Information Overload, a big obstacle to productivity. How to fight it?

The internet era has now evolved into the era of information.  “Information overload” is a term used to describe the difficulty of understanding an issue and effectively making decisions when one has too much information about that issue. But I don’t want to confine this to ‘an issue’, instead I want to elaborate the boundary to every issue, every aspect of our day to day life. Now we have access to a plethora of information on whatever we want to know. Search engines very effective than ever. Our devices are flooded with tonnes of information. From tiny to gigabyte, critical to trivial, current to history, everything from every corner. Information is wealth, but it wouldn’t be if it is way too much. Unfortunately, we consume way too much information every day…whether we like to or not. I found four major problems that make us consume information more than we need to… Whether it may be in your career or in personal life, you can match the following problems with your life. Problem 1: Inability to differentiate an information, whether it is relevant or not. We collect every information we could and our systems make it easy to do. But, we don’t make target areas, we don’t focus on the issue currently in hand. Instead, we are moved by information availability and unwanted curiosity. Otherwise, we wouldn’t consume irrelevant, unwanted information that comes to our plain sight or ears, we wouldn’t put our eager in unwanted YouTube video, news, tempting viral content and anything wise. Most of the time it is considered to be procrastinating. Problem 2: Consuming quality information at the wrong time. Sometimes we think the information is a must-know, it might help someday, it is important. So we get into it very deep, even though it is not needed right now. Here’s a real-life example, you would have started browsing in search of a solution to a problem, but you end up reading something totally opposite to your intention. Maybe an article or any other content that definitely useful to you. But the problem is you’re consuming the information at the wrong time, the time you are supposed to spend on another important job. Problem 3: Don’t know where to stop. Researching too much, beyond the enough-point. ‘Enough-point’ is where you start acting on or with the information. You definitely crossed people like this in your life, well versed, knows more than anyone about things from corners of the world. But you rarely see them succeed. They are accustomed to the habit of knowing, they aced the art of consuming information but they never can act on it because they are not used to. We can see them in ourselves if we didn’t stop somewhere after gathering sufficient data to take a decision. Sometimes you’ll get more refined information only after starting a project. I tend to understand known information better and clear once I started than before starting a project. The difference is, you will start feeling things than knowing much about it. Most of the information makes sense only if you put yourself in the environment. You can always learn the new things while parallelly running the project. It’s like being more addicted to consuming information, sometimes whatever it is, but not interested to act on it. A kind of procrastination. Problem 4: Illusion of Knowledge. People believe that the more they know, the more intelligent they can become. We’ve been deceived by shallow information from many areas rather than deep understanding of one. People are more interested in knowing things in a glance, this makes them available to consume more information. That’s why we’re skimming through the huge amount of news, contents over the internet without the intention of knowing them well at all. The very unfortunate thing is, we believe, that is knowledge. Knowing a concept wrongly is more dangerous than skipping one. Another version of this problem is not willing to reach for help from others or experts. We want to do all by ourselves, that leads us to procure more information.
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”  by DANIEL BOORSTIN
For most of the people reading this, you would’ve seen or personally experienced the above list of problems in your life (in different proportions). If yes, you’re a victim of information overload and you would have been facing the following consequences as a result of it.
Consequences of Information overload
  • More information complicates the process of understanding and analyzing.
  • Too much information is dreadful at first and becomes stressful at the end.
  • Diversion & deceiving. More information paves the path to more branches and extends the boundaries, there’s plenty of chance that one may circle around and around.
  • Too much research will make you pessimistic. Sometimes the more we know, the more we think about the possibilities of failure at every point of our plan.
  • Consumes your limited energy of the day. Reading and processing information takes up all your day’s focus and mental energy.
  • Losing what is important to you the most, when your list is flooded with tonnes of information from the various point of sources.
  • and many more…

How to fight Information Overload

The first of everything to fight information overload is to cut down the information that flooding in. When I say information, that includes everything. A mail, an article you see when browsing the internet, an Instagram notification, anything from trivial to critical.
  • Cutting down sources – If you see a source that gives you trivial and unuseful information, immediately stop them from occurring again. Eg. If it is a newsletter then unsubscribe it.
  • Spruce up your settings in such way only minimal and important data knock your attention. Tune your phone’s notification settings. Eg. Muting Group notifications in WhatsApp.
  • Paradigm shift – No, not all the information are important to you. Understand the difference between unnecessary curiosity and the need.
What to do when facing a information?
  • Now or Later – Whenever a information comes to your attention, you have two options. Either you need to go through it immediately or later. There may be various reasons like urgency, importance and others to make you feel you must take it immediately. If you can digest them at the moment you received, then do that. Else just divert it to the place from where you can read them later. Let’s name the place ‘Later Inbox’. I use Evernote & Pocket apps to put my information in.
  • Fix a filter to ‘Later Inbox’ – Don’t just pass on every information to ‘Later Inbox’. Give it a glance, be a judge, if it is really worthy, then push it in.
  • Take only Time-bound content – When you search for information, take only what you can use immediately or what you can put on in action now or in very near future. This applies to everyone who got carried away in browsing.
How to lighten the information overload?
  • Organize – If you followed the above steps, your ‘Later Inbox’ have hundreds of information to process now. No, not now. Try to roughly organize the content based on time, project area and many other contexts. When I say time, some information needs your attention on or before some particular time, then prioritize the content first. Some information may relevant to your family, some towards your career. Just put them in separate places/folders. (If it is Evernote, have separate notebooks, use tags in case of Pocket). Give importance to Time-bound content and put them at first in the list.
Extra Tip: Delegate or Reach out for help – If you feel you can’t interpret all the information in your list and need to be processed within the given time frame (in case, if you’re really that much busy) provided the information are not confidential. Reach out for experts instead of digging alone for long and wasting time with more irrelevant information.
How to digest information optimally?
  • Based on goal – The more you funnel your vision, the more you move towards the success. Take only what is needed. You’ve already categorized your contents when you organize the ‘Later inbox’. Just pick the contents based on the context. First work for the need of the hour.
  • Scheduled consumption – Process information only at the scheduled time you allocated for the particular project/context. Eg. Process your career-related information at work and read the news in the evening.
  • Set Deadlines – Set a specific amount of time and limit the contents unto which you can consume within that time. This will force you to take only the content which you feel important and must. If something is left in the list, then just leave them for next turn. Working with a deadline also increases the focus.
  • Optimal consumption – Most of the time, your reading list is filled with repeated info, same content in different perspective and phrases. Do not go from A to Z. Work on important information when you’re highly active.
  • Repeat & improvise – Make it a habit… Slowly you can completely get rid of information overload.
Finally, these are the set of rules (methods) I follow to increase my productivity by evading information overload. I shared them here to give an idea to people who wants to fight the real problem practically. At first it may look like a tedious process, but later you’ll thank yourself for trying this. Good luck!

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