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We are constantly consuming information. Be it tweets about the weather, email newsletters that we can’t seem to unsubscribe to, Facebook updates from old classmates or sponsored ads blocking the screen of a viral YouTube-clip we really want to check out. We almost take pride in balancing it all, answering an email the moment we get it or filling in the blanks during a conversation by taking out our smartphone and doing a quick Google search. Some might call that being efficient; others would call it information overload.

Playwright Richard Foreman warned us, we are becoming “pancake people”, spreading our time, activities and attention so thin that we are often just scratching the surface and not investing ourselves in-depth in any subject or conversation.

Interesting thoughts on the concept from Forbes contributor Frances Booth in the article ‘Are you one of the pancake people?’

Because information is so easily accessible today, we are supposed to know everything in the blink of an eye. Be it the weather, the score in last night’s soccer game, how the stock exchange is looking an hour after opening, what outfit Beyonce posted on Instagram yesterday, or the latest iOS update bug fixes.

What I think is interesting is that people are forgetting the difference between ‘information’ and ‘important”‘. We strive at reaching inbox zero, feeling kind of proud of ourselves for answering emails the second we get them. A report from McKinsey & Company claimed that the average interaction worker spends an estimated 28 per cent of the workweek managing email. That’s more than a fourth of the working time. Something tells me we are not being as efficient as we might think we are.

5 tips for taking control of your information overload consumption:

1. “Hamburgers are not making us fat, eating them is”
Just because there are hamburgers doesn’t mean we have to eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday; just because there is information, doesn’t mean that we have to consume it. Tell yourself it is okay to not be on top of everything all the time. Be it messages, emails, news updates, social media timelines. There’s no one forcing you to consume everything, at least not every day. Reflect upon how much information you are really consuming in one day, and what it’s actually doing to you. What can’t you live without, and what could you go without?

2. The difference between ‘information’ and ‘important’
Seriously, not everything you read online is equally as important. Not all emails and messengers require you to answer straight away. Some don’t really require your attention or answer at all. And the problem is that focussing so much on everything makes it easy for us to miss out on what’s really relevant. We miss the key-messages that are urgent for work or from our loved ones. Plus, we miss that the most important things are not on our screens, but probably happening all around us. Emails piling up in your inbox are all information, but not all are important information.

3. Stop the email overload — become efficient through new routines
Create routines for sending emails at work. The time when I felt kind of important receiving a lot of emails AND being able to answer them all has stopped. Always checking your inbox to discover new emails puts down your creativity, concentration and efficiency in all other aspects of the work load. So my advice is set guidelines. Decide to only send emails with relevant information — already put together on one subject. Don’t copy everyone on every email. If you have something quick to say to or ask a co-worker, use a chat programme or instant messaging instead. Skype is great for that, and you can use it both on your computer and smartphone, continuing the same conversation regardless of device. Using a task management programme like Trello really works in our team. Or hey, why not just walk over and ask in person once in a while?

4. Use technology to force focus on one thing at a time
If you’re not really succeeding in focussing at one thing at a time, there is technology to help you out. Self-Control for Mac blocks out distracting websites for a set amount of time; perfect if you know what is normally stealing your attention. Focus Booster helps you focus on a single task at a time for 25 minutes apiece, helping you with you time management planing. Swingmail is an iOS app designed to only deliver conversations from your most important contacts — learning who are your prioritised contacts by studying your past email and social messaging patterns. It helps you stay focussed. Are you an Android person? Check out Snowball to manage all your conversations in one app!

5. Take a break once in a while and semi-disconnect
It is claimed that we check our phones 150 times a day. That’s unlocking your phone every seven minutes on average when awake. We live in a connected society, and I don’t want to tell anyone to disconnect completely. However, maybe you don’t really need your smartphone laying on your table during dinner. And maybe the best way to fall asleep might not by staring at your screen trying to beat the next level on Candy Crush for 20 minutes — at least not every night. Think of the difference it would make to your everyday life if instead of looking down on your smartphone 150 times, you’d do it 75 times. I think you’ll survive taking a break, at least for an hour.

The views expressed here are of the author, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested to share your point of view, please send us an email to writers[at]e27[dot]co

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