There’s a massive value in being informed because information and data run the world today. It only feels natural that the more you can amass at once, the better you’ll be equipped to deal with the realities of life. But is there a point when there is simply too much information? An inflection point at which your ability to process the data at your disposal causes a blockage? Information overload is not hype nor a made-up word that people who love to stay oblivious use to push information away. It’s a significant problem we all have, and it’s only exacerbated by technology year after year. So, how do you prevent information overload, and should you even bother?
What is Information Overload
Perhaps the best way to understand information overload is to picture the opposite of it.
You’re in a cabin in the mountains—no phone, TV, or newspapers, except those you saved for kindling the fire. The dancing flames in the pit send sparks up in the air. You move your chair a bit backward to steer away from the smoke. Somewhere in the distance, an owl hoots…
Yeah, a bit much, I get it. That’s almost too much serenity, although I’m sure all of us would enjoy it for about a day, maybe two. After that, we’d get jittery.
We want to know what’s going on. We need information. Serenity and peacefulness are fantastic to get us to reset, but not many of us envision that as a permanent way of life.
Why? Because we are creatures who love to consume information.
Of course, there’s no shortage of mediums today. With every generation, they seem to double. Not too long ago, there was just the newspaper. Then came the radio, followed shortly by the TV. Then, the TV programs meant to entertain us morphed into 24-7 news channels.
Not long after that came email, forums, and social media.
We have social networking, micro-blogging, photo sharing, podcasting, video broadcasting, above and beyond all the traditional communication methods.
It’s an avalanche of information that keeps pouring. Even if you want to stop it, it’s almost impossible because it’s everywhere.
Most importantly, everyone around you consumes it continuously, and you don’t want to be left behind, do you? I know; neither do I. Although I wish I’d be able to sit in front of a fire and listen to that owl hoot more often than not, the truth is, I much instead consume information. At least, that’s my instinct.
Is it good, though? And if it’s not good, is it terrible, or merely a little bit not good?
How Does Information Overload Manifest Today?
The main problem that we’re facing today is not the amount of information. Information was always there, only it was categorized and locked away, and when I say locked away, I mean you had to make efforts to get it.
For instance, not farther than the early 90s, if you had a burning question about something, you had to make serious efforts to get it. If you wanted to learn about something that was not trending at that moment on TV, radio, on in the newspapers, you had to wait for it. Or, worse, you had to pick up the phone and call someone, and that someone could’ve been just as clueless as you.
In the end, you’d concede to the lack of information and move on with your life.
Today, if you have any question that pops into your head at any moment of the day or night, all you have to do is fire up the search engine on your phone, and with a few taps, there’s the answer.
And here’s where things get more complicated. Your brain is easily distracted, especially when there are so many things to be easily distracted by.
Have you ever searched for anything on Wikipedia? I bet you did. I also bet you found at least some answer because almost everything in the known Universe is there nowadays. But did you stop there, or did you continue by clicking a few links?
If yes, why? Because it was there and it was… interesting, right?
Your attention got hijacked by the availability of information, and you felt compelled to continue the search to the next topic. After all, those topics must be related since they link from one to another.
Information Push and Pull
That is the kind of information overload that manifests in a “pull” form. That’s when you are looking for something, and it’s not that you’re looking for the needle in the haystack; instead, there’s an entire pile of needles, and you need to check all of them.
The second manifestation of information overload comes in the “push” form. That’s information that comes to you without you even wanting it.
It’s the email from a co-worker or friend asking you to check this incredible video or the notification from Facebook that your BFF posted something new. It’s an alert from your security app that someone on your street spotted an Amazon box thief or a ding from your FitBit that you’re supposed to take some steps.
These are constant knocks at your brain’s door, asking for attention.
Your brain is, therefore, not only prone to falling into the trap of the information rabbit hole in which you joyfully jump head-first, but it’s also now a victim of information traps the entire world is throwing at you.
No wonder your brain has no moment to think for itself. It’s too busy processing incoming data.
The Dangers of Information Overload
The problem of information overload is not the information itself but your focus. Our brains are wired to focus on one thing or a limited amount of items at any one time. That is also one of the main reasons why research has shown that multitasking doesn’t work.
When there is too much information coming to you all the time, and you also seek such information constantly, you’re like a fish in the pond, and food is pouring from every direction.
