3 Ways to Deal With Information Overload

How tools designed to enhance productivity can cripple your workflow

In my last job I developed an allergy to Slack. My colleagues would constantly ask me about something they’d Slacked me as if I spent all my time breathlessly monitoring the endless chat streams on the platform.

If you’re one of those people who happen to find Slack and similar “productivity” tools useful, good for you. Personally, though, I find that such instant messaging platforms build an expectation of immediate response that harms productivity.

It’s important to carefully manage these time vampires and stop your day disappearing into a vortex of inane chatter and meaningless “action”. These are some strategies I found helpful in that, please add your own in the comments!

1 — Plan ahead

Dedicate a minutes at the start of each day –maybe with that first cup of coffee– to taking a step back and prioritising your most important tasks. Allocate a realistic amount of time to complete each one, and then block that time in your diary, making sure to close those social media and email tabs first.

2 — Cut out Distractions

Try this out for size: Turn off your Wi-Fi and your phone (or if that’s too much, too quickly, put it on silent and turn it over so that you can’t see those flashing notification lights telling you that someone has just liked something you posted yesterday on Facebook or favourited your Tweet). Painful? I bet.

Unless you’re a social media manager tasked with real-time responses (in which case Tweetdeck is your friend), that pattern can be counter-productive though, as multi-tasking is just not as efficient as devoting your full attention to a task.

3 — Don’t be “always on”

Instead of having various email and social media tabs open, with synced notifications popping up all over various devices, I now have set time slots throughout the day to check, prioritise and deal with incoming messages and alerts. I’ve developed a system where “quick wins” (queries that can be solved in less than five minutes) are dealt with straight away, with more complex tasks being assigned a priority level and allocated a time in my diary to be dealt with.

Before employing these strategies, I had started to feel a bit like Mae Holland, Dave Egger’s heroine in , who finds herself saddled with so many screens and monitoring devices she is eventually unable to go offline at all. The turning point for me came when I started developing a rash from wearing my Fitbit for too long (even in my sleep). Fact and fiction were too close for comfort.

Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications

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