Here’s the challenge: read this article without being distracted by any notification that pops up on your screen. Do not answer the phone, reply to a message or check an email. Do you think you can do it?
Information has seeped into every aspect of our lives unchecked. The result? We’re bursting at the seams. According to a Microsoft study, over half of the UK’s office workers have experienced information overload.
Thing is, there are a two problems with information today: not only is there too much of it, but we’re not very good at focusing on the worthwhile. We cherry pick. And this has big impacts on our levels of productivity, particularly in the workplace.
We are addicted to information technology and it makes us ill and unproductive. We use smart phones compulsively, anxiously, desperately. We even undergo withdrawal when we are separated from them.
It was back in 2014 when a study from Microsoft popularised the term ‘infobesity’. The findings sound a little like a future dictatorship where mobile phones are our Big Brother, checking in on us when we check them. Then you realise it’s describing you, right now. Whilst 55% of us have experienced information overload, 58% of us think about work as soon as we wake up, 52% of us check our emails on going to bed. 45% think that we should answer an email immediately. This is all bad for our wellbeing and productivity.
For many, a phone notification causes a raise in heart rate. Men’s Health reported that being unable to answer a ringing phone spiked anxiety in participants. Though it causes more stress, juggling distracting information with other tasks doesn’t actually get anything done faster.
Yes, Microsoft’s infobesity study was from 2 years ago, but if anything, the problem is getting weightier.
58% of us have experienced information overload.
Have you ever been surprised by an election result because your Facebook newsfeed echoed with a different opinion? Fun fact: this June, Facebook changed its algorithm so that posts from other websites- mostly newspapers and journals – are far less likely to appear on your feed than posts your friends and family have liked. Our newsfeeds are increasingly becoming “a place of even greater comfort and conformity”, according to Wired.
In these pre-approved articles, indeed in articles around the web, you’ll only reads the bits you want to read. Information is disposable. It’s not like we’ve bought the book, after all. It’s not even like the information is all laid out chronologically any more.
So we pick and choose what to read. We get used to sifting and we don’t read anything we don’t like. In other words, we “eat dessert first” as Clay Johnson, author of ‘The Information Diet’ (2012) says. Our reliance on technology sends us flitting from article to article, tab to tab and we end up eating the equivalent of whipped cream and toppings and don’t digest any of the healthy and necessary nutrients.
At the moment, we are using technology to simply speed up old ways of working where, really, we should be using it to transform the way in which we work. In other words, we could be doing a lot more to capitalise on the data deluge.
The solution is really difficult. We rely on technology to do a good job, after all. But we need to be aware of the negative effects it can have on our productivity, our time and our health. We need the internet’s information- but we only need the good stuff.
Maybe the errors we’re making are beginners’ mistakes? Really, we’re the first generation who are always ‘switched on’. But the power is in our hands to change it.
Outsmart the information overload , find the good articles, and give them the attention they deserve.
Like any good relationship between man and beast, your relationship with your smartphone needs boundaries. Don’t let it sleep in your bed.
At work, try and do one task at a time. And have a screen break. In fact, have one now.
- By Hannah Sims, editor at Perkbox
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