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Published 9 June 2015

Becci Cook

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Information Overload

Do you ever feel like you’re drowning staring at hundreds of unread emails, receiving instant messages and social media notifications, whilst surfing the internet bombarded with ads?
Are you concerned that you may be missing important information as you sift through a mass flow of images and videos that end up distracting you from what you actually need to be doing? Furthermore do you fear that there isn’t enough time in the day to read up on everything and feel completely overwhelmed?

Well now is the time to take the bull by the horns and declutter your life electronically.

In the last 20 years, we have seen businesses moving the bulk of their data from paper to electronic filing, invoices previously posted or sent via fax are now emailed and more recently the switch from server to cloud storage. The need to use computerised systems is greater than ever before, whilst also being a lot more accessible with the advancement in technology, namely the birth of smart devices. Communication is far less personal and effortlessly shared amongst groups of people through email, social media and messaging apps. As a result we end up receiving a lot of information that we don’t actually need to.

Whether for work or social and domestic purposes, society functions around online transactions and interactions. Online retail sales alone are predicted to reach £52.25bn in the UK this year, a further increase from 2014 and it has been recorded that 2 billion people use Facebook actively per month across the globe. These figures reflect on the vast amount of people connecting to the internet. Information that we require is readily available online, checking a bank balance or paying a bill for example couldn’t be easier if you have internet connection. The downside to being able to receive all this information easily is the junk mail attributed to it. Providing your email address online often means that you are subscribing to an email list without even realising. You may choose to receive updates and offers then discover your details have been passed onto a third party company that sends you various unrelated content. This can be very frustrating.

We live in an Age of ‘Information Overload’. This is a phrase Alvin Toffler predicted in 1970 that the “rapidly increasing amounts of information being produced would eventually cause people problems”. The main problem is that the human brain isn’t getting any faster at processing and storing information like computers are built to be able to handle.

Our attention spans are therefore stretched to the limit and this can cause us to go into panic mode whereby we either struggle to make a decision or make the wrong one. With the inundation of updates on the internet and fast flow of information on social media, every second of our lives can be documented online instantaneously. In reference to my previous article about being addicted to smartphones, there is a correlation with being addicted to ‘being in the know’, whether socially or for work purposes, it’s hard to switch off at times and this can cause people stress.

So how do we reduce this stress?

• Limit the distractions
Work out what you need to receive by email from what you don’t. Cancel any subscriptions you don’t need that just clog up your inbox and rarely get read. This is easy to do by clicking on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email. To avoid having to do this in future, make sure you read any small print and uncheck the tick box to receive additional offers from third party companies. It’s usually very small for a reason, so you tend to miss it. It’s also

• Organise your emails
Sort emails into folders and set rules so that they can feed directly into the folders and not distract you from important mail in your inbox that you need to action. I have recently discovered I can do this on my iCloud mail, by clicking onto the ‘show actions menu’ wheel in the bottom left hand corner of your inbox. This then gives you the option to create rules as you would do in Microsoft Outlook.

• Un-follow irrelevant people/pages
Some people/pages are very active on social media and post frequently, which unless particularly informative and relevant to your life can be quite irritating if your newsfeed is full of repeated or inappropriate content.

• Take breaks
If working at a computer, it is important to take regular breaks away from your desk as it helps to restart your brain so it works more efficiently. Similar to computers when switched on for too long or the memory is full, start to slow down. It is also a good idea to disconnect from the internet on a computer or smart device occasionally to prevent procrastination and enable you to be more productive in your work and personal life.

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