Do you sometimes struggle with decision-making at work due to information overload and want to know how to deal with this? If yes, then you will find the points in this article worth your time and consideration.
Information is one thing that you can always expect to receive consciously or unconsciously when faced with a project or task.
It is also vital in the decision-making process especially when it relates to business.
You need to be equipped with the right information in the right amount for you to be able to make the best choices and right decisions.
However, as the common saying goes; “too much of everything is bad”, and this is also applicable in information for making decisions.
It is very possible to have “too much” information about an issue or subject and this harms your approach and output.
That is when it is said that there is information overload.
You need to learn how to deal with information overload because it impedes decision-making.
This can either make your decision-making process slow or even result in you not taking important decisions at all.
As an entrepreneur whose business thrives on making timely decisions and the right ones, this is something you cannot afford to suffer from.
However, unfortunately, sometimes we are faced with this, and hence the need to know how to handle it.
As we proceed in this article, you will see some other negative effects of information overload you need to be wary of.
Additionally, we will identify some of the common causes of information overload as knowing this will prepare you to avoid or handle it.
Then, Of course, you will see the practical things you could do to deal with information overload especially at work.
How to Deal with Information Overload – Definition
Although we’ve touched on what this means briefly in the introduction above, it is still important we do a proper definition of this.
Information overload simply means having more than required, too much, or excess information about an issue, subject or task.
True, to make decisions, especially affection ones, access to quality and sufficient information is important.
However, there is a limit to the amount of information one needs to have to effectively execute tasks and make decisions.
When you have too much of this information, either from you intentionally sourcing them or it just coming to you, it can have a negative effect.
Everyone has a processing capacity for information, and the input of information must be within this capacity.
When the amount of input exceeds the processing capacity, that is when information overload occurs.
Every day, we will always have lots of information thrown at us, even the ones we did not bargain or ask for.
We are not built to process all the information that we receive at every given time.
That is why failing to devise a means of effectively dealing with such causes us the negative effects of information overload.
How to Deal with Information Overload – Causes of Information Overload
If you feel you are experiencing information overload at some point at work or while carrying out daily tasks, then you are not alone.
There are lots of people who equally face this problem on a daily.
Information overload, while it is often linked with having access to too much information, can also be caused by other reasons.
Here are some of the common causes of information overload today:
Having Too Much Information
Of course, this is the most common cause of information overload and is often used in the definition of this.
When you are given too much information on a matter, issue, or subject, more than you need, it can cause information overload.
Sometimes, this information might be provided by a third party, maybe someone who is superior and needs you to complete a task.
At other times, you might be the one seeking out this information by way of inquiries or research to help you make a decision.
It might also be that you are subconsciously taking in information on a subject and before you know it, you’ve taken more than you need.
There is just a limit to the amount of information we need to make a decision.
Therefore, taking in too much information at a time can lead to information overload.
Having Multiple Sources of Information
Depending on the kind of information you are taking in and what you want to use it for, having multiple sources of information can cause information overload.
This is so because the ideas, concepts, opinions, and approaches you get from different sources will not be the same.
You might be going one way in your decision because of the information you got from a source, and different information from another source pushes you the other way.
At that point, you are dealing with information overload and this might slow down your decision process or make you stop entirely.
Hence, it is important to limit your sources of information in a bid to prevent information overload as we would soon learn.
Having Little Time to Understand/Process Information
Receiving information is just the first step.
Before you can use the information to make decisions, you would need to understand and process such information.
Depending on the complexity of the information received, you might need time to properly process and understand it.
When you do not have sufficient time for this, you might suffer from information overload which you need to deal with.
In such cases, the information received might not even be too much in quantity, but the lack of time to process it is the problem.
Therefore, not having enough time to process information to understand it can equally lead to information overload.
Access to Irrelevant Information
Today, the number of unimportant or irrelevant information sometimes outnumbers relevant ones.
