What Information Overload Has to Do With Your Personal ProductivityAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
"Knowledge is power, but information is not." ~ David Lewis
Information overload is a phenomenon that has been studied and written about by researchers and experts in fields such as psychology, sociology, information and business science.
Some of the pioneers in these studies include Herbert Simon, who wrote about the concept of “bounded rationality” and the limitations of the human brain in processing information, and Alvin Toffler, who wrote about the impact of technology and information overload on society in his book “Future Shock”. It was Toffler who coined the term “information overload” in 1970.
Other experts who have studied and written about information overload include David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, and Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance.
In the Age of Information, practically everyone has access to the Internet, emailing is growing exponentially every year and social networks have opened up new channels of communication. The cost of storing and duplicating information tends to zero, which means that our computers have increasingly larger hard drives which we soon end up filling with countless videos, e-books, music, photographs, etc.
Clay Johnson mentions in his book The Information Diet that the average person consumes about 11 hours of information every day, reading articles like this one, books, news, watching TV, listening to the radio, looking at their Twitter timeline, reading their friends’ Facebook wall, etc. For Johnson, the proper term is not overload but information overconsumption. The reason is that the term overload blames information and relieves us of all responsibility (how am I to blame for being bombarded with all this stuff?).
Information overload is a phenomenon that occurs when an individual receives too much information at once, making it difficult to process and understand all of it. This can lead to a decrease in personal productivity as the individual feels overwhelmed and is unable to concentrate and complete their work effectively.
There are several factors that contribute to information overload:
- The volume of information received: when we receive more information than we can process, it becomes difficult to sort and prioritize what is most important.
- The complexity of the information: complex or dense information can be more difficult to process and understand, resulting in a greater cognitive load and reduced productivity.
- The speed at which information is received: when we receive information at too fast a pace, it is difficult to process it effectively.
Much of the information we consume, we consume because we want to. And although the information itself is not harmful, we often use it to make decisions and this can be important. Therefore, we should be concerned about having good information consumption habits. Johnson says that we should look at the problem from the point of view of health, not from the point of view of effectiveness and productivity. Neurology has shown that information overload, in addition to altering our ability to make decisions, can produce anxiety (information fatigue syndrome) and its psychological effects also influence our bodies.
Just as there are foods that, although we love them, are not good for our health (fats, sugars, salt), there are certain kinds of information that we like very much but do not benefit us, at least in large quantities. It’s the one that makes us entrench our beliefs. Much of the information we receive is biased. We are aware of this and, in fact, we prefer this information to that which is unadulterated. That is why we prefer the news from a certain TV channel, read a certain newspaper or follow certain people on Twitter. This kind of information, which helps us confirm and reinforce our beliefs, allows us to create stronger and more united communities.
However, this way of consuming information leads us to new forms of ignorance. As we receive large doses of biased information, we don’t even consider that there are other possibilities nor, of course, does it cross our minds that those who think differently may be right.
You can do several things to avoid information overload:
- Set limits on the amount of information you consume: this may involve setting limits on the amount of time you spend reading or watching the news, or limiting your social media consumption.
- Use tools that help you manage your attention and organize information: there are many tools available that can help you organize and prioritize your tasks and information, such as personal productivity apps, note-taking apps, and project management software.
- Take breaks and practice mindfulness: it is important to give your brain time to rest and process the information you have received. This can help you stay focused on what’s important and better manage your workload.
These are times when everyone wants our attention – companies, organizations, individuals, political parties – and not everyone does it in an honest way. Maybe we should change our information consumption habits and start consciously choosing what kind of information we want to consume and in what quantity, don’t you think? If you keep the consumption of information at bay, your thinking and the quality of your decisions will improve and, therefore, also your personal productivity.