Information overload examples: 4 habits to recognize and change
Healthy habits are all about moderation. Sleeping is good—oversleeping is not. Eating fruit is good—eating 35 bananas a day is not. Most people inherently understand the common sense truth that too much of a good thing is bad for our bodies and minds.
However, most people have a blind spot when it comes to information. If one report is good, then 100 is better. If a weekly meeting is good, then why not make them a daily occurrence? This belief has led to the proliferation of what’s called information overload—a condition where overstimulation caused by an endless stream of information leads to symptoms such as anxiety, emotional turmoil, and poor decision-making.
Unfortunately, it’s often incredibly difficult to self-diagnose an information overload problem since being overloaded is more or less the norm for today’s knowledge worker. To help you determine whether you may suffer from information overload, we’ve created a list of information overload examples for you to compare your own life with.
If these examples sound overly familiar, you might be affected by information overload. In this case, we’ll walk you through strategies that’ll help you remedy the problem and return a sense of healthy moderation to your digital life.
1. Spending hours a day on communications
Communication is necessary in any job you do. Whether it’s emails with coworkers or reports for your boss, everyone spends a lot of time informing people about what they’re doing and how others can help.
The problem is that what started as a good thing has become an out-of-control beast. The modern knowledge worker spends an inordinate amount of time and mental energy handling communications every day. For instance, in 2022, over 333 billion emails were sent daily. That’s enough for every man, woman, and child to get 42 emails each per day.
Email isn’t the only form of communication that people need to keep up with. Messages on social media, Slack, and smartphones all just create more and more information for people to consume. The result is that many workers get overloaded simply by clearing out their many inboxes.
Here are some signs that excessive communications could be leading you to information overload:
- You feel anxious about the number of messages you’ve not yet responded to.
- You check your inboxes constantly, even when you’re off the clock.
- You spend more time on unimportant communications than important ones.
If these all reflect your relationship with communications, consider taking some simple steps to alleviate the problem. This can include setting up more stringent spam filter settings, unsubscribing from emails you’re not interested in, or politely asking coworkers not to CC you on issues that aren’t directly related to your work. As well, don’t forget to set work-life balance boundaries by not checking your inbox during off hours and deleting work apps from your phone.
2. Scrolling social media during your off hours
Social media is a wonderful invention that has allowed people to stay in touch, learn about other places and perspectives, and discover new passions. However, for many people, social media has become an addiction that’s made it harder to unplug from the constant deluge of data on the internet.
For instance, a recent American Academy of Sleep Medicine study found that 80% of people reported losing sleep because of social media scrolling. That number climbs to 93% for members of Gen Z.
Without good, restful sleep, the chances of information overload increase dramatically as the brain doesn’t have time to relax. But just because you like to watch YouTube before bed doesn’t mean you’re headed for information overload.
Here are some early signs that your social media habits are affecting your mental energy levels:
- You are unable to sleep without scrolling social media.
- You are losing hours a night to your phone.
- Your immediate reaction to any downtime is to pull out your phone and start scrolling.
In these cases, it’s time to take a hard look at your time on social media. Putting in place some firm rules like no phones after 11 pm or only allowing social media from a computer may make it easier to manage your scrolling time.
3. Skimming important documents and reports
Skimming is one of those necessary evils that all of us have had to do at one time or another. It allows people to find what they need faster, with less time and energy expended reading.
The problem is that skimming should be an occasional tactic and not your go-to method for reading. According to one study, people only take the time to read around 28% of the words on a webpage. This is a problem because it leads to you missing important pieces of information in the text. It can also lead to lower long-term retention rates, meaning that you’ll likely have to revisit what you've read later on.
Skimming leads to information overload in two ways. One, it encourages people to try to read more than they’re capable of, even if they end up remembering less of what they do read. Second, it inevitably results in people needing to spend time refinding and rereading documents because they remember less of what they read.
Skim reading might be a problem for you if:
- You find yourself frequently forgetting what you’ve just read.
- You often spend a lot of time rereading documents.
- You miss important pieces of information in what you’re reading.
Excessive skimming is often a symptom of not having enough time to do all the reading you feel you need to do. To fix this problem, try to build more time into your schedule for dedicated reading (hint: cutting down on social media time and lessening your time on communications comes in handy) or actively cut down on your reading list. By doing both of these things, you’ll give yourself the time to properly read crucial documents and help yourself stave off information overload.
4. Flitting constantly from one task to another
In our busy, modern lives, it can feel like you’d need two or three of you to keep up with your to-do list. This feeling is natural, but it also leads many people to try to multitask or juggle multiple responsibilities to get things done in a timely manner.
Unless you’re planning on becoming a street performer, this constant juggling can actually slow you down and stress you out. Every time you change tasks, your brain needs to undergo a context switch, which drains your mental energy. The more tasks you have in a day, the more context switches you’ll need to do, which can lead to mental exhaustion. Instead of getting more things done, all this switching will slow you down more than if you’d just focused on one thing at a time.
Your day might include too many context switches if:
- You find yourself changing tasks multiple times an hour.
- You’re frustrated by interruptions to your deep work.
- You work on multiple things but feel like you’re not getting much done.
The best remedy for frequent context switching is to plan your day efficiently. Instead of frequent changes between multiple tasks, use time blocking strategies to focus on a single task for a set amount of time. For instance, instead of working on multiple reports throughout the day, pick one to do in the morning and tackle another in the afternoon. This way, you can minimize context switches and truly focus on a single task.
It’s time to recognize bad data habits for what they are
The quick proliferation of readily available online data has been one of the biggest changes to life over the last 100 years. For many people, the change came too quickly, with not enough safeguards in place to shield our mental and physical well-being. Nowadays, conditions like infobesity and information overload are all too common, and more needs to be done to protect knowledge workers.
If you think you need to reckon with the data you consume, check out our information overload report, where we examine the average data diet of knowledge workers. Inside, we also provide helpful tips on dealing with information overload so you can create a healthier relationship with the data you consume.