but other options include prioritizing content to deal with important things first while also being able to work in chunks where you can be the most productive. Finally, sometimes it’s necessary to set standards for how and when work contact occurs in order to help keep more work at the workplace, so develop and communicate clear rules about “offline time” at home.

What are your best practices for helping to manage information overload? And more importantly, what tools would you like to see to help you get through large quantities of information more quickly?

Photo by Jorge Franganillo.

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Pooja is a Human Behavioral Specialist + a Writer and Editor of non-fiction books by the day and the night. Pooja lives in beautiful city of Melbourne, Australia.


  1. Stinker on the 7th March

    Ha ha ha ha ha ….. 30 emails …. Dream on!!!
    Try several hundred to a thousand a day.

  2. Richard Tubb on the 24th May

    Coping with the increasing amount of e-mails is something I’ve wrestled with a lot over the past few years. Techniques such as filtering messages and simply picking up the telephone instead of replying to e-mails can reduce the overload significantly.

    I wrote about the subject on my blog – How to manage e-mail overload? http://tubb.co/Ifji7U – I’d be interested in hearing any other techniques people have successfully used.

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