No matter what way you look at it, we appear to be drowning in information.

According to Reuters, more information has been produced in the last 30 years than the previous 5,000 years combined! I remember studying as a medical student in the mid to late 1980s – and then the amount of information we had to learn seemed overwhelming. Maybe that was part of the reason why the only exams I passed first time were finals! Now for the average medical student it must have increased at least 10 times if not more! Massive technological change has been behind all this, but it seems as if we are continually trying to play catch up with it.

Yes there are positive sides to technology. You can read about that in another blog entitled Harnessing the Power of Technology along with part 2.

But it doesn’t get away from the fact that information in every subject and area seems to be expanding at a phenomenal rate. There is also the issue of how information is ubiquitously available through smart phones  and how attention spans are shortened by continual bombardment of unrelated bits of information – the next email or text I get can be a joke from a friend or a significant personal crisis.

What are some of the negative consequences of data overload?

1. It can make us feel anxious and powerless. It has been consistently shown that multi-tasking leads to the release of more stress hormones.

2. Reduced creativity. Because of continual bombardment it becomes harder to focus on the task at hand. You are more likely to be creative if you can focus on something for some time without interruption.

3. Reduced productivity. Multi-tasking may seem to be more efficient, but it has been shown that people who complete certain tasks in parallel take much longer and make many more errors than those who complete the same task in sequence.

That might seem incredibly obvious, but I am continually amazed how easy it is to get sucked into and distracted by emails and messages that actually don’t achieve anything.

3 simple principles to deal with data overload:

1. Find time to focus. So much of our time can be spent in moving back and forth between the past and the future. Of course we need to plan and reflect on the past, but the problem is that we lose the power of the present moment.

2. Filter out noise. There has never been a time when there has been so much distraction – text messages, email, the Internet. It really is endless. It is so important to be able to step away from all that is going on and have what Jim Collins describes as ‘Personal White Space’ which is free from these distractions.

3. Forget about work when you can. There is something rejuvenating when we find time to switch off and relax – rather like rebooting a computer. It is amazing how some of the best insights come when we are relaxed and away from the busyness of all that is pressing on our attention and time. You can learn more about that in the post entitled Initial Thoughts on Thinking.

What are your thoughts about how to deal with data overload?
Please leave your comments below.