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Coping with Information Overload: Part III

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | June 12, 2010

"The balance between providing information and withholding information must be flawlessly calibrated."
Christopher Ho

Today we conclude our three-part series on information overload. I was challenged to think about this topic after I read an article by Sarah Houghton-Jan titled, "Being Wired or Being Tired: 10 Ways to Cope with Information Overload." Last week we looked at five of these techniques. Today we will consider the other five. 

6. Email Overload Techniques. Email can use up an enormous amount of time and it takes intentional strategies not to allow it to dominate our lives. For some persons, setting a specific time to "do email" makes a huge difference. Cluster email messages by topic and priority. And, always remember, "If you send more email, you will get more email." A good rule of thumb is that "if more than four messages are sent on an issue, a phone call or in-person meeting might be better." 

7. Print Media Overload Techniques. Even with electronic communications, we still can find ourselves drowning in paper. Houghton-Jan's words sound very familiar to me when she says, "f you're like me, you have a couple of piles (of printed material) at home. A 3-foot pile of books, magazines, and newspapers next to the bed for reading eventually." She goes on to say, "Treat physical data the same way you would treat digital data: if you do not absolutely need it, throw it out." She also suggests weeding out persistent files at least twice a year. 

8. Multimedia Overload Techniques. Even audio and video entertainment can cause overload to our busy schedules. We don't usually think of this medium as causing overload. But if we have piles of videos and DVDs to watch and CDs to hear and favorite programs recorded and all of the latest news we absolutely must see, before we know it even our non-print materials can crowd out our time to do anything else. We should take inventory of everything we hear and see, whether or not we are holding paper in our hands. 

9. Social Network Overload Techniques. I know some people who are connected with just about every social network they can access. I am not sure how they maintain their balance in what Houghton-Jan calls these "mini-worlds." We've all heard the reports of young people who send and receive thousands (literally) of text messages every month. The problem is acute in the schools that many have banned cell phones altogether among their students. 

Rather than try to have a profile on MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook, Ning, and other networks, so we can be "available everywhere, all the time," perhaps we should pick one network and allow it to be our primary method for connecting with others. 

10. Time and Stress Management. In the words of Dr. Larry D. Rosen, "All these forms of communication are now staring at you and saying, "Deal with me first." You walk by your computer and it says "Check your mail" or it dings at you. It's designed to draw you in. You can't stop. One of the ways to use these tools rather than allow them to use us is to focus on time and stress management. Whether our calendar is on paper or on our computer, we must get it under control. Even a break here and there can do wonders to the stresses under which many find themselves. By silencing our audio signals we may be better able to manage them rather than have them manage us. 

Information overload is one of the byproducts of our modern world. It is definitely here to stay. I don't think any of us would ever want to go back to the pony express or smoke signals or the telegraph or even snail mail as our only means of communication. But with this constant flow of information, let's work together on ways to diminish it or at least develop skills and techniques to deal with it before we drown in it. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu