Management, Wellbeing

How can I manage information effectively to avoid information overload?

20 August 2020 by Heidi Marshall

Rapid advances in communications technologies have led to an information age in which people are surrounded by continuous streams of data, messages and images. Information overload can lead to confusion, stress and analysis paralysis.

Proliferated over the internet, via social media sites, by email and through mobile devices, the sheer volume of information that managers are faced with on a daily basis is immense. Alongside important messages from customers, colleagues and other stakeholders, less-relevant newsfeeds and social media posts serve to distract. And much information on the internet is not new, but has simply been republished and slightly altered, thus increasing its quantity but not its quality.

The challenge for managers is to manage the flow of information, and avoid being overwhelmed by it to the extent where they are unable to think clearly or make decisions effectively. They must adopt a disciplined and organised approach to assess the usefulness of the information before them, and to select what is most relevant for the decisions at hand. 

John Caunt’s five Ds is one technique that can be used to handle information effectively and avoid overload. 

When presented with new information, managers should decide to do one of five Ds: Discard or delete information that is clearly irrelevant. Information should not be horded just because it might become useful one day. 

Deal with it now. It is often advantageous to process information immediately, when time permits. This avoids the same documents being looked at more than once. 

Determine future action. Where information cannot be looked at straight away, it should not be delayed indefinitely. Rather, a deadline for processing it should be set, along with appropriate reminders. 

Direct the information to someone else for whom it may be more useful. It should not, however, be passed on without due thought, simply as a means of working through your inbox. Think about how you expect the recipient to use the information, or it might simply add to the problem of information overload for them. 

Deposit it or file it away for future reference. Be selective and only store information that will become relevant at a later date. Be sure to organise it so it can be easily found when needed. Otherwise, a mass of information will be collected that will never be read. 

As well as assessing and filtering information effectively, managers should develop their competencies to assimilate it quickly. Start by selecting an article that provides an overview, preferably with an executive summary of the key points. Skim read the contents page, introduction and conclusion, before scanning the main body of the document for the most-relevant sections. Highlight important points to avoid rereading passages later on and make very visible notes in the margins for easy reference.

It is likely that the main body of knowledge for a topic will be repeated in many documents, so there may be incrementally less benefit from further reading to find new information. Apply the 80/20 rule to remind you that you will obtain 80% of the information you want from the first 20% of effort you put in, and this is often good enough. Extra time spent processing information is actually wasteful, because it pulls you away from other, more-productive tasks. 

This content is taken from Corndel's Leadership and Management Diploma.

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