Six Simple Suggestions: How to Limit Information Overload and Filter Out the Pollution

“Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” —Mitchell Kapor, American entrepreneur and inventor of the Lotus spreadsheet program.

We have more information at our fingertips today than at any time in the history of the worldwhether we want it or not. The media, advertisers, spammers, bloggers, educators, and others throw it at us constantly… and sometimes we don’t know when to stop consuming it. As the Internet of Things really gets into gear, expect the problem to compound exponentially.

Even worse, a surprising portion of that information overload, including a majority of “common knowledge,” is simply wrong, passed on by well-meaning individuals who never bother to check its veracity. Recognize this one? It’s “common knowledge” that a duck’s quack doesn’t echo. Wrong; it’s just really hard to hear.

More to the point for us business types, it’s “common knowledge” that the Chevy Nova was a failure in Spanish-speaking countries, because “no va” means “doesn’t go” in Spanish. Not true; it means “not going,” though few people would use such a construction, as it’s poor Spanish. And why would they read a foreign word as two Spanish words anyway? That assumption is as about as offensive as claiming English-speakers would read Cadillac’s de Ville brand name as “Devil.” And how about this reality check? Chevy Novas sold just fine under that very name in numerous Spanish-speaking nations.

Call this polluted information overload info-spew, if you will.

There’s no industrial Brita filter for info-spew, so you’ll have to take direct action. Here are six simple suggestions for doing your part:

  1. Stop forwarding everything to everyone. It’s not 1995 anymore. Email is no longer a novelty. If it’s not already encoded in company regulations, don’t forward email lists, jokes, religious or political messages, chain letters, or LOLcats to everyone in your address book. Stop propagating email threads with Re:Re:Re:Re: responses. If you feel you must reply to an email with “Thanks”, “My pleasure,” or “OK,” do it in the subject header and follow it with “NT” for “No Text”, so your recipient doesn’t have to waste time opening your email. Use “Reply to All” very meagerly. Every time you open or send another email, you’re wasting potentially productive time.

  2. Block it out. You don’t have to pay attention to everything. Set up a whitelist on email so you only receive email from the people you work with regularly. Don’t check Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and the rest unless you absolutely need to for work. Don’t watch the news or check headlines, especially at work. Limit your play on social games so you get the rest you need. Refuse to bring your appliances online!

  3. Don’t pass on something you’re not sure is true. Numerous people, including Mark Twain and Senator Strom Thurmond, have been widely reported as dead when, in fact, they were not. Imagine the embarrassment and career damage those flubbed announcements caused. Then there’s the spinach debacle. For 67 years, an erroneous nutritional listing, reporting an order of magnitude more iron per serving than spinach actually offers, was repeated in article after book after report because no one ever bothered to check it. Ever wondered why Popeye the Sailor Man eats spinach to gain superpowers? Blame one misplaced decimal point.

  4. Use common sense. When you hear hoofbeats in the distance, do you expect to see zebras or unicorns? No, you expect horses, if you have any horse sense. So if something sounds tricky, sensationalist, or implausible, peel it with Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is usually true. And usually, that simplest explanation  that what you’ve heard or read is horse apples.

  5. Simplicity matters. When passing on new information, simplify. Just state the facts in clear, easy-to-read sentences so you don’t cause confusion. Remember, the ideal reading standard to write to is about eighth grade level. This isn’t because your readers are uneducated, but because they’re busy, and it’s easier to read. But making it simple doesn’t mean you should forego clarity. Provide all the information your readers need to understand the situation.

  6. Link supplementary information. Don’t reinvent the wheel; it wastes time and space. If you or someone else has already written up additional, more detailed information, point your readers to it or provide a link. No need to rehash.

Stop. Think.

You need not let information overload inundate you, and it’s easy to make your contribution to the infosphere both accurate and minimal. These six suggestions represent just a few simple ways to start. If you have others to contribute, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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