Is Information Overload Killing Your Productivity?

Nowadays, there’s pretty much nothing we can’t look up in an instant: where to have dinner, your friend’s relationship status, the average income of other professionals in your field.

The internet, social media and other forms of technology are a convenient way to access information, but more often than not, they are overloading our brains with more than we can process in one day.

On the surface, it seems that this kind of one-click access would make us smarter and more productive. But in reality, the data deluge is having the opposite effect causing a loss in productivity and motivation. According to a LexisNexis International Workplace Productivity Survey, “a majority of workers in every market (62%, on average) admit that the quality of their work suffers at times because they can’t sort through the information they need fast enough.”

The first step to sorting through all the noise and becoming a more efficient worker is to realize that no matter how you slice it, there are only 24 hours in a day. You can try to sort through the never-ending piles of information and hope to get more done in one day than humanly possible, but the day will always come to an end. Just because you didn’t finish everything on your to-do list, doesn’t make the day a failure. The key is making realistic expectations and being flexible when unexpected problems pop up. It is vital to your mental and physical health to understand that no matter how hard you work, you can only get so much done in one day. That does not mean you shouldn’t work hard but everyone has a limit.

Next, be pointed about everything you do. To stay on track, prioritize your information into three categories: must know, should know and nice to know. Start by tackling your “must know” pile first and work your way down. If your “must know” pile is still too overwhelming, break it down further. Don’t spend more than a few minutes on this exercise, but it’s worth doing to keep you organized.

Now it’s time to drown out the noise. Take a few minutes to identify and establish your goals so you can better ignore the noise of what other people think you should know. Of course if your boss insists that you pay attention to something, you better oblige; however, most of the time we waste time sidetracked by the noise created by those around us. Drowning out that noise will only help you avoid being weighed down.

Finally, if you find yourself getting nowhere, take a break and consider changing course. Just because you are expected to retain an overwhelming amount of information in one day doesn’t make you a robot. And even robots need a reboot occasionally. Allowing yourself time to clear your mind will give you mental space for absorbing more knowledge when you return. If time away doesn’t clear the way, consider moving on to something else for a while. Come back to the thing that got you stuck another time or abandon it all together. Chances are there is another path to finding the same information and accomplishing the same goal. There is always more than way to achieve the same results.

 Lindsay Broder, The Occupreneur™ Coach (on Twitter @occupreneur), is a certified professional coach based in New York. A Wall Street veteran, she specializes in Occupreneur™ coaching, strategy and crisis-consulting services for executives and organizations who strive to improve their businesses or careers.