The Symptoms of Information Overload – And How To Prevent It

October 30, 2020 · 2 min read
A fast biker. Background are city lights at night, blurred due to the high speed of biker
Photo by Luca Campioni on Unsplash

We're always connected.

All the time.

As modern humans, there is always something calling for our attention. Although it is enjoyable to “do” something all the time, being this kind of busy leads to stress. Sometimes you can feel this as stress, some other times this feeling is hiding, and you only feel that you've been stressed later on.

When everyday life bombards our brains with so much information, it seems difficult to make original thoughts. At least it feels like this for me.

So how can we notice information overload, and what can we do about this?

Let's find out.

What effects does it have?

I've noticed 3 negative effects of information overload on myself:

  • Higher background stress: stress that is always present, and you only notice it when stopping for more than a few minutes. This background stress makes us tired and anxious.
  • Less deep work and fewer flow states — this has a big impact on our daily work as software engineers (or other work that required creative focus).
  • Fewer original thoughts. Yes, consuming content stimulates your brain and is important to discover new connections in existing knowledge. But there can also be too much good content.

How to make it better?

You can look at every piece of information you consume and decide whether you want to keep at it.

But there are some easy starting points. Limit the notifications on your phone, declutter your inbox, and reduce the number of content sources you consume:

  • You can limit the notifications in three ways: You can turn off notifications for all non-essential apps in the app settings. Then you might want to set your phone to silent mode, without vibration. And finally, you can set conscious boundaries on when you use your phone and when not. E.g. you check for important stuff before starting work, check for notifications in your 10:30 coffee break, use it freely during lunch, ... But don't touch it in between. This way you decide when you want to be disturbed, not your phone.
  • Steadily declutter your inbox by unsubscribing from content regularly. After each newsletter you read, ask yourself: “was this worth my time?” – if not, unsubscribe it. I often subscribe to new content, so it is important to unsubscribe everything I don't enjoy reading (or that prompts new thoughts, or whatever is important to you). Also: keep a watch out for marketing and promotional emails, especially from bigger companies. Those just clutter up your inbox.
  • Reducing the number of content sources to a few high-quality ones allows you to spend more time with the good content and invest less time overall consuming stuff. Look at the news sources you consume. Diversity in your news consumption is important. But find out how much you need. I only use a handful of news sources: one general news site, one tech news site, and a handful of blogs. If anything important happens, I will hear about it. Most of the daily news is not important a month from now. So save yourself the ups and downs.

If you notice some of the effects above on yourself, take one step and implement it today.