How to Avoid Being Overwhelmed by Information

Four Methods:Limiting the Amount of Information You EncounterSimplifying an Overwhelming Work EnvironmentBuilding Your Resistance to Information OverloadReacting to the Feeling of Being Overwhelmed

You are likely exposed to over 15 hours of media every single day, emanating for dozens of different sources of information conveyed via video, print, audio, and more.[1] It is becoming increasingly harder to prevent all of the this information to lead to a constant feeling of being overwhelmed. Accordingly, it becomes increasingly important to take steps to limit the amount of information that is allowed access to your attention, keep your virtual and physical workspaces free of debris, and take care of yourself to keep information overload at bay.

Method 1
Limiting the Amount of Information You Encounter

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    Take a tech break. If you feel like you’re starting to drown in information, the best way to get your feet back on solid ground is by turning off the faucet. Every single day, get away from both your phone and computer for an hour or two. For many people, this simple task seems almost unthinkable. In fact, the harder this may seem, the more likely you will benefit from taking a break.[2]
    • As incredibly and useful as smartphones, tablets, and laptops are, they are also the vessels through which you are exposed to far more information than you can possibly handle.
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    Limit the information your devices prompt you to consume. The torrential accumulation of information that is available will only continue to increase. However, you can choose to limit the amount of information that literally occupies your mind. In particular, set aside a block of time to tackle the task of unsubscribing to every email list you no longer want to receive. Similarly, change the settings on your phone to only allow a few apps to distract you with alerts.[3]
    • Depending on the forms of email and other applications you use on your online devices, the specific process of limiting your exposure will vary.
    • Essentially: eliminate the sources of distractions that expose you to unnecessary information that is contributing to mental discomfort, whether you realize it or not.
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    Establish boundaries, and stick to them. With our increased connectivity to other people and literally limitless sources of information, it can readily seem as though you are always being exposed to more and more things to think about, respond to, or otherwise address. This can readily lead to information overload. There are all sorts of boundaries you can set up to reduce the amount of information that brings itself to your attention.[4]
    • A classic example is setting up some strict work-life boundaries. That said, peoples’ increasing use of social media platforms means you’re not only facing a barrage of emails from work, but an endless stream of updates, promotions, invitations, and emoticons.
    • Recognize that you may simply need to commit to leaving your work computer at work, or disallow yourself from using social media platforms outside of scheduled time slots that you choose to do so.

Method 2
Simplifying an Overwhelming Work Environment

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    Reduce the clutter in your physical work space. As important as it is to keep your virtual inboxes scrubbed clean of unnecessary sources of information, you also need to keep your physical workspace organized as well.[5] Keep the surface of your desk, in particular, free of clutter.
    • A helpful rule of thumb: If you don’t use it every day, put it somewhere out of the way, preferably even out of sight.
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    Keep a paper schedule. While electronic schedules can potentially increase the ease with which you stay abreast of multiple commitments, they can also readily become bogged down with unimportant events or be incapable to importing different types of events from all your different communication platforms. Paper schedules offer the benefits of having everything important right in front of you, titled, labeled, and otherwise organized in a way that’s entirely up to you.
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    Make lists and prioritize responsibilities. Make of list of everything you need to get done, and organize it according to different types of tasks or the timeframe in which they need to be completely. Most importantly, however, make sure to indicate tasks of greater importance so that you are reminded to get them out of the way first.
    • To help doing so, consider using different colored inks when writing your lists and schedules to visualize your responsibilities and keep what’s important in front of your mind’s eye.
    • For more specific guidance on making productivity-enhancing lists, see the wikiHow article on how to make a list.
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    Get clarification on your specific responsibilities. If your responsibilities at work have become bothersome or you feel as though you’ve been tasked with more than you can handle, you should communicate with your boss or supervisor. In particular, ask for clarification regarding what, specifically, is expected of you.[6]
    • If you are consistently asked to perform tasks that are not part of your job description, bring this to their attention.
    • Frame the conversation as motivated by your desire to better understand what is required of you. Say something direct and respectful like, “I’m hoping to clarify the specific tasks I am individually responsible for.”
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    Don’t be afraid to say no. You may be taking on more than is healthy or productive. Though it may feel as though you’re struggling to balance or process large amounts of information, you may simply have committed to more tasks than can reasonably be addressed at the same time.[7]
    • Don’t allow co-workers to take advantage of your willingness to take on additional tasks. Think about what is being asked of you by yours peers – as well as your superiors – and be honest when you are unable or unwilling to do what is asked of you.
    • Another rule to follow: Only say yes when you really mean it. Maybe there is a simple task that either you or a coworker could complete. Don’t agree to taking it on unless it truly does not bother you to do so.
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    Work to improve your productivity one step at a time. It can be counterproductive to try to change the way you do several things all at once. If you identify multiple steps you intend to take to increase your productivity, implement them one at a time. Wait to implement a new step until you’ve fully incorporated a positive change into your life and no longer think about it.[8]
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    Build short breaks into your work day. Especially if you sit at a computer all day, you will be more productive, and feel less overwhelmed by constant information, if you take quick, scheduled breaks every few hours. Aside from giving your brain a moment to recalibrate without new information coming in, your perspective on whatever you’re doing will likely improve with the chance to step back and clear your mind.[9]
    • Choose the frequency and duration of breaks based on your job, and on what seems to work for you. Some people prefer a five minute break every hour, or a half hour break every few hours.

