A Few Tips to Combat Information Overload in Human Resources

In this day and age, most of us are bloated from information-overload, and this anxiety can really affect our work life.  When I say “work life,” I don’t mean just the quality of your work, but how you experience it as a human being.  Some common ways this information-overload manifests itself are:

  • Feeling the need to “escape” from work
  • Struggling to make decisions, because there are so many choices
  • Tendency to over-simplify problems to make them easier to solve

Sadly, it’s normal to experience these symptoms in a job that requires you to track a large amount of information.  The anxiety of information is the experience of being pulled in a hundred different directions, and distracted from your true purpose and goals.  It’s a fear that your mind will drown in a sea of phone numbers and pay codes and ID’s.

I tend to look down on self-help books, but I do think we should acknowledge this: your work life is based first on your interior disposition towards work.  Foster your attitude towards work, and your work life will improve.

Work should provide a sense of freedom.

No, I am not referring to the dreadful Nazi proverb, “Work will set you free.”  I am referring to an interior disposition that can aid you while you work.  In corporate America, a little voice in our head tells us that the most important thing about our job is that we are productive and effective at it.  I disagree.  I believe that your experience of your work is more important, because you are more important than any job you do.

With this in mind, we come to the unique dilemma of the information age: with countless pieces of information vying for our attention at each moment, how do we do our jobs and stay human?!

Work space should provide a sense of freedom.

An interior disposition of freedom can and should be reflected in your work space.  Many artists create a work space where they are only allowed to work on their art.  Emily Dickinson wrote over 1,000 poems from her 18×18-inch writing-table.  Your monitor is about the same size, but it needs to be cleared enough to focus on one thing at a time.

If you don’t feel your space at work provides freedom, you may find yourself trying to escape more often because each moment spent “working” is a hassled, anxious moment where a dozen tasks demand attention.  Work does not have to be that way.

Practically speaking, we all need an approach to internet and software tools that allows us to concentrate on fulfilling our role of organizing information, while not feeling enslaved by that information.

So many tabs, so little time.

One important way to reclaim our concentration is to effectively manage our habits on the internet.  If you are considering a web-based solution to help manage all that human resources information, pause for a second.  How many browsing tabs do you have open as you read this article?  If the answer is more than five, then you might have a problem.  Your attention is divided five ways.

Like most people, I like to keep up with the news and a few blogs each day. But to actually begin work, one of the most productive things I can do is to close my internet browser, and the several tabs I have open.  (Before I started writing this, I had 10.)  Then I look at what tasks I have to accomplish, and pick one.

Might I also propose that there’s an advantage to software that offers a space away from ads or fads, a place to get things done.  If you can think of your HRIS that way, you are on the right track.

Your attention is precious, and is necessary to accomplish great things.

We develop HR solutions to help you manage the flux of information, but here’s the truth: the right HR software will not accomplish great things; the right HR system and processes will not accomplish great things.  Only people can accomplish great things.  If we aspire at all for our work to be effective, even great, then we must begin by fostering the power of concentration.

I hesitate to propose practical suggestions for improvement.  I want to encourage you first to give some thought to your underlying disposition towards what you do.  Still, here are a few tips that have helped me:

  • Be brutal with your clutter.  I define clutter as anything that is unessential at the moment.  Then I hack it off.
  • Avoid Facebook and Twitter.  Because the type of communication that most often occurs there gives us all ADHD.  They thrive off our inability to pay attention to something for more than a moment.
  • Walk around.  Outside if possible.

Do you feel overwhelmed by information at times?  What do you find helps you cope with information-overload?


* updated 2/20/13

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