How to stay informed without getting overwhelmed

If you’re like most people, you regularly come across a torrent of information. From news media and social media to news from friends, family and work, there is never a shortage of opinions or material to consume. And information is so ubiquitous that it can be difficult to connect to it without being overwhelmed. The classic line from a Crowded House song is appropriate: “Try to Catch the Flood in a Paper Cup.”

But at the same time, you might not feel like you have the capacity to process all the information and information, you also want to stay up to date and know your world, your work and your life. New research suggests ways to be selective about how information is consumed and sheds light on the best choices about when to seek or avoid new knowledge.

The flood is real

Fascinating research by Outsell and the Copyright Clearance Center found that sharing of work-related content has tripled since 2016. Executives shared content almost 25 times per week with a minimum of 12 people each time (executives intermediaries shared almost 16 times with 9 people and individual contributors shared almost 11 times with 6 people). When people worked remotely, 34% reported an increased frequency of content sharing. Combine the content you receive from work with all the other inbound content, and it’s easy to see how the overload can occur.

Why is this important

Information is essential to the ability to make good decisions and to respond effectively, and it is essential to the ability to adapt and cope. In fact, resilience is defined as 1) staying aware of situations and context 2) making sense of information and then 3) improvising, reacting and adapting.

For example, understanding your finances is key to making smart investments, knowing your health is key to choices about your fitness or medication, and appreciating the nuances of a political candidate’s opinions can inform your voting choices. But depending on how comfortable you are with the information, you may choose to know more or less about the key issues.

How to consume information wisely

You can be selective in consuming information by focusing in three ways:


First, think about how the information makes you feel. New research from the University College London suggests that people are more likely to seek our information based on their expected emotional response. You may be more likely to avoid information that you think will make you unhappy or uncomfortable. A study of Carnegie Mellon University found people tend to avoid information if they think it will threaten their happiness or well-being. That’s right, and the mantra “don’t ask questions you don’t want answered” applies here.

But you can also push yourself to consider stepping outside your comfort zones. Sometimes growth only occurs with discomfort. Ask your partner for concrete feedback that can help you adjust your behavior and build the relationship. Or have a tough conversation with a customer about why you lost the deal, so you can improve your service or product and win the next time around. Protect yourself when necessary, but also challenge yourself with difficult information so that you can grow and improve.


Also consider how useful the information will be. University College London has also found that people tend to be more receptive to information when they think it will be useful. Finding information can be time consuming or require research work, spending time with experts or asking questions, and this effort can make it difficult to maintain information.

But think about how the information can help you solve a difficult problem, improve a difficult situation, or add to your happiness, and be intentional in seeking this type of information. Spend time researching customer reviews before making a major purchase. Research which tours or experiences will be the best investments during your vacation, or take the time to consider several options before choosing the new software you will use to manage your project at work. All of these will increase the density of information you will be faced with, but they will pay off with better results.

Interest and agreement

The Carnegie Mellon University study found that people tend to avoid news when they disagree with what they already know (known as confirmation bias). Additionally, when people receive new information but disagree with it, they are more likely to forget it. Additionally, the University College London study found that people are often influenced by what they think about. If you enjoy spending time with your dog, you may be more likely to research information on nearby dog ​​parks, the most nutritious dog foods, or the best dog day care centers when you return to the office. It’s natural for you to focus on what you know and agree on, and what is important in your experience.

But despite the natural inclinations to pay attention to information that matches your preferences, it’s also important to stretch yourself and challenge yourself with new or unlikely information. You can develop yourself by researching information about topics that you are less familiar with or that are new to you. Avoid the echo chamber created by algorithms that deliver information you already know or agree with and expand to new horizons that are adjacent to your interest, but different.

If you are an avid gardener, you may be able to learn more about the birds in the area. Or if you are thriving in your accounting role at work, you can explore the financial impacts of the new hybrid work models your business is considering. Also look for a variety of views and a range of opinions that may be different from yours. The “possible adjacent” suggests new stimulation and ideas may come from the limits of what you already know, so seek information there and develop your own point of view.

In sum

Information can be overwhelming, but it can also be interesting, stimulating, and growth-promoting. Be curious in a directed way about the things you want to learn. But also be curious more generally, looking for information that may not be immediately applicable, but that you can store for a new approach in the future. Protect yourself and manage your contributions, but also seek new horizons that can help you be more open to others and to the world around you.

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