You can’t quite put your finger on it, but all of a sudden your team seems a little...off. Some people say it feels like they enter a brain fog when they have to work. Others are feeling frustrated, and a few have even said they dread hearing about new projects.
You may assume people are feeling overworked, but the problem goes much deeper than that. We’ve seen this problem pop up at countless companies, and we know what’s causing trouble: your co-workers and employees have come down with a serious case of information overload.
Star Trek: TNG had it right, it feels just like this
The information overload problem
Information overload is just what it sounds like: people become bombarded with both relevant and irrelevant information. The sheer amount of information they’re faced with can make it difficult to make decisions or even understand what they’re presented.
Bertram Gross, a Professor of Political Science at Hunter College, first used the term in his paper The Managing of Organizations in 1964. The term may be decades old, but it’s clear that we’re living at peak information overload. If the problem was prolific enough in the 1960s, imagine what it looks and feels like in our “always connected” internet age.
A June 2020 survey found that globally, nearly 45% of workers say that the information sources they check each day have increased over the past 5 years. On top of that, nearly a third of workers across the globe say this glut of information is making them feel more stressed at work.
The consequences of information overload at work can affect every aspect of your business. Employees feel less satisfied with their jobs. They start having trouble focusing, make more mistakes, and feel like they can’t make decisions. In fact, some speculate that “The Great Resignation” is actually “The Great Discontent”. The constant stream of information has finally made some people reach their breaking point, and they’re choosing to leave their jobs to find some bit of peace.
Two highly effective strategies for combating information overload at work
We may be bombarded with endless information, but we shouldn’t expect the flow of data to slow down anytime soon. With so many modern jobs depending on data collection and analysis, critical thinking, and problem solving that seemingly endless flow of information is important.
That’s why the best way to combat overload is to think of proactive ways to handle it.
We can’t promise you that you’ll stop receiving after-hours texts or will never get Slack-bombed with messages when you’re trying to focus on work. But if you start following some of these suggestions, you may be able to turn that fire hose of information into something more manageable.
This attitude is required at work
1. Be discerning about your time
When you have a flood of emails to respond to, a calendar full of meetings, and plenty of projects and co-workers that need your attention, you must become the gatekeeper of your own time. Time management skills are absolutely crucial for combating overload.
Work suddenly shifts from being proactive to reactive when you can’t properly manage your time. Avoid this common problem by focusing on the best way to manage the time you have.
Assign time limits to certain tasks so you can move on and avoid spinning your wheels when you’re stuck. Create your own daily schedule and prioritize tasks based on importance, immediacy, and manpower.
Reese Witherspoon knows how to appreciate a good knowledge management system
2. Embrace knowledge management
Internal knowledge organization is absolutely crucial for companies. Everyone should be able to easily access any information they need to do their work. That’s why we’re firm advocates for embracing knowledge management in the workplace.
Knowledge management can be defined as any developed system that helps people in a business or organization create, distribute, access, and update information. A true knowledge management system won’t just involve creating new folder structures or naming conventions for files (although that’s a great start). Even though access and organization are important first steps to embracing knowledge management, the two alone aren’t enough. You also need a mechanism to distribute the right knowledge to the right people at the right time. That’s where the true knowledge management magic happens.
Take time to train everyone from individual contributors to managers so they understand the best way to utilize and grow your knowledge management system. Work hard to create a company culture that doesn’t just practice knowledge management, but also embraces it.
Thinking differently about knowledge management can have indirect benefits you may not have thought of. Subject matter experts (SMEs) can feel empowered and appreciated at work and also be given a much-deserved break from shoulder taps. The SME’s knowledge can trickle down and help spread those good vibes to other people on their teams.
The benefits don’t stop with individual employees. Organizations can enjoy transformative benefits from knowledge management too. Imagine what could happen when employees have the ability to focus on work, feel empowered to do their jobs, and gradually get a bit more of their days back to themselves.
Since people have a more autonomous schedule they now have plenty of flexibility and time to work. Suddenly everyone has the knowledge they need to do their jobs, and your overwhelmed employees suddenly transform into people who are actually thrilled to go to work the next day. If you’ve been searching for a serious organizational glow-up, investing in knowledge management could be what you need.
Want to learn how to build an internal knowledge management system your team will love? Check out our how-to post on the topic.
Bring it all together
If you’ve learned anything about combating information overload at work, it’s that there’s a time and place for everything, and it really shouldn’t be your inbox (or Slack, Teams, or your preferred comms tool).
One of the most common sources of overload comes from the sheer amount of communication channels and tools we use to do our job. Instead of trying to cut down on helpful tools you use at work, focus on finding a way to make them more accessible and allow people to better utilize them.
Remember, knowledge is only as good as its usage. You’re going to need a tool that has the ability to insert knowledge in people’s workflows when it's the most useful. And one that integrates with your most-used software is even better.
Want to know where to find a tool that can do it all? Check out Guru.