Therefore, your brain becomes incapable of focusing on anything, and, over time, deep concentration fatigue sets in. To counter that, you resort to different numbing techniques that temporarily alleviate the problem by pushing all the information away.
But numbing is also not a proper coping mechanism. It’s no different than an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. It might be fine down there for a while, but eventually, the head must come out and, guess what—the sand storm is still going.
So, how do you prevent information overload in a manner that is still conducive to you functioning productively, consuming the information you need, and performing the tasks on your list?
How To Prevent Information Overload
One of the best ways to prevent information overload is to create filters for information. Although you do not control how data is broadcast across all mediums during the day, you control what you allow yourself to be connected to.
1.1 Unplug—Except for designated times when you look at information, block access to data. That means removing all notifications from your phone, tablet, and desktop computer. It also means putting your phone in quiet or airplane mode when you do specific, focused work.
1.2 Shutdown Email—Email is one of the biggest focus hijackers of all time; therefore, it’s critical to learn how to manage it properly instead of using you. The best way is to minimize the email client window or simply close it. You’ll only access your email during designated times. In this way, you can focus on your critical tasks without interruption.
1.3 Read and move on—There will be times when you’ll hear about a piece of information, and it will pique your interest. An explosion, a death, what have you; there’s no shortage. You can take a break to review it if it’s something you care about deeply, but don’t bask in it. Find out, and move on. Resist the temptation to look for the same information or more and more details in ten other places.
Curate information sources
There’s no shortage of ways in which information can get to you. There’s already too much information between all the news outlets in print, audio, and video. The fact that all social networking sites have turned their “feed” into a quasi news feed doesn’t help either.
2.1 Have one news consolidator that you trust (google news, apple news, etc.). Keep that one and remove all the rest. Make sure you curate that medium, too, only to show you the type of information you care about (most such apps allow you to create your favorite streams of data).
2.2. Use a news feed blocking app, such as News Feed Eradicator, to remove the distracting news feed, but still post if that is part of your content management strategy.
2.3 Block ads on most sites you visit using an ad blocker such as uBlock Origin.
2.4 During designated times when you are researching for information, unlock those blockers and deliberately look for what you need.
Today, we all take our work and hobbies everywhere with us. Most of those activities live inside our phones or tablets, and those little devils never stop bothering us—when we are at dinner, they ding, beep, and vibrate, pulling us from the present moment. Shielding yourself from information overload means shutting off the possibility of us being snatched away from the moment.
That means that when you are at work, block anything else that distracts you from work, including some disrupting co-workers. Later, when you are with your family, put your laptop and phone away. It would be even better if you had a work-dedicated phone and a family and friends phone, but that’s not always possible.
During those times when you engage in relationship-building activities, don’t let the TV run in the background, and don’t keep your notifications nearby. Be present instead.
Cleanse your mind
No matter how good you are at keeping information away from you, there are times when you won’t be able to keep it all away. Just take a stroll through Times Square or any other giant metropolis, and you’ll see what I mean. Information is everywhere, and its creators carefully designed it to capture your eyes and, through your eyes, your mind.
To prevent the cumulative effects of information, you need to “cleanse” yourself and purge your brain of all of that junk.
4.1. Practice meditation daily to recenter yourself and become connected to the present moment. Having a short daily meditation routine is proven to remove the effects that information overload has on you.
4.2. Mindfulness will come with meditation, but you must also learn to practice mindfulness throughout the day, not just within a meditation session specifically. That means focusing on your awareness and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and emotions. The more you do that during the day, the more connected you are to the present moment and less likely to be mentally driven away by the avalanche of information in your life.
4.3. Yoga is another excellent method to distress your body from the day-to-day. When you practice yoga once or more times a week, you work on balance, flexibility, strength, and you’re doing it while focusing intensely on the exercise. You are learning how to let go of the rest of the world and reconnect with yourself.
4.4. Journaling is a fantastic tool to cleanse your information palate. Often, the information you get will be disturbing. It will continue to linger on the fringes of your mind and prevent you from being present, sleeping properly, and even functioning altogether. Journaling is a way of allowing those thoughts to pour out on paper, which, in turn, releases their grip on your mind.
