Information Overload: How to Stop Too Much Information Premium

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More information is available from the past 25 years than all that accumulated over the course of the previous five centuries. Unless you know how to find your way through this rapidly growing body of data, information overload can result in lost productivity. How can you keep up with today’s flow of infobesity?

Managers have a central role to play in the fight against information overload. They must provide teams with an optimal working environment, helping them to resist overload by setting key benchmarks.

The key is to persuade rather than impose. Gradual implementation of new practices leads to better information habits:
1. Evaluate the impact of information overload on you and your teams: inability to prioritize, loss of time and money, high stress, etc. Then, Identify the causes: E-mail, SMS, instant messages, and social media, meetings, etc.,
2. Establish best practices to reduce individual and collective information overload on a daily basis: limit the number of meetings and participants and plan for periods of total disconnection.
3. Think about the collaborative environment: a significant part of information overload stems from the indiscriminate use of the many communication tools available. Learn to communicate and create a quality collaborative environment to help your teams effectively manage the continuous flow of internal and external information.

Get on the email diet

• Choose a specific title so that the subject of the e-mail is immediately identifiable
• Organize the text clearly in short and concise paragraphs and get straight to the point
• Don’t address several problems at once; stick to a single topic
• Limit the number of recipients as much as possible
• Banish the “reply all” option except for exceptional cases
• Don’t call your recipient to ask if he or she got the e-mail!

And don’t forget: Although overused for a decade, email is inappropriate for certain exchanges (e.g., project tracking, communication of key information), partly due to the fact that, unlike the telephone or face-to-face interactions, email rarely illuminates context.

Read our Job Aid
Office Design: Information Overload: How to Stop Too Much Information

Business Digest no. 220, October 2011.

Based on Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous to Your Organization by Jonathan B. Spira, Wiley, June 2011.