How to Stop Information Overload in its Tracks

With so much information out there, you can find yourself spending more time trying to process everything than you do making decisions and solving problems. Use these five strategies to stop information overload before it consumes you.

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By Brian Buffini

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In today's increasingly digital world, endless amounts of information are readily available at our fingertips. But instead of being helpful, this often leads to confusion, distraction and frustration. With so much information out there, you can find yourself spending more time trying to process everything than making decisions and solving problems.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by it all.

But the solution isn't to become less informed. Instead, stop information overload in its tracks by using the right tactics to conquer it.

How information overload holds you back

Excess information not only causes you to become stuck and stagnant, but it also affects your peace of mind. It's a slippery slope that can wreak havoc on your professional and personal life.

There are several key ways Information overload can negatively impact you and your career:

  • Decreased decision-making quality. Too much information can impede your ability to make good decisions. This is because excess data creates confusion instead of insight. Research has shown, for example, that a staggering 80% of senior leaders attributed information overload to poor decision making.
  • Memory loss. When you're continually exposed to large amounts of information, your memory skills suffer. In fact, a decade's worth of research compiled from Stanford University showed that people who frequently use different types of media at once performed significantly worse on simple memory tasks.
  • Reduced efficiency. Having lots of varying information thrown your way requires multitasking, which actually causes you to work slower and less efficiently, according to multiple studies.
  • Lack of creativity. Research proves that we are less creative when faced with lots of interruptions. If you are overloaded with information, you leave no room in your mind for innovative ideas.
  • Poor mental health. Dealing with an endless stream of information can impact your mental health. You can find yourself feeling overwhelmed, anxious and fatigued.

Related: 3 Keys to Leading a Business Through a Crisis

Signs of information overload

Sometimes you can be unaware that you've fallen victim to information overload. You might just think you're putting forth your best effort by taking in as much as possible. The problem is you're not fully processing anything. Worse still, you can't solve a problem if you don't recognize that it exists. Here are some signs that you need to go on an information diet:

  • You're having trouble sleeping.
  • Your mood and/or energy levels have been low.
  • You feel the need to constantly rush to keep pace with time.
  • You have a strong desire to frequently check your email, phone and the internet or social media.

So now that you know the dangers and signs of information overload, how exactly do you overcome it? Use these five strategies to help streamline your focus and cut through the noise for a more confident, decisive you.

Related: How to Spot Entrepreneurial Burnout (Before It's Too Late)

1. Determine the kind of content you're looking for in advance

Being selective and intentional about the type of information you consume can prevent you from taking in too much. Think quality over quantity — only seek out information that aligns with your business or profession and filter out all the rest to stay focused on your career goals. Start by identifying three or four relevant information sources, and then stay attuned to only those. If you're a real estate agent, for example, choose to give your attention to sites geared toward business owners or ones dedicated to real estate career growth or news.

2. Set time limits

We've all been there — you go online to quickly search for something specific, only to find yourself reading completely unrelated content two hours later. You realize to your horror that you've accomplished nothing. Avoid this overload pitfall by setting a time limit on how long you gather information – and be strategic about it. For some tasks, you may decide that you need to spend an hour or two researching or gathering data, while others may only require 15 minutes.

Related: 10 Time Management Tips That Work

3. Avoid email distractions

You may think constantly checking your emails throughout the day is no big deal, but it's detrimental to your work performance. According to a University of California Irvine study, it takes about 23 minutes to regain focus after a distraction. If you're always checking your emails throughout the day, that 23 minutes can quickly add up. Avoid the temptation of inbox distraction by dedicating two or three times each day for checking emails. Turn off email notifications to make this easier to accomplish.

4. Take breaks

Clear your mind by taking breaks throughout the day. Feeling stressed and exhausted often increases the likelihood that you'll allow yourself to become distracted by excess information. Unfortunately, this just leads to more stress and exhaustion. Give yourself quick 10- to 15-minute breaks throughout the day, so you can recharge and stay on track.

5. Tackle the hardest project first

Complete your most challenging assignment in the morning to help the rest of the day go smoothly. We start our days with a fresh reserve of energy, so by tackling the hardest thing first, you'll be better equipped to get it done better and faster. Investing in a quality CRM (customer relationship management) can help you figure out your most important tasks and priorities. With a CRM, you'll have all your vital business information organized in one place, so you can better focus on the things that need the most attention.

Related: 5 Reasons Why You Need to Learn Time Management for Your Business

Being bombarded with constant data, facts, advice and suggestions can make running your business and your life a challenge — but you can regain clarity. The key is to become more proactive in making smart, filtered choices. When done right, you can conquer image overload and keep your career and your mental health in great shape.

Brian Buffini

Founder and Chairman of Buffini & Company

Brian Buffini is the founder and chairman of Buffini & Company, the largest training and coaching company in North America. Based in Carlsbad, California, Buffini & Company has trained more than 3 million business professionals in 41 countries and has coached more than 25,000 business people.

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