Managing Information Overload to Increase Workplace Productivity
Managing Information Overload for Workplace Productivity
“Information overload” is not a new concept, the term was coined in 1964 by a political science professor named Bertram Gross who defined it as an excess of information that results in the loss of ability to make decisions, process information, and prioritize tasks. Recently, the term has gained traction again as we entered the “information era”. Advancements in communication technology and the use of digital devices have expedited the rate at which an individual receives information – people have grown more interconnected, and messages can be sent and received at virtually any point in time. Organizations, now heavily reliant on technology for internal and external communications, fall prey to the associated effects of rapid digitization – information overload.
Causes of Information Overload
There are several causes of information overload in the workplace.
Information as rationalization for competence
Being on the ball in the workplace in often synonymous with being capable. Due to this, Individuals will oftentimes internalize as much information as possible to ensure that they are “well-equipped”. For example, in a project split into sub-tasks, one needs to also be involved or at least know about what is happening in other parts of the project despite it not being their priority. Doing so allows them to feel like they are able to exhibit their competency by being knowledgeable of accurate and updated information regarding a project.
Seeking information to validate or cross check current information
Supplementing the aforementioned point of exhibiting competence, individuals might feel the need to ensure that all information received is credible. As such, they continue seeking out more information to validate the one received. At the end of the day, one source leads to another and they are left with an exorbitant amount of information to filter through and decide whether it is important or not.
Receiving copious amounts of irrelevant and unsolicited information
At work, individuals are bombarded with information that might not pertain to them. This can be often found in scenarios like being CC-ed on emails “for your knowledge” or even being included in discussions in communication channels that require no action. While the information can be easily disregarded, it takes a toll on individuals when they are constantly distracted by incoming notifications.
Collecting information “just in case”
The need to be fully aware of what is happening results in individuals hoarding information in their headspace. Oftentimes, they might cling onto bits of information “just in case” it can be used as reference material later. With the lack of filtering, it stifles an individual’s ability to carry out tasks productively as the redundant information acts as a source of distraction.
How Information Overload Affects Us
According to a study by Basex, information overload costs the US economy $900 billion annually. Majority of this cost is attributed to the unnecessary interruptions and time to get back on track to the original task. This process takes up an average of 28% of a knowledge workers time in a day. The constant buzz of messages and emails is a source of distraction that cause individuals to switch back and forth, promoting application toggling which has detrimental effects on productivity.
Information overload from communication channels is one of the predominant sources. When an individual is alerted by a notification, they would instinctively check it for time-sensitive information or work to be done. There are several scenarios that would follow. One, they would keep a tab on the task while attending to the current one that they are working on. Two, they would abandon their current task to handle the more time-sensitive one. Third, there is no work to be done but they would have been distracted by the notification and now need to revert to their original task. This recovery period can range from 10 to 20 times the duration of the interruption itself, and sometimes the individual might not return to the original task at all. In most cases, the first scenario plays out and individuals would end up keeping a tab on it and circling back at a later time.
Ultimately, productivity is compromised no matter which scenario an individual experiences. Down the road, this constant reduction in attention span and focus could hinder other key functions like decision making and problem solving. It is crucial that individuals learn how to manage incoming information so that they can retain their ability to perform high-value activities productively.
Understanding How Information is Processed
In order to curb information overload, one must first understand how the brain processes information. According to Dr Srini Pillay, our brain retains information it needs in the near future in it’s short-term memory. However, the brain’s capacity is limited which makes filtering information crucial to reduce the chances of it being a distraction. Thus, constant filtering is required to retain focus and concentrate. In the context of information in the workplace, individuals are not able to just disregard it. So how are they expected to keep tabs on such tasks?
Managing Information Overload
It is impossible to stop workplace communications just to limit distractions, but it is possible to improve how people manage it. To combat this, individuals note things down to clear it from their mind. In the workplace, it is important that these things are tracked. Knowing when the information is received and the lag time before work has started are important data points for an organization to assess workflows. This is where TRIYO steps in. When the user receives a notification about work to be done while they are in the middle of a task, they can immediately add it as a task on TRIYO before going about their day. Not only does this eliminate the cognitive tax of needing to remember it later, but it has also filtered the information without losing it as it is tracked on the platform. Individuals can eliminate their tendencies to be aware or to hoard information “just in case” as everything can be found in the audit trail of the respective tasks. As such, they have an increased capacity to limit distractions and execute tasks at a higher level of productivity.
Ultimately, the ability to hone focus for more high value work results in better overall performance and cost savings for a company. This is of paramount importance as a company is trying to grow in a harsh economic climate. Understanding that cost savings to be a sustainable path for growth would enable companies to reap benefits in the long run and have a smoother trajectory towards success.
Manage information overload and unlock cost savings today, learn how you can do that here.
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