20th October marks Information Overload Day, a day to focus on the impact that the increasing digitalisation of the world has on our lives. With smartphones keeping us constantly connected, updated and alert to social media notifications, and the hours spent sending and receiving emails at work – we’re processing massive amounts of information every day. It’s no wonder people can feel overwhelmed. Information Overload Day is a testament to the fact that rising pressures from the digital world can have a negative impact on our professional and personal lives. It’s also an opportunity to look at ways to mitigate stress which can arise as a result.
We’ve spoken to Mary Jane Roy, co-owner of the company KEYSTONE success, to understand ways to reduce the risk of information overload. As a professional stress and resiliency coach, whose focus is on employee wellbeing, she has some salient advice for companies and employees experiencing stress from the digital world. We’ve pulled together 8 tips on managing information overload:
- Organise training programmes to help employees deal with the digital world
Whether it’s to focus on mindfulness, the importance of time management, or better work-life integration, these kinds of programmes can help people understand the need to prioritise their workload. We think we can multi-task but actually we can’t. A study by Dean and Webb explains that when employees attempt to take on too many things at once, productivity and creativity can suffer.
- Set aside a specific time to deal with checking and responding to emails
We can be quick to react when receiving an email. The icon flashes unread, and the automatic reaction is to open it, read and respond. Dean and Webb suggest that breaking away from one task to attend to another, such as an email, can make us less efficient when we resume what we were originally working on. This kind of distraction can prove detrimental to deadlines and the quality of our output. It’s important to schedule a set amount of time to check our emails, so we can give them our full attention and not compromise more pressing tasks.
- Check your emails on your computer, not your phone
Mary Jane Roy offers insight into one way she achieves her work-life balance. She doesn’t connect to her emails on her phone, and checks them only at specific times, when she is in front of her computer.
- Pay attention to your stress triggers and energy drainers
One of the key pieces of advice that Mary Jane Roy has is that we need to check in with ourselves on a regular basis. Self-awareness is extremely important when it comes to managing our stress levels. “We have this smartphone in our hands, we should be using it a lot more smartly than we tend to.” Programming regular ‘check-in’ and movement breaks into our smartphones will help.
- Take 3 minute breaks for every 90 minutes of work
It may not always be possible, due to meetings and schedule constraints, but do try set aside a few minutes to at least take a screen break. Give yourself a moment to refocus and recharge.
- Move more
Mary Jane Roy and KEYSTONE success provide a workshop called “Sitting is killing” to raise the awareness of the negative impact sitting all day can have on a person’s health. She explains: “the average sitting hours we hear for people in the corporate world is 14 hours a day, and if you consider that you might be sleeping 6-8 hours a day, then our physically active time is really restricted.” Even if you’re just taking the stairs instead of the elevator, make sure you’re incorporating movement into your day as often as you can.
- Learn to say “no”
It’s important that you set boundaries at work. Don’t automatically agree to extra work without taking stock of your existing workload, or you’ll end up with more than you can manage. Sometimes you just need to say “no” and prioritise the tasks you already have.
- Don’t spend all day staring at a screen
Last but not least, it’s important not to forget the world outside of technology, and remember to step away from it every now and again. KEYSTONE success developed the innovative Keystone Vitality Check, which assesses employee wellbeing. One question focuses on whether people are disconnecting daily from their mobile phones and emails at home. Only 3.7% of more than 1300 respondents said that they were.
Mary Jane Roy says “we are often hearing from participants during our training and coaching sessions that they are checking their phones first thing on awakening and they are checking them again before they go to sleep.” It’s important to occasionally give yourself a break from the digital world. It can be as simple as not looking on your phone when you’re on public transport to acknowledge what is happening around you, or just lessening the time you spend online when you’re away from work.
We’re more aware than ever of the possibility of burnout brought on by stress inside and outside the office. Once burnout occurs, recovery time can be lengthy and in turn, expensive for the companies involved. Mary Jane Roy believes the business world needs to acknowledge the consequences of employees being inundated and overwhelmed with all the information they are receiving – and it’s time to take preventative measures. Follow our tips to help manage and avert the effects of information overload.
This is a guest post from Emanuela Milanova. Emanuela has over 5 years of experience in journalism.
She graduated with a Master’s degree in Information and Knowledge Management in VU, Amsterdam.
As part of the Social Media Team for Staples Solutions, she’s been an integral part of the creation this article, undertaking intensive research and conducting the interview for the piece. She is driven by the passion to research the relationship between work-life reality and the digitalisation of the world.