On the media, blogs, websites, social networks, emails e.t.c., you will often find a lot of information, some being irrelevant to your needs.
Having to filter this irrelevant information from the relevant ones might sometimes be a huge challenge.
And in the process of giving attention to the irrelevant information, hoping there can be some relevance in it, you might lose track of the important ones.
Hence, this is also a reason for information overload that you need to deal with.
Lack of Adequate Information Literacy Skills
Another cause of information overload which you need to deal with is lacking adequate skills for managing information.
Sometimes, we just do not know how to effectively manage the information we receive.
Also, we might not know where to look to source the right information we need.
Additionally, the problem might be correctly assessing the information received per your needs.
All these are what adequate information literacy skills can help you to develop.
And when you lack this, then it might also cause information overload for you.
Negative Impacts of Information Overload
While having sufficient information both in quantity and quality is always essential for decision making, information overload is disastrous.
Whether you are an employee who is getting information overload from your employer, or you are a business owner experiencing this, the effects are the same.
Here are some of the negative effects of information overload that makes it necessary you deal with it:
Usually, the cause of information overload that normally results in reduced productivity is multiple sources of information.
This plays out every day in the workplace, where you might need to visit many sources to get the information you need for work.
In this circumstance or situation, productivity would be on the downside.
The time that should be spent carrying out a task and completing a project is wasted trying to gather and analyze information.
And this can negatively impact your productivity at work, and reduce what you can accomplish within the set time.
Slows Down Decision Making
This is also linked to the reduction in productivity that accompanies information overload.
When you have access to too much information, you put your brain to work in figuring out which is relevant and which is not.
The decision-making process that is based on 2 or 3 different pieces of information available would be shorter than when you have 10 or more.
The more the information available to you is, the more difficult it is to effectively make a decision.
Therefore, when there is information overload, it can slow down your decision-making.
At worst, it might even handicap you such that you cannot make decisions at all, due to the amount of information available to you.
It Causes Confusion, Frustration, and Stress
As earlier mentioned, the human brain is designed with a capacity for what can be processed at a time.
Hence, when you feed it with more information than it can handle or process, it gets overworked.
The situation can be likened to someone who is engaging in physical exercise and goes beyond the threshold.
The body shuts down, and energy levels come to ground zero.
In a similar vein, when there is information overload, it can cause you to feel weighed down, frustrated, and stressed out.
And you can also see how this translates to reduced productivity as a result.
How to Deal with Information Overload – Practical Measures to Take
At one point while engaging in your daily activities, you might have to deal with information overload.
This might either be as a result of access to too many sources of information, inability to properly process information, or irrelevant information competing with the relevant ones.
Whatever the reason, be confident that there are practical measures you can take to effectively deal with information overload.
Here are some of the measures we recommend, which can help you:
Decide in Advance What Type of Information You Seek
If you are going to source for information to complete a task, project, or make a decision, it is important to know what exactly you are looking for.
This is especially necessary if you are going to the internet to seek out such information.
Today, the internet is filled with a lot of information on virtually any subject you can think of.
In fact, on a particular subject or topic, you have many things written on it, approaching it from different angles.
It is easy to get confused and have information overload if you do not decide at the start the exact information you seek.
For example, if the information you need surrounds the “how” of a subject, you might do well to avoid the “why”, if not necessary.
Trying to consume everything available to you on that subject will only cause information overload and cause you confusion.
Know Your Sources of Information and Decide on the Best Option
Depending on what you are hoping to achieve with the information you seek, there are various sources for such information.
It could be websites, blogs, online reports, researches, emails, seminars e.t.c.
You need to carefully consider all the different sources of information that are available to you and what each of them provides.
While it might sometimes be beneficial to have many options, multiple sources of information cause information overload.
Hence, once you properly assess each of the sources you have, then you need to decide on which serves you best.
You can then limit were your go-to source for information to the ones that directly solve your problems or answer your questions.
