There’s no doubt that digitalisation is changing the world. On a day-to-day basis, technology has a huge impact on our personal and work lives. A recent survey by Accel and Qualtrics, based on 8000 respondents globally, shows that for 73% of Millennials, technology has created a better work-life balance. It has also affected work and personal relationships by facilitating better communication with fewer barriers. However, only 47% of the older generations feel the same way.
The digitalisation of the world today has resulted in Millennials checking their phones 150 times a day. The desire to be constantly updated has led to something akin to a technology addiction. The research shows this is also applicable to the rest of the generations, and is especially prevalent in the corporate world where big businesses are concerned. Across various industries and sometimes regardless of company size, people are answering to hundreds of emails per workday. Information about everything and everybody is easily accessible, and the variety of mediums we can access it through means that information seems to find us by itself, even if we’re not searching for it. Social media is a huge contributor to this, as our phones are constantly buzzing with notifications from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Most of us, including those in big corporations, are used to keeping our phones near our beds, and 79% of the Millennials admit to checking their phones in the middle of the night. It’s no wonder that nowadays we end up with the so-called “information overload”. While inarguably technology has benefits and makes our lives easier, it can have a significant negative effect on our personal and work lives too.
Do you recognise yourself as someone who fits the patterns above? Or does the description fit colleagues, friends or family? Keep reading to find out why it is important to acknowledge that information overload could be a problem, and for some tips and tricks to help handle it better. Understanding information overload, and how to mitigate it, can go a long way to helping people feel less overwhelmed.
The big corporate world and the information overload
Mary Jane Roy, a professional trainer and a stress resiliency coach is well known in the corporate world of the Netherlands for the workshops she runs. She is a co-owner of the company KEYSTONE success who have developed the innovative Keystone Vitality Check. This provides individuals with a self-scan for their wellbeing but also helps companies better understand (anonymously) the overall wellbeing of their employees. The check has over 1300 respondents, most of which are part of the big corporate world of the Netherlands. It looks to identify the “vitality” of a workforce and considers the everyday pressures that people are facing. The scan queries things like the respondents’ sleeping routines, and whether people are experiencing enough work-life balance. It often gives companies eye-opening results regarding their workforce. One of the questions the respondents need to answer is if they are disconnecting daily from their mobile-phones and emails when they are at home. Only 3.7% of all of the respondents agreed that they were.
“So we are not turning off on a regular basis, and we are hearing often from participants of our training and coaching sessions that they are checking their phones first thing on awakening and they are checking them again before they go to sleep. […]Many of the leaders in the big corporate world will reach out at 3:00 in the morning, sending an email. Your phone is next to your bed, you hear the ring and “oh, I have got to answer that.” […] This is something that has to change in the culture of a lot of companies.”
In modern working environments, there is a tendency for people to work 16-18 hours a day. During which, they are constantly online. According to a survey from 2012 by McKinsey Global Institute, the average worker spends 28% of that time managing emails. Additionally, a study by Gloria Mark from the University of California shows that it takes 25 minutes to return to focus on your original task after you have been interrupted. It shows, on average, interruptions of a task occur every 11 minutes.
Mary Jane Roy points out that receiving a massive amount of information every day could be quite distracting, and could have a negative impact on productivity and decision-making. We’re increasingly aware that stress in the office and outside of it can lead to burnout. It takes time to recover from that point of burnout, and can be an expensive process for companies. The coach firmly believes it is time for the business world to start acknowledging the consequences employees face from information overload, and to start working towards ways of counteracting them.
Managing information overload
Some big corporate companies organise training programmes for its employees on how to deal with the pressures of the digital world. Some of these are programmes on mindfulness which help people to focus on specific tasks and productivity. One of the main lessons people can glean from programmes like these, is the importance of focusing on, and fulfilling, one assignment before you start another.
Mary Jane Roy, has some salient advice when it comes to emails and dealing with daily stressors. She personally doesn’t connect to her emails on her phone, and checks them only when she is in front of her laptop. With increasing demands on individuals in the work place – good time management is crucial. It’s worth planning specific time during the day to check your emails, to avoid having to break away from other tasks to address them. Mary Jane Roy also emphasises the importance of identifying your own stress triggers and energy drainers.
“That self-awareness and checking in with yourself on a regular basis, making that a habit instead of just constantly (automatically) checking your phone or what is coming in - it is <s>the</s> one major tip that I can give to people.”
Taking regular breaks, Mary Jane Roy explains, is also very important. Every 90 minutes or so, we should stop for 2-3 minutes either for movement break, a breathing break or a moment of self-reflection. Movement has a huge impact on our productivity and stress levels, and is important for our physical health.
“There is a saying now that sitting is the new smoking. […] If you think, from the time you get up in the morning to the time you go to bed, how much time are you actually sitting? The average sitting hours we hear from people in the corporate world is 14 hours a day. If you consider that you might be sleeping 6-8 hours a day, then our physically active time is really restricted.”
Perhaps one of the most significant pieces of advice Mary Jane Roy has to offer is to set our boundaries, and to learn to say “NO” to additional work if your ‘plate’ is already full. Trying to accomplish too many tasks can mean that nothing gets done well and adds to the stress of performing well. Research is showing that we really can’t multi-task.
Taking into account the advice from the experts, we’ve pulled together seven tips on how to manage information overload:
Follow our seven tips around information overload, to help you achieve a happy and balanced working life.
Emanuela Milanova has over 5 years of experience in journalism.
She graduated with a Master’s degree in Information and Knowledge Management in VU, Amsterdam.
As part of the Social Media Team for Staples Solutions, she’s been an integral part of the creation this article, undertaking intensive research and conducting the interview for the piece. She is driven by the passion to research the relationship between work-life reality and the digitalisation of the world.
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