We’re living in the Information Age. All day, you’re bombarded with a barrage of content of all types. And it only stands to increase. A study by Veronis Suhler Stevenson and Borrell Associates predicted that by 2018, the average daily mobile Internet use in the U.S. will increase by a full hour per person. After a while, all of this content can send you into information overload.
Here are five ways to avoid that.
1. Budget your time.
The first step is to limit the amount of information you consume. Whether you’re on Facebook or Wikipedia, it’s very easy to log on for a few minutes, only to find yourself hours later, browsing through a dozen other things, completely unrelated to what you originally set out to do. That’s why, to combat information overload, it’s important to keep yourself on task.
Schedule your time in advance to determine exactly how long you want to spend on your various online activities. Say, half an hour for social media, another half hour for browsing the latest news, etc. Once the allotted time has finished, move on to the next activity. It will save you time -- and keep you focused.
Some online activities can’t reasonably be limited to a certain set time. Email, for instance, is probably something you need to handle throughout most of the day, both for your job and your personal life. But this too can send you into information overload. You may receive dozens or even hundreds of emails per day, each one demanding your attention.
As Henry Okpolokpo, CEO of Frontpageit, said, “Productive time is lost as employees deal with information of little value.” The solution is to prioritize. Determine in advance what types of emails need to be dealt with right away, what can be left until later and what can safely be ignored.
3. Filter and automate.
Even once you learn to prioritize your email, the simple act of receiving one can be distracting. The “new message” sound interrupts your train of thought and gives you a whole new topic to think about. Even if you spend only a few seconds on it, your focus is still broken, and it can take time to get it back. So limit the number of times you receive email notifications.
Set up filters to put less important emails in a low priority folder, where you can sort through them at your leisure. You can also try communicating with colleagues through a chat program, so you can give them your full focus during set hours rather than waiting for replies back while you’re doing other things.
4. Eliminate distractions.
If you have problems focusing on one thing at a time, technology can help you out. Apps like Self-Control for Mac block distracting websites for a set time period. There is also Focus Booster, which helps you focus on a single task for 25 minutes at a time. And programs like Snowball can help you organize all of your conversations in one place, prioritizing them on your phone so you only see the ones you need.
5. Take breaks.
If you’ve tried everything, but you still can’t keep yourself focused on one thing for more than a few minutes at a time, rather than fight against it, work it into your routine. Break your schedule down into short tasks, interspersed with short breaks. Completed the first section of that presentation? Take a minute and check your email. Got through an important meeting with a client? Respond to that text you got earlier from a friend.
Some people function better in short bursts, rather than long sprints, and there’s nothing wrong with that -- as long as you make sure that your breaks are carefully scheduled and kept to strict time limits.
On average, we check our phones an estimated 150 times per day -- around once every seven minutes during waking hours. Content overload is almost inevitable. The key to avoiding it is finding a balance. With a little planning, you can take in the content you need without letting it overrun your life.