What is Information Overload? + 3 Ways to Handle It
We’ve never been more connected. It’s essentially impossible not to be connected. Much of our social, personal, and professional lives revolve around a computer screen or a smartphone, along with the wealth of information they provide.
It’s no secret that the wealth of knowledge the Internet offers also has a dangerous caveat, which can be defined as information overload.
Information overload is a phenomenon that’s becoming increasingly common. Though technology does offer a generally more convenient lifestyle, it also provides a direct avenue to stress and feeling overwhelmed.
It’s inevitable to encounter information overload. Instead of prolonging or avoiding what you can’t avoid, it’s best to learn what information overload is and how you can deal with it.
Information overload is defined as “when people suffer from the fact that the amount of information they are confronted with is greater than their capacity to process it.”
It’s basically a case of your brain running on fumes and being unable to properly retain information. Information overload goes on to affect your physical, mental, and emotional health while also putting a negative dent in your work and personal lives.
This doesn’t only apply to social media, though it definitely casts a large shadow. Any form of media — be it films, TV shows, video games, music, or even books — can contribute to information overload.
There are just too many shows to stream (not to mention too many streaming services), video games to play, movies to watch, and books to read. It will take literal lifetimes to get through a fraction of all the world’s media.
Being in the know 24/7/365 is a losing battle, so it’s best not to fret about it too much.
Per a 2013 SINTEF study, about 90% of the world’s information has been generated in the last couple of years — more than the entirety of human history. Let that sink in: it only took a few years to generate more information than what it took a couple of millennia.
As with anything in life, luxuries and modern conveniences will eventually outstay their welcome.
It’s not just our social media feed or the shows we watch: it’s how we spend our leisure time, how we approach certain work tasks, and even what we do during our bedtime routines.
What all this mainly boils down to is giving your brain a break. Think of it as the primary hard drive for your body — it’ll start to sputter and overheat when running at full power for too long.
Whether you’re working or you’re blazing through the latest Netflix show, your brain’s bandwidth is being stretched to its limits. You know your own limits better than anyone, so make sure to listen to your body and proceed accordingly.
Remember that the average work day is best viewed as a marathon, not a sprint, so keep a consistent and manageable pace to avoid burnout.
Just like running, your workflow and your brain benefit from periods of rest and recovery.
Consider adopting the Pomodoro technique, a time management method that prioritizes taking consistent regular breaks. It’s a proven way to promote healthy productivity while also being considerate of the worker’s well-being.
Sometimes we have to force ourselves to take breaks, and that’s okay: so long as we actually take one.
When it comes to the breaks themselves, it is much too easy to pick up our phones and start scrolling through multiple social media feeds. Before you know it, your break time is over and you feel even more restless and overworked than before.
Take a proper break — read a book, eat a little snack, water your office plant (you should get one if you haven’t already), or even sit down and stare into your space. Your brain, mind, and even your body will thank you for a five or ten-minute break.
Speaking of staring into space…
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to do something all the time.
It shouldn’t be frowned upon to be idle every once in a while. There is true value in doing nothing for both body and mind.
Letting your mind wander can actually lead to great ideas and breakthroughs that wouldn’t have happened by constantly being hunched over a computer. Not only are you letting your mind breathe, but you’re also allowing it to draw conclusions and find places that would’ve never been thought of otherwise.
Per SCL Health, “When you turn off all distractions, it allows space for your subconscious to expand, ultimately boosting your creativity [...] You end up thinking of breakthrough, inventive answers that can lead to some life-changing ideas.”
It’s perfectly okay to not be productive all the time. It’s fine to have parts of your calendar completely open.
Though there is societal pressure to at least do something all the time, doing nothing should be looked at less as a waste of time and more as a long overdue mental and emotional self-cleansing.
You owe to yourself to do absolutely nothing once in a while. Stare into space, look out the window, sit in nature — your mind, body, and soul will thank you for it.
It’s no secret that our phones are the primary culprits in instilling feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. Almost all of the best ways to combat that small screen are analog solutions: working out, meditating, and camping or hiking.
We’ve written blogs dedicated to each of these activities, so check them out for more detailed advice.
Just like burnout, suffering from information overload is inevitable.
Many of our jobs are dependent on technology, with the simplest tasks requiring an Internet connection. You’re bound to feel overwhelmed, but what matters is how you handle it. Don’t fight fire with fire.
Disconnect, take a deep breath, and stare at the wall for a bit. Be left to your own devices, not to a shiny screen.