How to Deal With Information Overload

How to Deal With Information Overload

There is so much information coming at us today. We get it from the media, internet, email, social media. We can try to escape, but as long as we have our phones, we have even more information at our fingertips.

Some of this information is very useful – the internet presents a reference like we’ve never seen before in the history of man. We have at our fingertips all the knowledge we could possibly use to accomplish just about anything.

But at the same time, some of this information is either useless or even harmful. If useless, it takes up our attention and energy. If harmful, it spurs feelings of jealousy, anger and even hatred.

All this information is overwhelming. And without deliberate management, it can cause overload, where we are no longer able to process the information coming at us.

So what can a single person do to manage the information overload coming at them?

Evaluate Quantity

The first thing to do when faced deluge is to turn it to a manageable level. You cannot drink from a fire hose.

This can be done with a some simple reflection:

  • What do I listen to (podcasts, radio, etc)?
  • What do I watch? (television, videos, streaming)?
  • What do I read? (magazines, newspapers, blogs, news sites)?
  • What apps do I use? (social media, news feeds)?
  • What comes into my inbox (ads, spam, email, newsletters)?
  • What comes into my mailbox (ads, letters, circulars)?

I recommend you make a list. Walk around your house, look at your commute and other down time, peruse your email inbox and trash. See how much is coming at you. (You will probably be surprised at the amount)

Evaluate Quality

Next, you need to look at the quality of information coming from each of these types of sources. Is it worthwhile? Look and see if this is the best quality information you can get in that category.

For instance, you may decide that commercial radio is not as good as a streaming service because of all the commercials. You may decide that one newspaper is better than another. You may decide that a website recommended by a colleague is full of click bait, but another one is full of better articles. You may find that you prefer one video service over another because of the quality of the videos.

Evaluate Quality to Your Life

Next, look at how this works in your life. If the information isn’t contributing in a positive way to your life, then you need to eliminate it. It’s ok to have information if it brings you something good, but things that drag you down or clutter your life are not a good way to spend your attention currency.

When I did this exercise, I discovered that the magazines I get from a professional society barely get a skim, and then get tossed. Not to mention the electronic copy they send me in email – after I have received the paper copy. And all the other emails I am getting from them for presenting at conferences and voting for various positions. Ugh. Gone. It didn’t contribute in a positive way to my professional life, and was in fact an annoyance every time I opened up my email.

I also stopped listening to the radio on my commute. Even non-commercial radio was leaving me angry, and that is no way to start a good positive work day. I switched to podcasts instead. I also stopped watching and reading the news. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that the spin makes me sick. Everyone I know knows I don’t read the news, so they generally let me know when something big happens.

I stopped watching over-the-air television. When I want to watch something, I use a streaming service. It cuts the ads, and also allows me to dictate the schedule when I consume.

One of my friends stopped using social media when she found that she was consumed with envy with what her friends were doing in their picture-perfect lives. After cutting out social media, she found real connections with some unexpected people, and joy in her less-than-perfect life.


Information today is overwhelming. If you can cut it down, you life gets more manageable (not to mention you gain a bunch of time back). When I applied this three-step formula to my own consumption I noticed that I was more peaceful, calm and happy.

What have you got to lose? Just your overwhelm. And if it doesn’t work for you, you can always go back to drinking from the fire hose. ๐Ÿ™‚