Stay focussed despite information overload.

How to keep focussed and deal with information overload


In today’s workplace we’re often expected to take in information from a variety of sources and switch our focus throughout the day. As a result, we’re often trying to concentrate on more information than the human brain is designed to manage. This results in a lack of focus and poor productivity.

Fortunately, there are a number of techniques you can employ to help you work more effectively when you’re feeling overloaded.

Why is information overload a problem?

We’re finding it harder to remain focussed and process what we’re told.

In his 1964 work entitled ‘The Managing of Organizations’ Bertram Gross defined information overload as when the amount of information fed into a system is more than it is able to process.

When you consider that our typical working day involves communicating with colleagues from all over the world, it’s no surprise we’re struggling to process the information we receive. We get emails every minute of the day, answer the phone the moment it rings and liaise with colleagues in our immediate office too.

With so many sources of information competing for our attention, we’re finding it harder to remain focussed and process what we’re told.

With so much information it's hard to remain focused.With so much information distracting us everyday, it’s hard to remain focussed.

How to stay focussed when dealing with information overload

Learning to be mindful at work is a key part of being able to stay calm and focussed. It involves employing a number of techniques to recognise when you’re attention is diverted and manage any negative thoughts that arise.

I find there are four important things to remember when it comes to managing information overload through mindfulness.

1) Accept that you can’t know everything

You can’t know everything that’s going on in your company, and you shouldn’t try to either. Identify when you don’t need to read a document or listen to a briefing so you can free up some thinking space.

Remind yourself that knowing more might not actually mean you achieve anything extra.

2) Remain aware of thoughts that distract you from your goal

Notice your emotional responses but don’t let them influence your actions.

One of the problems with emails and phone calls is that they can disturb us at any time. Developing emotional intelligence enables us to become highly self-aware and monitor our reactions. You learn the ability to notice your emotional responses, but not necessarily let them influence your actions.

It’s a crucial skill for leaders to master, to ensure their team are clear on expectations. However, it’s helpful for anyone with a busy job, to ensure information overload doesn’t cause unnecessary stress.

3) Recognise that you can’t take responsibility for everything

I once found myself in a role where everything to do with the company database fell to me. This meant that whenever anybody had a problem, I was responsible for providing a solution.

Unsurprisingly this started to impact on my ability to do the rest of my job. My manager and I decided it was time for other people to take responsibility. After an initial period of adjustment, eventually the interruptions reduced and I was able to focus on my to-do list which allowed my productivity to soar.

Focus on your own tasks without information overload.Training other people allows you to focus on your own tasks without information overload.

4) Use project management techniques to deal with distractions

Project managers use several techniques to ensure their team can achieve key objectives on time.

  • Carve out time: Plan time for dealing with emails and close your inbox altogether when you need to focus on something else.
  • Be proactive in getting a brief: Find out everything you need to know about a job and write it down so you can jump right in when you’re ready. Your notes also remind you what’s required if you do get distracted.
  • Use templates: If you know you’ll be repeating a task, create a template so you have it to guide you no matter who interrupts your trail of thought.

For help ensuring information overload doesn’t impact your ability to focus, take a look at our mindfulness at work courses and emotional intelligence training sessions. We offer in-person workshops in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

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