Living in the Information Age has its advantages, but too much information can be harmful. Learn about the causes and effects of workplace information overload, as well as strategies for dealing with it.
What Is Information Overload?
The concept of information overload, also known as infoxication, holds that having too much information impairs decision-making. Due to people's limited processing capacity, having too much information can have a negative impact on work performance by making it difficult to find or focus on relevant information.
The phrase "information overload" first appeared in Bertram Gross's book The Managing of Organizations in 1964. In his 1970 book Future Shock, futurist Alvin Toffler expanded on the concept by identifying how rapidly changing information affects decision-making. These works emerged in the aftermath of major advances such as computers, but the concept of information overload predates such technology—concern about excessive information has arisen throughout history whenever new methodologies or formats for sharing ideas emerged. With the invention of the printing press, for example, information overload increased during the Renaissance.
We consume more information on a daily basis in the modern Information Age because technology allows us to share, store, and learn massive amounts of information in a short amount of time. On the one hand, technological advancements such as computers, the internet, and digital information systems make information more accessible than traditional information architecture. On the other hand, easy access to limitless information dilutes the amount of relevant information we consume. As a result, we may become too overwhelmed to find the information we require.
What Factors Contribute to Information Overload?
There are several causes of information overload in our lives and at work, including:
Excessive information: One of the primary causes of information overload is the abundance of available information. Because anyone can easily transmit and duplicate information over the internet, internet users may exhaust their processing capacity simply by sifting through irrelevant or false information.
Too many information channels: Constant notifications from apps, social media platforms, emails, and other sources of information can overwhelm you with more information than you can handle in a workday. Toggling between platforms while also keeping up with other information channels such as phone calls and video conferencing will most likely divert your attention in too many directions to maintain a high level of work performance.
Inadequate project management: One of the primary causes of information overload is an organization's inefficient information systems. Coordination of information that flows between departments is an important part of management because it keeps a team on track, filters out unnecessary information, and streamlines information sharing and storage.
Information Overload's Negative Effects
People can suffer from infoxication in the following ways:
Burnout: Because infoxication leads to frustration, uncertainty, and restlessness, multitasking across multiple channels and sources of information can have a negative impact on physical and mental well-being.
Information anxiety: This arises when you feel pressured to keep up with all available information, despite the fact that this is an impossible task.
Ineffective decision-making: When you take in more information than your processing capacity, you have less mental energy to reason, plan, and weigh the pros and cons of a decision. Instead of having access to all information on a subject, decision-makers benefit from accurate but constrained information.
How to Overcome Information Overload
Here are some strategies for overcoming information overload:
Information management. When managing information, you must decide which information needs to be addressed first and prioritized. To eliminate unnecessary information, try using existing information technology features, such as email and search engine filters.
Limit the amount of data gathered. Reduce the number of information sources you use, the kinds of information you seek, and the time you spend doing so in order to process information more effectively.
Transfer responsibility. When a team of people searches for and handles different parts of the information, the process is most effective. Let each team member be the go-to person for all information regarding one particular issue, for instance.