Information Overload

By Cheryl Walker

May 2, 2008 4 min read


E-mail, voice mail, IMs all cause a bad case of TMI

By Cheryl Walker

Copley News Service

Is there such a thing as too much information? According to a national workplace study there is.

About 70 percent of America's white-collar workers feel overwhelmed with data. The Internet offers a wealth of information that is even handier than having an encyclopedia set, television or radio on the desk. Add to that instant messaging with e-mail, cell phones, personal digital assistants and laptops, and it seems that most workers spend most of their day sorting instead of producing.

"In the beginning, e-mail and all this data was a great phenomenon, revolutionizing what we do," said Shaun Osher, chief executive officer of Core Group Marketing in New York. "But the pendulum has swung way too much to the other side. We're less productive."

Although it's just been the last few years that workers have felt the "too much information" effects of the computer world, information overload was a term coined in 1970 by Alvin Toffler in his book "Future Shock."

The latest Workplace Productivity Survey found that seven out of 10 workers are near the breaking point. Findings showed that more than half of office personnel spend most of their time sifting through information, with most of it being irrelevant.

Some of the causes of overload are how fast new information is produced, the duplication of data on the Internet, a vast amount of historical information and televisions that now have hundreds of channels available.

Employees may be overwhelmed without even realizing it. Technology has become a catch-22. Information is easier to access, but now people are even more stressed with all the data that has been created and what to do with it. The first step is spotting the signs technology taking over the workplace.

With so much information at the fingertips just a keystroke away, how should an employee deal with it?

E-mail is one of the biggest offenders. Too often, employees feel they need to read or answer instantly. Interruptions break the train of thought and it's difficult to get focused again on the task at hand.

One way to resolve the overabundance and the need to respond instantly is to prioritize. Make a list and stick to a schedule. Set a specific time for e-mail and surfing the Web. It may even be a good idea to let people know e-mails will only be answered at a certain time of day.

More advice:

- When sifting through information, create folders. Make an A-list file with information that is absolutely needed. Use other folders for information that is less critical, but may be needed at some point. It is also important to clean out these folders regularly.

- Reduce clutter. Too many folders and paper on a desk take up space and easily distracts from the task at hand.

- Limit time on the Web. The Internet has billions of pages of information and new information is constantly being produced. And, information may not always be accurate, which leads users to check for accuracy, which adds even more time to a project. Use search engines that have a reputation for accuracy as well as finding information quickly.

- Don't check the news constantly. With the ability to have access to news the minute it happens, people tend feel the need to know right away. If it is really important or earth-shattering, the word will spread.

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