Method 3
Building Your Resistance to Information Overload

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    Get plenty of sleep. The amount of your rest you get may not seem immediately related to your ability to resist the sensation of information overload, but getting enough sleep is vital to your ability to process information efficiently. Further, getting sufficient rest decreases the likelihood you will experience the feeling of being overwhelmed, regardless of what your day holds.[10]
    • The perfect amount of sleep varies for different people. If possible, go to bed while allowing for eight hours of sleep before you get up. If you repeatedly wake up without an alarm after six or seven hours of sleep, this amount of time is likely sufficient.
    • Help yourself get to bed by developing healthy sleep habits, including minimizing screen use in the evening and avoiding caffeine later in the day.
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    Avoid intense discussions just before bed. Important personal discussions that will engage you emotionally, and potentially upset, surprise, or sadden you should be avoided right before bed. While it’s important to have these types of conversations if you or someone you love feels it is necessary to do so, try to avoid having important conversations in the bedroom.[11]
    • This can be challenging, as many people’s best chance to speak with their partners often occurs right before bed.
    • To prevent new, potentially significant issues from coming up in the evening, establish a policy with whomever you spend your evenings not to begin potentially serious conversations with in the hour or two preceding your usual bedtime.
    • If you and yours can’t help yourselves from talking to one another excitedly, consider implementing a silent wind down period before actually going to bed. They may sound like overkill, but policies such as these can greatly enhance the quality of your rest.
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    Start the day on a positive mental note. Starting the day relaxed and ready to go will greatly enhance your ability to deal with stress – including the stress associated with the inevitable onslaught of information endemic to contemporary life. Meditation exercises, journaling, or gentle physical exercises, for instance, are a healthy and empowering way to greet the day.[12]
    • Spend five minutes lying in bed and picture yourself rising, preparing for the day, and stepping out into the world ready and capable of handling whatever you encounter. If concerns rise up in your mind, immediately picture yourself dealing with them, without thinking about the specifics.
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    Keep a journal. The act of writing out your thoughts and feelings on paper can have a significantly positive effect on your ability to center yourself and clear your mind. Not only will your thoughts become more organized, they will have a tangible existence in your journal, which may allow you to quit revisiting them in your mind.[13]
    • Further, the act of writing will help you remove some of the mental detritus that’s floating around your mind by helping you focus on those things that are worth addressing further while pushing away the rest.
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    Walk to work. Stated simply, getting a bit of exercise – including just a moderate walk – will help your mind and be resist becoming overwhelmed for the rest of the day. As you walk, you take in all sorts of information – sights, scents, temperature changes – but they’re pieces of information that your body craves. More tangibly, the increase in your blood’s circulation will help get your body physically engaged and ready to tackle the day’s tasks. [14]
    • Exercise more heavily after work if you had a particularly overwhelming day. Exercise immediately reduces stress by improving your breathing, diminishing the physical symptoms of feeling overwhelmed, and increasing the supply of relaxing neurotransmitters to your brain.
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    Get support from friends and family. Resist the inclination to hole up when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Your friends and family in particular will can offer an incredible source of support just by offering their ears. The opportunity to simply express your thoughts and feelings will go a long way in helping you process the information and sentiments you may be struggling with.[15]
    • Know that friends and family members are much more likely to be humbled by your willingness to speak with them than they are to be feel burdened. Don’t hesitate to open up.
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    Get professional help. If you continue to struggle with the feeling that you’re overwhelmed by the amount of information you encounter in your daily life, get help from a mental health professional. Professional psychologists can help you learn to prevent and address stress, not to mention adjust your lifestyle to one that may help you feel overwhelmed less often.[16]

Method 4
Reacting to the Feeling of Being Overwhelmed

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    Relax yourself with a controlled breathing exercise. Meditation and mindfulness are extremely effective ways to address the feeling of being overwhelmed, not to mention clear your mind and reduce stress. Respond to any overwhelming sentiments as soon as they arise by taking a moment to breathe deeply and focus on your breath while doing so.[17]
    • Close your eyes and inhale deeply while counting slowly to four. Exhale just as slowly, again counting to four.
    • Repeat this process several times, while thinking only about your breath as in enters or leaves your body, filling and emptying your chest.
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    Focus on a simple activity. If your mind tends to wander when you attempt to focus on your breath, start by focusing on a particular action. For instance, go for a quick walk and focus on your footsteps. Don’t assess your footsteps, rather feel them occur mindfully, without passing judgement. Your ability to focus with the goal of emptying your mind will improve the more you perform simple mental exercises such as these.[18]
    • Look for opportunities to practice focusing on something simple throughout your day, as this will help keep your mind more focused generally.
    • Another great opportunity to practice mindfulness is during a meal. The next time you sit down to eat, choose somewhere quiet, and try to think only about each bite - including how it feels and taste as you chew - and nothing more.
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    Actively address problems that are bothering you. If something is weighing on your mind, it may likely contribute to the feeling that there’s too much going on in your life, even if you’re thinking about other things most of the time. Be proactive about addressing any sources of stress in your life, as they will likely contribute the feeling of being overwhelmed if left unaddressed.[19]

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Categories: Creating Life Balance