Create a priority system
Once again, you cannot control the type and volume of information that comes your way. But, if you take the time to define the priorities in all the different areas of your life, you’ll be able to control where this information goes and how it affects you.
Although you might like to call yourself a Renaissance man or woman, that’s a dangerous game to play in this world that is constantly looking for consumers. Take the time to define what you genuinely care about and to what extent.
Then filter all the places you have control over and only allow them to deliver the kinds of information you care about. Have a quick mental filter that assesses the priority of everything in real-time.
Note that doing so in your head is also exhausting, so you need systems in place that help you do that, such as the blockers and other methods discussed above.
But even when information manages to squeeze through, prioritize it. If it’s not high on your list, let it go.
Work on your creativity
Information overload is mainly a result of multiple inputs competing for your attention. These are things that crawl their way into your mind and then stack there one over each other and develop mountains of pressure over your mind.
Outputs work the opposite way. Some of the things that are weighing heavily on your mind can be released through creation. When you create more than you consume, you develop a natural shield against information overload.
Hobbies such as painting, writing, sculpting, knitting, and many more require deep focus and isolation from inputs. Advanced tools, such as Julie Cameron’s Morning Pages, act as a valve to your overly informed brain, and the result is a temporary release.
Curate the people in your environment
The information doesn’t come only from inanimate channels. Lots of times, news comes from people. It can be in the form of stories, complaints, rants, etc. Sometimes, some of that information and the mental weight that comes with it will pass on to you. It will add up on top of all the other pieces of information you’ve consumed that day and sit on top like a massive anvil.
Although listening to others with empathy and helping people in need are critical life skills, it’s also vital to realize when some people become serial information dumpers.
It’s okay to listen to a friend or family member who needs help but understand the difference between that and simply becoming a dumping ground for all of their problems all the time.
You need to realize when this happens and limit or curate the way you interact with such people.
When you don’t know what you want to do in life, you’re prone to the “throw shit against the wall and see what sticks” phenomenon. If you don’t have any goals, you won’t have any strategy to approach life. You’ll be then tempted to open yourself up to absolutely everything in hopes that someone or something extraordinary will come along one day and give you direction.
That’s a sure way to let yourself be overwhelmed by information overload continuously. Soon, you won’t even see the real opportunities because of all the crap that conceals them.
A better way is to have a self-reflection session and create a life vision for yourself. From there, define your priorities, and develop goals that are empowering and motivating. When you have goals, you can filter only the information relevant to your life and dump all the rest. Goals act as a focal lens and help you curate what comes in, how, and when.
Leisure with intent
Although leisure implies letting it all go and just relaxing, doing so with no rhyme or reason will also open you to information overload. That in itself will undercut the purpose of leisure, which is to help you rest and recover and disconnect.
If you again open the flood gates to everything and anything during those times, it will have the opposite effect.
Instead, organize your leisure time with intent. Know what you’re after; use what you enjoy and block the rest. By doing this deliberately and intentionally, you can attain rest and recovery instead of opening yourself up to yet more information overload.
Clear Your Mind of Information Overload
I know you think of yourself as immortal, at least some days. I do, too, probably more often than I should. But the reality is that we’re not; we’re neither immortal nor robots or computers. When information overloads us, we don’t simply heat up, reboot, and start anew.
Realizing that you suffer from information overload is not hard. Simply wake up, and it’s already started. It’s so prevalent in our world today that you must be living among the Amish not to feel it.
But if you don’t want to live among the Amish, you must develop strategies to deal with this overwhelming problem and prevent it from escalating and taking over your life.
The tips in this article work, and I’ve practiced them personally over the years. Today, I can’t say I have reached that ideal level of Zen, but I’m at least heading in the right direction. If you keep practicing, so will you.
Over time, information overload won’t paralyze you anymore. In fact, after a while, it won’t even affect you. You’ll ride it like a surfer who uses a deadly wave for enjoyment because he learned how not to be killed by it.
Take that journey yourself, and you’ll be happy you did!
Other Resources on Information Overload
- Save Yourself! 7 Ways to Prevent Information Overload
- 5 ways to overcome information overload in the workplace
- How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done
- Information Overload Is Crushing You. Here are 11 Secrets That Will Help.
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you feel like information overload is a problem in your life?
- What are some strategies you use in your life to prevent information overload?
- If you could banish one news medium forever, which one would you choose?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!