Coping with Information Overload: Part II

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jun 05, 2010

"In your thirst for knowledge, be sure not to drown in all the information."
Anthony J. D'Angelo

Today we continue our three-part series on information overload. Last week we described the tsunami of information which comes flooding at us from all directions and at all times. Now we will consider some practical solutions. These techniques (five today and five next week) come from an article by Sarah Houghton-Jan titled, "Being Wired or Being Tired: 10 Ways to Cope with Information Overload." 

Some of these techniques may not apply directly to you. Your information challenge may be unique. But I have found from this list many practical ideas which are helpful and as Houghton-Jan says, "Start with one change, and move forward from there. The overall idea is to take control of the information instead of letting it control you." 

1. General Organizational Techniques. Because we are all so very busy, most of us hardly stop to take inventory of the information flow into our lives. "Much like a medieval castle," the author suggests, "the initial structure was built many years ago, and bits and pieces were built later, added on to the original structure, resulting in a massive entity with a lack of central planning." 

Florence Fass writes, "The first step in organizing the information flow is to identify its sources and methods of delivery, and then select the source and method best suited to your practice." We should all start with checking the tools we are using and how we use them. Do we manage the calendar or does it manage us? Have we made priority lists and with relentless discipline pruned them back to reasonable length? 

2. Filtering Information Received. Since we are getting a lot of information, perhaps there are ways we can reduce our input even a little. Houghton-Jan simply says, "Weed, Baby, Weed." Are all of those Twitter updates really necessary? Do we really need to read each email message when it comes into our computers? Is it possible to schedule unplugged times? Perhaps unplug completely when we need to concentrate on a major project or when we feel particularly anxious or distracted. 

3. RSS Overload. Rich Site Summary (RSS) has now "made the delivery and absorption of information much easier with an increased number of entry points for data. Since it is easier to get data, why not get more of it." And one of the ways to manage RSS is to limit the number of feeds where you get all this data. Do we really need access to all those blogs, weather alerts, airport delays, traffic updates, new music on iTunes, new computer threats, sports information, and so much more? 

4. Interruptive Technology Overload Techniques. "Some of the most interruptive technologies in our lives are those that get delivered to us instantly, whether we want them or not, with no acceptance of input on our part. The information just shows up."It can be instant messaging, text messaging, paging, and even micro-blogging technology which interrupt us making us less effective. 

According to a Basex survey, 50% of knowledge workers write emails or IM messages during conference calls. Whatever can be done to reduce these kinds of interruptions will enhance everyone's performance, no matter what they are doing. 

5. Phone Overload Technique. Some people think that the telephone is outmoded but when you reflect on how we all still use the phone, there is no doubt that these other means of communication have not "replaced phone communications, only supplemented them." 

There are times we may want to turn our mobile phones off. Specialists suggest that we guard our mobile phone number carefully and only give it to those whom we want to contact us. Of course, we can always just let it ring. We don't have to answer it. 

Information keeps coming. We must do something about it. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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