How to Be More Productive in the Age of Information Overload

How to be more productive in the age of information overload: tend to your email.
A 2016 Nielsen report revealed that Americans spend nearly 11 hours connected to a screen. According to Forbes, the typical office worker receives 200 emails each day.

By the time you have finished reading this article, Apple may have announced its latest iPhone and a new must-download app will begin sweeping the nation (HQ Trivia seems to be latest craze).

Okay, maybe not that quickly — but technology is evolving faster and playing a more prominent role in our lives with each passing day.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to help manage athletics social media for my alma mater during one of our football team’s most exciting seasons in decades. I had two cell phones, assisted with multiple Twitter accounts, and worked to build an audience for our brand new Instagram page.

A lot has changed since that time.

I switched jobs, fell in love, and got married. The world said hello to Snapchat and goodbye to Vine, and Twitter doubled its character limit from 140 to 280. Somewhere along the line, I began to feel completely overwhelmed by technology.

Between social media, podcasts, listicles, emails, and texts, it often feels like I could spend all day connected to my phone and still not be caught up on everything vying for my attention. I find myself worn out by the variety of shows, movies, and documentaries on Netflix, not to mention what else might be available on Hulu or Amazon Prime.

This golden age of digital technology has created an era of information overload, and it can easily lead to a crowded mind if you let it.

I’m still not as focused, productive, or efficient as I would like to be, but in the past several months, I have been taking a few steps to try to ease my FOMO and quiet my mind. While technology moves rapidly, I have to remind myself that staying organized in the digital age is an ongoing and slow process. Hopefully some of these practices can help you, too.

Manage your media so it doesn’t manage your time.

Perhaps the most effective change I have made is that I have turned off push notifications on my iPhone for almost all my apps. And I’m not just talking about the notifications that buzz and light up the lock screen — I’m talking about those pesky little red bubbles and white numbers that show up in the top right corner of the application icon on my iPhone. With notifications turned off, everything from social media updates to the morning’s weather forecast becomes a choice, rather than an interruption.

Similarly, I have started to use the Do Not Disturb feature more regularly. As I’m sure is the case for many of us, I am in a number of group texts that can be quite active, especially during college football Saturdays.

Many of my close friends are scattered around the country and texting is our primary means of staying connected. These group texts include some of my favorite people in the world, and while I’m often the one starting the conversation, sometimes I just need to go silent.

If you are afraid you will miss out on an important phone call or text, keep in mind that you can choose to apply the Do Not Disturb feature to only certain text threads and set your cell phone so that calls from contacts in your Favorites will still ring.

Get a handle on your email!

Few things give me more digital anxiety than seeing someone with 4,962 unread emails in their inbox. Sure, there is a good chance half of those are ads and a few of them are chain emails from an aunt or uncle, but what if there’s an important work email or a nice note from an old friend?

When I was in college, I nearly missed out on an incredible internship opportunity because I accidentally overlooked a professor’s email that included the details about how to apply.

While it can be exhausting and time consuming to sort through thousands of unread messages, you’ll feel a lot better with a clean inbox — not just on your work account, but on your personal Gmail or Yahoo accounts as well. One of the best ways I stay organized is by using a service called Unroll.me. It allows you to select and organize your subscription emails and quickly unsubscribe or choose to receive them in a daily digest that is easier to browse and skim.

Apps like Evernote and Todoist are also very helpful for sorting through email. By syncing them with your web browser, they can become like your “digital brain” to keep track of tasks and archive important messages.

Make room in your mind and on your phone

I regularly scan my social media accounts, unfollowing pages, people, and brands that I do not engage with often. I have found that if I am mindlessly scrolling past photos, posts, and articles, those accounts are just adding to the digital chaos. I went from following more than 800 Twitter users a few months ago to just over 350 that I find inspiring, informative, and entertaining today.

And that is probably still too many.

I set myself a monthly calendar reminder to unfollow social media accounts and delete apps I do not use regularly. By no means have I become a minimalist, but it’s a fun personal challenge each month to see how much clutter I can cut from my digital world.

In addition to turning off notifications and staying on top of my emails, I have made a concerted effort to purge unused apps from my phone. The NCAA March Madness app will come in handy next spring, and Pokemon Go (admittedly) was fun for a couple of days, but I probably don’t need either of them on my phone right now.

There’s only more digital distractions on the horizon…

Sportscenter has debuted on Snapchat, Amazon is preparing to announce its long-awaited HQ2, and companies are racing to perfect the self-driving car. Brands are constantly finding new and creative ways to capture our time, money, and attention.

Technology will only begin to play a larger role in our lives in the years ahead, and in turn, it may also become more intrusive of our productivity, our relationships, and our overall happiness.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for staying organized in this information age. It’s worth it to take your own digital inventory and thoughtfully consider how technology fits into your daily life.

You don’t need to throw your smartphone into the ocean and bring back your Motorola Razr! But try making a list of the apps, social media services, and websites you find beneficial and engaging, and think about how you can begin to interact with them more intentionally

You’ll find that getting organized in this digital age will help you stay sharp, avoid getting overwhelmed, and live happier.
Grotto quote graphic that reads, "While technology moves rapidly...remind yourself that staying organized in the digital age is an ongoing and slow process."

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