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Overcoming Information Overload at Work

By Edited Oct 9, 2015 1 2

Most everything we touch or do nowadays tends to involve some sort of data information. If we're not being given or seeking information, we're processing it. Think about it, the various communication methods people deal with on a daily basis are chock stuffed with information.

During the course of the work day it is not unusual to receive emails, instant messages, voicemails, texts and/or faxes simultaneously. Through daily tasks we do web processing, social media and internet research. We work in database environments filled with names, numbers and statistics. The information never seems to stop flowing. As each day moves forward, people send and receive these thousands of pieces of information, and there is never a lack of it since there is always a constant new stream starting even if one ends. A person suffering from information overload is going to have trouble processing details.  The problem with this is that the rapid stream of information often leads to having to make quicker decisions and this, in turn, can lead to making the wrong decisions.1

If you have had any of these experiences, if you are anything like me, you've probably gotten to the point where you felt bombarded and, as a result, went into overload mode.

It might even be enough to make you want to pull your hair out at times.

Pulling my hair out
Credit: Kai Hendry on Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Are you or have you ever been bombarded with "too much" information?

What Can You Do?

What can you do to alleviate these feelings so you can focus and actually get some work done?

Dealing with the management of all this information can get frustrating, but nonetheless, often we must overcome and deal with it since our home or work life relies heavily upon, or is driven by, an endless supply of data. In the workplace, information is one of the most important and valuable assets a business possesses. At home, important details can also get lost in the shuffle.

On the plus side, there are some effective techniques which can help reduce information overload, while simultaneously taking advantage of the many benefits technology has to offer. While the constant stream of electronic data is overwhelming, it's ironic technology can also provide the tools that give us some ways to reduce stress. It's interesting how this same device that consumes us can also provide the avenues we need in order to kick into survival mode and get past the information anxiety.


How often is it you're sitting at your desk and new emails pop up every minute, instant messages are jingling, and the phone is ringing? While multi-tasking has some value at times, to avoid information overload, this is not a good time to try to do a balancing act.

Instead try prioritizing and choosing which stream of communication is most important at the moment, then complete that first. Once that piece is processed, move onto priority #2 and so on. As you fall into this routine, chances are you'll be able to breathe in between responses and find you actually are able to complete some of the tasks rather than have a mountain of messages building up to the point where you've fallen far behind.

Working late

Embrace File Management

Systematize your emails by ranking them in order of importance: priority response, save or delete. Then create folders for correspondence in order to sort the messages you need to hold onto for long term storage, ones 'to do' and then delete whatever you can to free up space and give yourself some breathing room. Additionally, clear your voicemail box regularly and make note of any messages that need immediate responding, then discard any you don't need. File away any information you need to transcribe and/or save for a later date. This will help alleviate that overwhelmed feeling you get when you have a mountain of messages to reply to since everything gets neatly filed away and you have a clean slate every day.

Time Management

Another tip is to set scheduled times of your day to work on email, voicemail and data entry or other electronic input. According to a 2009 Harvard Business Review piece, 85 percent of work emails are opened within 2 minutes of being received.  If this statistic is similar to 2014 (and chances are it probably is), there is probably a heck of a lot of interruption going on through the workday. Not to mention emails lead to other distractions. 

You can avoid falling into this pitfall. Segregating tasks and focusing your concentration in an orderly fashion will help eliminate some of those feelings of anxiety. For some people, breaking down the tasks reduces overload because smaller doses are much more manageable. Probably easier said then done, but if you can successfully put aside time to organize a routine and then stick to it, it works. It also helps avoid becoming distracted with other information streaming in and keeps focus on the tasks at hand.

Reduce Paper

Ever feel like the more electronic society goes, the more paper is generated? if so, examine the paper information that is generated and see what can actually go digital. If your workplace has memos and other policy information, see if you can scan them and create .pdf files and store everything on your workstation in nice organized and well-named folders.

Cat strolls by while organizing files
Credit: LizMarie_AK on Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Going digital can reduce the the clutter and empty out endless folders full of paper.

This way your desk and drawers will have more space and you won't have a mountain of paper staring at you throughout the day. Next see what other tasks you do daily that generate paper and look to see if you can't digitize them for compression and, if so, you can eliminate duplicate processing of data with both electronic and data methods.

However, this technique is not for everyone (I happen to fall into this category, I can't function without my sticky notes!) Some people are also more visual and need to see everything, or in some work environments, paper is simply not avoidable. If so, there are other methods and tools you can use to organize to help things run more efficiently and smoothly.

Information management has become somewhat of an art. Unfortunately, we must rely on it, but even though it sometimes comes in excess, it does not have to consume us. By trying to integrate some new techniques you may find yourself under less stress and left with more room to focus.

This way, when that mountain of email has crept up and filled up your box you'll be armed and ready to get down in the trenches to plow right through these messages. And you can do it with a fresh and more relaxed feeling, which is a bonus.



Jan 5, 2015 6:29pm
Excellent tips. I found that when I compartmentalized my day, I became more productive. It's so tempting, though, to check those messages as they come in. My man-servant has designated certain ring tones for specific people.
Jan 6, 2015 3:21am
I could see where special ring tones make sense, I hadn't thought to do that. I find I need to log out of FB and email sometimes, just to stop getting those notifiers since that alone distracts me and I end up checking. Thanks so much for reading and commenting Rose, very appreciated.
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  1. "Understanding Information Overload." Infogineering. 1/01/2015 <Web >
  2. "Death by Information Overload." Harvard Business Review. 1/01/2015 <Web >

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