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How Information Overload Is Ruining Your Work Life

By Daniel Schwarz

Information overload is when your brain exceeds its processing capacity and leaves you feeling tired (like when your computer runs out of RAM and your computer crashes). It can also weaken your concentration, leaving you more susceptible to making bad decisions, and as a result, more likely to overload yourself from other sources of information as a means of procrastinating on important tasks. Yep, that’s right, I’m talking about television, the internet, checking emails, watching videos, and anything else that feeds you with information.

Information overload and attention fatigue

Let’s take a look at how information overload can ruin your work life and how you’re probably doing it without even realizing.

Why Your Body Craves Information

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that affects your productivity, motivation and focus — some even call it the “motivation molecule” because it boosts your drive and concentration while helping you to resist negative impulses.

One of those impulses is the need to feed and I’m not only talking about your dietary intake; your body also craves information. Dopamine induces feelings of euphoria when you exercise, eat, drink, engage with your hobbies, and so on. Many of these things, including information, are addictive.

Basically, anything you do that makes you happy, makes you happy because it releases dopamine into your brain. Most of these things are bad for you (like unhealthy food, for instance) if your intake isn’t moderated. One of the hardest to moderate is your information intake because it only affects your mental wellbeing, leaving you feeling lethargic, unfocused, and sometimes even depressed if you overload yourself with it.

What Information Overload Does to You

Information overload can mean many things. It can mean that you’ve ingested too much of your to-do list at once and you’re feeling a little overwhelmed; it can mean that you’ve used up all of your cognitive capacity scrolling Facebook for the last two hours; it can mean that you’re not filtering your emails enough and you’ve wasted half of the day replying to them.

It could even mean that you’ve watched too many YouTube videos or Googled too many things — internet addiction is a real thing because it also induces dopamine in the body. We live in a world where the internet makes information so accessible to us that we can even become desensitized to dopamine over time, making it much harder for us to achieve optimum happiness.

Attention Fatigue

Information overload can be trigged in many ways, and the result of that trigger is something that we call attention fatigue.

Attention fatigue is when your brain literally shuts down as a result of having too much information to deal with, leaving you feeling unmotivated and tired. In many ways you can limit your information intake, but sometimes (when you simply have too much to do) you can also reset your brain by taking a break. Lets take a look at some ways that we can curb attention fatigue.

Walking can reset your brain

How to Break Bad Habits

Breaking bad habits is stressful at first because you’re addicted to the dopamine high that they give you, and you’re also repeating your bad habits because they’ve become a second-nature to you — you do them without even thinking. Here’s a list of things you can do right now to kick these habits:

1. Have regular breaks or optimize your work hours

After some trial-and-error I found that working 4 hours a day (every day) leaves me feeling incredibly energetic, as opposed to a typical 9-5 weekday setup that left me feeling drained.

2. Boost your dopamine levels in a variety of ways

Don’t commit all of your time to one activity; this applies to hobbies and your day-to-day work tasks. Too much of anything will eventually cause boredom and attention fatigue.

3. Don’t start the day with your computer — ever

Don’t waste all of your juice before you’ve even started the day. This is a very common mistake, and the worst one to make!

4. Lock away your triggers (television, internet)

While I’m not a huge fan of television myself, there are TV features that can block access during certain times of the day, and there are a number of apps that can do the same thing for internet access (or specific websites if needed).

Locking away your distraction triggers

Further reading: How to Master the Habit of Forming Good Habits

How to Curb Unnecessary Communication

Reaching inbox zero only to have another bundle of emails flow right in is something I’m sure everyone can relate to. It’s a never-ending story, and even if you manage to finish the book there’s a sequel called “Communication & Collaboration: How to Talk About Your Project As a Team Until It’s Time to Go Home”.

Email Overload

Preventing attention fatigue boils down to prioritizing what you actually do at work. If you find that half the emails you receive could have been avoided, then maybe you need to have kind of system that filters unsolicited requests, spam, newsletters and notifications from your social media channels. I filter all of those into separate mailboxes so that I can leave unimportant emails until the end of the day, otherwise I grow very tired and bored before I’ve even begun my work day.

Conversation Overload

A common mistake when setting up teams is throwing a communication app into the workflow and assuming that it will automatically improve productivity. If you allow teams to talk with one another, they will talk until the cows come home, sometimes even as a means of avoiding doing any actual work.

Let’s take Slack for example. You can integrate your other apps (management apps, to-do apps, customer service apps, collaboration apps, whiteboard apps) into Slack to make the conversation more actionable and contextual.

So rather than saying “Yeah, so when we end this conversation I’ll do this and that,” you can instead do it from within Slack, in the moment. Many other communication apps are extensible like this, enabling you to shift back to your work very quickly.

Conclusion

Feeling the effects of attention fatigue is quite awful, especially when the focus of your attention doesn’t exactly bring you closer to achieving your goals, leaving you feeling “done” before you’ve even started. But now that you know how information overload works, you can prioritize (or eliminate) activities that would usually take a huge bite out of your day.

It’s actually quite fascinating how time flies when you’re checking your Facebook or replying to emails, and how addictive that can be when you’re constantly searching for something to stimulate your brain. How do you allocate your time?

  • http://andrewlaucopywriter.com/ Andrew Lau

    Love your article Daniel. I’m often glued to my computer, trying to get more and more and more work done. I had no idea the tiredness that comes from this is called ‘attention fatigue.’ Will be more careful managing my screen time moving forward. Cheers.

    • https://mrdaniels.ch/warz/ Daniel Schwarz

      If you spend an excessive amount of time doing something you will eventually feel the effects of attention fatigue, this applies to gaming, internet, work, checking emails. Eventually you’ll come to the stage where you think, “uh, I can’t do this anymore”. And of course some of us are addicted to things like the internet and can’t stop, which is pretty bad for your mental health. Glad it helped you mate!

      • http://andrewlaucopywriter.com/ Andrew Lau

        Loved it, keep writing! Cheers! If you have time, check out some of my Sitepoint articles and let me know what you think :-)

        • https://mrdaniels.ch/warz/ Daniel Schwarz

          I’m familiar with your articles. I LOVED your thoughts on perfectionism, sadly it’s something I’ve been dealing with for years now!

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