A recent report by non-profit organisation Information Overload Research Group has attracted considerable attention with regard to digital overload. It found that in 2011 office workers in the US spent around 25 percent of their time on the long and growing data streams through email and other digital communication channels. The estimated cost for the economy: more than 800 billion euros per year.
Do You Work More for Your Inbox Than for Yourself?
How many hours do you spend looking at irrelevant news feeds or focusing on secondary tasks? Are you always busy but rarely productive? Even if everything you do is of a professional nature, we all find it difficult to get our priorities straight in this digital world.
In principle, you have two options to combat digital overload: switch off or manage. We recommend a combination of the two, because no-one can afford to go offline for hours in today’s working environment. Fortunately, there are effective strategies to help you work efficiently and regain control over your time. Here are 10 of the most effective:
1. Recognise the Problem
The first step is to recognise the problem of digital overload. Reducing you time online to just a few hours each day, that’s not so bad, right? Today, you might still like to be informed around the clock, but tomorrow the digital world will have an impact on your work and how you manage your time in the workplace.
Give it a name – and there are already many out there including:
- FOMO (fear of missing out)
- FOBO (fear of being offline)
- Nomophobia (fear of being out of mobile phone contact).
These all disrupt our daily work immensely. This constant stress makes it almost impossible for us to concentrate.
2. Reclaim Your Time
Organise your time in a sensible way. We suggest trying a little experiment: Check all your e-communication first and then turn off everything or close your browser tabs. Set an alarm clock and look back at your emails after 15 minutes. You can slowly extend this period and adapt it to your working needs.
3. Treat Yourself to a Break
The inspiration for this strategy comes from Nathaniel Kleitman. He hypothesized that our brain works in 90-minute cycles between activities and breaks. It is therefore advisable to take a break every hour and a half, especially if you are confronted with multitasking on the job, which puts a heavy strain on your mind. A coffee break, 10 minutes of office exercise, a short walk in the fresh air or listening to some music – all of this quickly recharges your batteries.
4. One After the Other
Let’s be honest: Few emails deserve your immediate attention, and some messages are not really relevant to your job. It’s easy to be distracted by the feed’s constant updates. Give yourself a chance to concentrate – you will see how much more successful you are in customer communication and how much better your conversations with colleagues are. Your newsfeed is not going anywhere!
5. And Multitasking? Best to Avoid It!
At first sight, doing two things at once sounds twice as efficient. However, studies indicate that multitasking actually reduces productivity by 40 percent. The problem with multitasking is that it takes your brain a lot longer to move into top gear when you make it jump from task to task. The digital world often gives us the feeling of being more efficient, but in many situations the opposite is true. Give up multitasking and you will feel less exhausted, less overwhelmed, and above all, more productive!
6. Filter Your Input
There are now tools for all tastes that help you make online communication as simple and productive as possible. Outlook, Gmail and other email tools provide useful rules and built-in filters that let you choose what emails you directly receive.
An example: You can specify a folder which you can edit later for newsletters, invoices, social media notifications and emails in which you were only in ‘cc’. To keep you in the loop, you can install one or two news apps, such as Google News, Flipboard or Reeder and select the topics that matter to you. This way, you can do your work and keep informed without wasting time. You do not have to know, read and see everything immediately!
7. Get Out a Little!
Open the window, leave the room, or go for a little stroll. Sometimes it is overwhelming to have a screen with many tabs, to have the telephone ringing constantly and to have lots of background noise in the office. Forbes coach Aaron Levy recommends taking a moment to take a deep breath when things get too much for you. Enjoy the fresh air and the unfiltered daylight. After just a few minutes, you will come back to the office and realise that the work is much easier.
8. Make a Decision
Whichever way you look at it, you cannot be everywhere and know everything. Even if you are constantly online – you will miss something either way. Therefore, decide what things and people really matter, and limit your online communication to specific times and devices. A simple trick: Delete the social apps from your smartphone. You will probably not need them at work and they are an ideal breeding ground for distracting you from your work tasks.
9. Do Away with Notifications
Perhaps the easiest avoidable distraction of all time: instant notifications. It may be your email provider, LinkedIn or your team group chat on WhatsApp – the flashing screen is guaranteed to interrupt a good workflow. Set your own goals rather than letting yourself be enticed by externally controlled notifications resulting in digital overload.
10. Turn on Flight Mode
Do you have a deadline or have to reach a specific goal today? Try turning on flight mode or switch off the network connection, and concentrate on one task alone for half an hour. Choose short time intervals you can realistically work through with lots of energy – because success motivates! Speaking about this method, the consultant Bijal Choksi advises that you train your brain in an extremely connected world.
The digital workplace offers many opportunities for employees and companies, but they must be used consciously. Only when digital communication works optimally for you, and not you for it, does it unleash its true potential and create a new freedom to communicate your way.
Killing Digital Overload: One Step at a Time
These are very small steps that slowly lead us to a more productive working day and less digital overload. And they are not too difficult to implement. You do not have to follow all the strategies at once – start with one or two that suit you and fit your job. You will see that concentrating on your work not only makes you more efficient, but also happier!