Why you need to reduce information overload with your team (and how to do it)

Employee suffering from information overload

In honour of Information Overload Day (yes, it’s a thing), it’s time to take a look at how you – and your team – are interacting with information on a daily basis.

After all, information overload is very much an issue, especially as technology is advancing at breakneck speeds.

“The root of the problem is that, although computer processing and memory is increasing all the time, the humans that must use the information are not getting any faster. Effectively, the human mind acts as a bottleneck in the process,” explains Infogineering, a website offering tools and resources to help address overload challenges.

McGill University professor Daniel Levitin, author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, explains it in a different way to Forbes:

“In 1976, there were 9,000 products in the average grocery store, and now it’s ballooned to 40,000 products. And yet most of us can get almost all our shopping done in just 150 items, so you’re having to ignore tens of thousands of times every time you go shopping,” he says.

So as an employer, how do you combat this overload? After all, addressing information overload can have lasting effects on your employees. It can improve concentration and intelligence, while also reducing burnout and fatigue. It can also eliminate hours of lost productivity; a recent Carleton study found that people spend a third of their time at work on email.

Reducing information overload among your team can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Making a few changes can have a huge impact.

Here are five ways to reduce information overload with your team:

Embrace a “slow movement” culture

A major part of addressing information overload is addressing the way information is used within your company as a whole. How quickly are team members expected to respond to emails? How often are they expected to be using messenger tools? Are they expected to hop into meetings or answer questions at a moment’s notice? Consider slowing all these interactions down.

Reducing the urgency of the interactions within your organization – in essence, embracing the “slow movement” – will take time. It means re-addressing your culture and values, and then leading by example. But it has the potential to transform your workplace.

Discourage multitasking

According to Levitin, multitasking can be more draining than you’d think.

“Multitasking costs you by forcing you to decide whether to answer or ignore a text, how you should respond, how you should file this email, whether you should stick with what you’re working on or attend to the interruption,” explains Forbes.

“All those little decisions spend oxygenated glucose, the very fuel you need to focus on a task. Switching between tasks will actually make you feel exhausted, disoriented and anxious, writes Levitin. In contrast, ‘once we engage the central executive mode, staying in that state uses less energy than multitasking and actually reduces the brain’s need for glucose.’”

There are many ways to reduce multitasking. As part of tweaking your culture to embrace slower interactions, encourage your team to try to interrupt each other less throughout the day. Explain the challenges of multitasking, and explore ways for your team to parcel out the day to various tasks, rather than taking on several things at once.

Use tools to externalize data

“Getting information out of your head and into the external world helps you to see it objectively so you can make decisions about what you will tackle, and in which order,” explains Fast Company.

Whether you simply hand out (branded!) notebooks, or integrate a project management tool into your daily operations, offering your team a way to manually make lists can help them to focus on less things at once.

“When information is only stored in your head, the brain has a hard time focusing on everything, and uses up too much of its energy trying to recall what’s on your list,” says Fast Company.

Turn off email (and Slack, and Skype, and…)

The new wave of mobile devices and messaging apps means that it’s possible for your team to be ever-connected to each other. But that can come at a price.

You might recall headlines from a decade ago like “Emails hurt IQ more than pot,” after research out of King’s College London University found that having unread emails and messages can reduce mental sharpness – and actually lower your IQ.

To combat this, consider setting up a system where employees only need to turn on their email a few times a day, as opposed to keeping it on all day. If that’s not realistic, try to reduce the number of messaging tools your team is using on an ongoing basis – and make sure they know that they can turn them all off for a break now and then.

Encourage long lunches

…and breaks, for that matter. Long gone are they days when you want to see your employees glued to their desk for eight or nine hours straight.

We’ve waxed poetic on the benefits of eating with your team. But even just generally encouraging them to actually take a lunch break, get away from their desk, and step away from their tasks, is crucial. It reduces burnout, addresses employee health and general-wellbeing, and encourages socialization.

This initiative can be as simple as popping by an employee’s desk if you see them eating lunch while working – or can be as big as instituting a no-food-at-your-desk policy. Either way, the message is clear: this organization encourages you to step away from your work now and again.

See also:
Offering privacy in the open-concept office
The case for (and against) the office games room


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