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3 Ways Managers Can Survive Information Overload

Are you oppressed by the amount of information coming in: the steady stream of emails, instant messaging, the BlackBerry going off, the constant social media updates? You’re definitely not alone.

by Other Author

Are you oppressed by the amount of information coming in: the steady stream of emails, instant messaging, the BlackBerry going off, the constant social media updates? You’re definitely not alone.

Even before the instant transmission of information through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn became a social phenomenon a survey performed by Accenture in 2007 identified that many middle managers in the US and UK spent almost a quarter of their time looking for the information they needed to do their jobs.

So the problem isn’t just the information coming in, but the sheer amount of information available. And ironically, the most difficult information to find is often within your own company.

John Girard and Michael Allison define the condition as “Information Anxiety”—an anxiety as a result of not being able to find information, existing or otherwise. Their investigation led to the conclusion that information overload was one of the major contributors to information anxiety.

Dale Collie says that “managers who suffer information overload are actually a victim of technology underload—an inability to keep up with the tools available.”

But many of us already have the tools and still struggle to manage information. So what do you if the problem really is volume of information at your disposal? The article Avoiding information overload – A Survival Guide for Fleet Managers recommends that managers develop a “sensible, sustainable approach to information” and offers 3 simple tips to help avoid information overload:

1. Set priorities – The first step for managers is to make sure they know what’s important and what isn’t. There’s an old saying that you can be so busy standing on the ants that you don’t notice the elephants coming over the wall. Don’t let this happen to you. Make a list, if you have to, that reminds you of the tasks, responsibilities and metrics that your job entails. Remember to do your most important tasks first, and always ask ‘Why am I doing this?’ before embarking on a new task.

2. Limit the flow of information – Just like a garden hose, you can control the flow of information you receive. If it’s too much, or if you’re receiving a lot of unnecessary or irrelevant information, take action. Unsubscribe from the e-mails, feeds or instant messages that are no longer relevant to the main tasks you listed in the previous step.

3. Choose how you will receive information – Some managers have an open door policy when it comes to letting people contact them. They’ll accept any mode of communication – e-mail, SMS, mobile phone calls, pager or instant message – at any time of the day. Sure, it’s nice if a manager is approachable, but if you want to avoid burning out you have to put limits on your contact with others. This doesn’t mean you become aloof or difficult to contact, but you can train others to use the best and most effective methods of communicating with you.

With the advancement of technology and the endless release of new apps—and, of course, information being communicated globally in “real-time”—it might seem that information overload will always be a concern. But if you set priorities and limit the flow of information and how you receive it, you are giving yourself a fighting chance to keep information anxiety at bay.