This article tries to explore the above subject and suggests methods of identifying the problem and addressing them in the following stage:
- What is information overload and how we know we have it ?
- How do you avoid information overload at work ?
- How to manage written overload ?
In part 2 we will cover the following :
- How to deal with Verbal overload ?
- How to avoid overloading other people?
- How do you learn without overloading ?
“Information is power” – Most of us would definitely agree to this statement. In today’s world there is always a free flow of information coming in our daily lives. Many a times we feel that we are loaded with too much information. This can come from your work place, internet, media , family get together ,etc. We all fall victim of this information overload syndrome. Imagine yourself in your student days , you might have always enjoyed studying subjects which had one book to study versus a subject where you need to refer to multiple books yet there was a risk in missing some of the topics. If you are a research student you are used to dealing with loads of reference manuals everyday. But to many of us this might create a problem and they start showing signs of “information overload”.
What is “information overload”?
“Information overload” is a term coined by Alvin Toffler which refers to an excess amount of information being provided, making processing and absorbing tasks very difficult for the individual because sometimes we cannot see the validity behind the information. (Source Wikipedia)
It varies from people to people . Some of your friends can manage excess information at ease while others find it very tough and restrictive to take fast decision. This does not happens in isolation , generally if your life is in control then you will be able to manage vast amount of new, unexpected , challenging information quite easily , else this become a cause of worry.
Symptoms of Information Overload in your work :
- Apparent memory difficulties
- Easily distracted
- Over commitment
- You freeze in your daily life and provide no meaningful output to the work you are doing.
How to cope up with the stress caused by information overload ?
- Clear your head when pressure is at peak
- Listen to your heart
- Take care of your physical fitness and have proper food
- Use your senses to be aware of what is going on around you – respond to stress.
- Regain your perspective and change perspective on overload
How to avoid information overload at work ?
- Deal with self inflicted information overload : The dilemma of a perfectionist : Time Perfectionist (Type 1)and Quality perfectionists(Type 2) . The Type 1 person “never wants to miss any deadline in any job entitled to him/her”. The Type 2 person wants to deliver everything with the greatest focus in accuracy and fineness. It is great to have these qualities but problem starts when one does not prioritise the work and wants to apply Type 1 and Type 2 in all the work assigned. Often we don’t have adequate time for this. The result is getting stressed or missing important assignments. The solution to get out of this trap is to have a judicious time management as per your priorities.
- Achieving balance : This needs to happen both at work life and personal life.
- Set “finish lines” better than deadlines: Setting strict deadlines can lead to stress if they are missed , a better way is setting finish lines of each of the sub task and trying to attain them.
- Think like a genius : When you need to think and come out of ideas and solutions you need to use your best weapons in place. It is better to use tools like a) Mind Mapping b)Systems Thinking c)Six Thinking Hats d)Lateral thinking etc.
Five steps of easy information management
- Explore the material , eg, the book, magazine you are reading using at least 3 different ways
- Find information what is relevant to you without missing out the important ones
- Find information you need quickly
- Integrate new information with what you already know
- accurately recall new information when you need it
How to manage written information?
Getting through the information of what you are looking at is very essential. The following steps outline that.
Step 1: Reorganize your reading habit
a) Preparation Stage: Be clear of your needs and avoid reading unnecessary documents
1) Identify what you already know about the topic.
2) Next segregate what you need to know
3) Be clear on how to use the information. Is it a report, or summary or proposal etc.
b) Structure: Never miss relevant information
1) How many paragraphs the content will be , Common points are : a. Introduction b. Body c. Conclusion.
2) Decide on if you need to add pictures, graphs to make the content clearer.
3) The correct font, size, bullet points needs to be decided.
c) Understand retain and recall information by becoming familiar with the structure, content, language and concepts.
It is a good practice to get your tools ready before start , get your pencil, highlighters, marker pens, flip charts handy.
Step 2 : Read more words faster, concentrate with focussed attention
- Average reading speed of a person vary from 150 to 300 words per minute, which is good, but this can be made better if you start reading the whole sentence at a time rather than word by word. To achieve this keep a scale or pencil, below the line which you are reading and start sliding them down fast as you finish completing that line. Try to measure your reading speed , number of lines you can read /per minute and improve upon it.
- Focus on one thing at a time and remember what you read.
- Try reading in an clear space (eg, clear desk) with less clutter and noise and manage your elements of distraction.
- Read the content with the speed it deserves for example with magazines , news paper you need to read fast as they are quite lots in volume, but emails , memos, official circulation etc needs to be read with slow pace and care as missing out minor detail will negatively impact you.
Step 3 . Keep a proper time limit for writing anything and try achieving your target.
Today by necessity, we spend more time quickly scanning manuals, king-size novels, the blogosphere, twitter,facebook communities, than we do scrutinizing their contents for deeper meaning.
This is the price we pay for the changed demands in reading. Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff defines this new reading terrain as “the paradox of our age.” We’ve grown into a culture of searchers, not readers. “Surely, we have never read, or written, so many words a day,” Schiff writes. “Yet increasingly we deal in atomized bits of information, the hors d’oeuvres of education.” Hence from our next gen students perspective it is very essential that they gain expertise in dealing with this at the early stage in their career to help them reap the fruits of success.
( By Rajat Pal : Project Manager in a software company)