By so doing, you save yourself from “too much” information and deal with information overload.
Avoid Multi-Tasking (Unless Absolutely Necessary)
Well, a lot has been said on the effect of multi-tasking, and many business owners have had to deal with this daily.
We wouldn’t blame them though, given the many activities and projects they might need to complete in a short time.
There are also the distractions that come from emails, text messages e.t.c., which equally fight for your time and attention during tasks.
For you to avoid and deal with information overload, however, you need to learn to stick to one task at a time.
Trying to carry two or more together makes those tasks fighting for your time and attention at the same time.
There could even be a conflict of information intake, as you expose yourself to different information at a time.
And that is where information overload is all about.
Avoiding multitasking especially when you have urgent decisions to make would help you deal with information overload.
Take Away the Distractions to Streamline Your Intake Capacity
Once you get the information you need, you will also need to analyze and apply them to your needs at that time.
This would be difficult when you have distracting information around you.
One of the things that provide us with irrelevant information at the moment we are carrying out tasks or projects is social networks.
Unless your job or work function requires its use, you might find it helpful to turn it off or avoid it during the process of gathering information.
This is because the information you get from there is a different one.
And most times this is irrelevant to what you need at that time.
Allowing for such distractions would open you to other information, thereby causing information overload.
Clear your Mind Before and During Tasks
As an entrepreneur, you might have a thousand and one things running through your mind at the beginning of each day.
This might interfere with the important tasks you need to carry out during the day if not effectively dealt with.
One thing you can do to handle that is to clear your mind even before starting your tasks or projects.
This you can do by making a list of everything that is going through your head and mind.
Even as you carry out your tasks, you can immediately write down anything that goes through your mind.
This frees up your mind to focus on the most important information you need at that point.
For the things written down, you can then separate them into the ones you will do, delegate or drop as the case may be.
This is another effective way of dealing with information overload.
Learn to Take Breaks – How to Deal with Information Overload
We cannot emphasize the importance of this enough, especially for an entrepreneur with many tasks hovering around you.
You are not a machine, and even if you were, machines take maintenance breaks.
How much more so humans, whose system has a limit of what it can do at a stretch.
If you have been in the habit of overworking yourself and having little or no time to break between tasks, then information overload might set in.
For one thing, part of the information you used to complete a prior task might be competing with the new ones you need for a different task.
However, taking a break in between can help you refresh yourself, and allow your mind to access new information.
It is also a way to reset your brain so to speak, making you more effective and productive.
Learn to Delegate
As a business owner or manager, another reason you might be suffering information overload is that you want to do it all by yourself.
Let’s face it, you already have enough on your table more than you can handle.
Have you given thought to delegate assignments and tasks more to your subordinates?
This can make you win on two fronts.
First, everyone loves some form of autonomy.
And they like to feel that they are trusted to do their jobs and more.
This will help you win your employees’ trust and give them job satisfaction.
On the other hand, it can also help you to overcome information overload.
This is because it gives you a license to share some of the burdens with others.
This would save you from stress and burnout and also improve your productivity.
Review Stored Information Constantly and Update
Sometimes, you might make the mistake of holding on to certain information for longer than necessary.
It might be information that is in our brains or some cases information in hard copy documents or files.
It is very important to constantly revisit this information and ask yourself: “Do I still need this information or not?”.
If the answer is the No, then it is best to discard such information.
Then, update it with new and relevant ones.
Also, if there are two or more classes of information that you can merge, then it is best that way.
When you do this, you effectively avoid and deal with information overload.
Closing Remarks on How to Deal with Information Overload
Information overload is something you may have heard of many times, and might even be experiencing yourself.
It comes as no surprise given how many things you often need to handle at a time.
And also, the wide array of information available.
However, you need to cut down on the sources of information, limiting it to the relevant ones.
You also need to know the difference between relevant information and irrelevant ones at a point in time.
Doing this can help you to effectively deal with information overload.