"Help! Lorna help!" the voice screeched in my ear...
"I'm suffering from information overload!"
I held the phone at arm's length from my ear and rolled my eyes to high heavens.
You see, I recognized the voice and I knew the speed with which information overload could happen in her case.
"Would you be calling as a client or a friend?" I enquired of her facetiously, in my best professional voice.
"You like too much money!" she exclaimed, thereby overloading me with waaaay too much information.
But my darling friend aside, what really is information overload? Do you suffer from it too? And Why don't I suffer from it?
Well...you're in luck.
Here's your chance to get the scoop on information overload, as I unpack this problem, and share my unique perspective on how to solve it.
What really is information overload?
Just to be sure I knew what I was talking about, I started this post by checking with your trusted Wikipedia for a definition of information overload.
You wouldn't believe what I found.
Then I learnt that that the term pre-dates the internet since the term itself is mentioned in a 1964 book by" Bertram Gross," The Managing of Organizations. In this book he states: Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity.
I get that!
But my favourite definition is:
the access to so much information, almost instantaneously, without knowing the validity of the content and the risk of misinformation.
To me, this is when true information overload or data overload takes place.
So the big question is: how do you avoid or reduce information overload?
Well, here is a 5-step solution that I came up with for me and I know it can work for you too...
1. Determine what you mean by "information"
For me, information is really raw data that has been processed in some way, so that it has meaning for the end-user.
To avoid information overload, you need to determine what "information" is to you.
In making your determination, you should be driven by your needs and the level of your data analysing skills. You see, data is useless without the skills to analyse it.
When your analyzing skills are strong, you can quickly decide what is relevant to your needs and discard what is not. And in so doing, reduce the level of information overload.
2. Know why you need the information
When I ask people why they need information, they look at me like I just escaped from a mental asylum. Some have even asked outright.
But I am no more crazy than you, who cannot understand that Google is a SEARCH engine, not a RESEARCH engine.
So with only a vague notion of what you need, you hop on Google, type in maybe "report" and get "About 13,820,000,000 results (0.55 seconds)". Then you start clicking and before you know it, you have clicked all the way out to the number of police reports in some obscure village in India.
So I emphasize...know why you need the information.
Do you need it to help you solve a problem? To write a proposal? To make a decision? Do you want it to substantiate a view you already have about something or do you just want to expand your knowledge.
If you're like me, you want the type of information that will help you to solve problems for your clients, deliver high impact training that helps employees perform better or offer small business services which result in rapid business turnarounds.
3. Analyse the data so that it meets your needs
Once you have collected the data, and you know what information you need and why, now you're ready to analyse the data in a way that it meets your need.
No! No...I am not telling you to manipulate the data so that it reveals something it should not. Here is an example of what I mean.
If you need the information to make a particular decision, you should analyse the data so that you discover the patterns, associations and relationships that take you towards that decision in the fastest possible time.
Analysing the data in a generic fashion provides a "hit or miss" result that escalates the feeling of information overload.
4. Don't get caught in the multi-tasking trap
It really is a trap.
Many of you believe that when you're multi-tasking you are doing several things at the same time. And you hope that this allows you to handle all the information that's rushing at you, so much better.
What you're really doing is interrupting one task with another. This mean that you're not completing either task properly and both are taking longer to finish.
Here's a solution that can work for you.
You have to remain focused so that you are not weighed down by tons of information and then be distracted from the information that you really want.
The key to staying focused is not multitasking but instead, giving your brain short periods of down time. This allows your brain to more quickly and adequately process content and leads to meaningful, intellectual output.
All this also goes a long way towards reducing information overload.
5. Remember, all information is connected to your bigger picture
You are given thousands of pieces of a puzzle and told to put them together in a picture. But you're not allowed to see that big picture on the cover of the box, so you have no idea what the finished picture would look like.
That's exactly what happens when you don't connect your need for information, and the collection of that information, to your bigger picture.
When you don't connect your need for information to your bigger picture, you're just begging for information overload. Not only are you all over the place with your data and information, but you fail to see connections and patterns that can help you improve your work.
Let me show you what I mean.
My bigger picture is the expansion of knowledge, both the type that I can resell in the form of products and services for my clients and the type that helps me to live a better life.
So when I collect information for a specific project, I always check to see how I can analyse it or repackage it so I can use it for a wider purpose or resell it. what's your bigger picture?
Your next information overload step
You DON'T have to suffer from information overload.
But you do because you seldom have a focused plan or a meaningful approach for handling information.
With this post, I have changed that for you. You now have an easy, proven 5-step approach which will place you in charge of how you download and use information.
I promise you that if you apply these 5 steps the next time you're dealing with information, you will be surprised how much you will reduce information overload.
To your information success...