Leadership Perspectives

Coping With Information Overload

Sheer volume of information is one of the greatest stressors that leaders face.   Just like the ringing of a telephone sets off the urge to answer it, the arrival of yet another magazine, electronic newsletter, or social media notification reinforces the obligation to keep up on the information that comes our way.

The problem is that there is simply too much information.  We cannot possibly keep up with it all.  So we feel guilty, ashamed, and stressed out, while we try diligently to come up with better and more innovative ways to process more.

There are better ways to cope.

Get real.  The first step is to realize that you CAN’T read everything and there is no point beating yourself up about it.  Life and leadership are about choices.  For everything that we choose to read and process, there is something else that we will need to forego.  Just make sure that you make wise choices.

Unsubscribe. Invest 30 seconds into cancelling the myriad newsletters and promotional emails that you are either not interested in or that you know take up too much of your time for the value they provide.

Use an alternate email address.  Switch things that you want only occasionally to a different email address.  When Borders Books was in business, I found their all-too-frequent emails bothersome.  I didn’t want to cancel them because when I needed a book, I loved using their 30 and 40% off coupons.  So, I had them go to my “junk e-mail address.”  Those emails don’t flow into my regular inbox and I don’t even check them unless I am looking for something specific.

Always carry essential reading.  I always have with me at least one periodical or article reprint that I really want to find time to read.  It’s handy when I have to wait for an appointment or find myself with downtime away from the office.

Pay someone else to research. One of my greatest time sucks is internet research.  Whether I am looking for relevant research studies, business articles, or the latest technology, I find it all so interesting.  I can easily hop from page to page, taking in fascinating articles but also eating up a lot of time.  If I have someone else do research, I get precisely what I need at a much lower cost.

Allocate your time. Decide ahead of time how much time you want to devote to email and the subsequent threads that are inevitably generated there.  If you decide on 30 minutes, then stick with it and make your choices.  One recent morning, my husband sent me a New York Times link to several vegetarian recipes.  I was busy.  I had work to do.  I was torn but I made my choice.  I downloaded the recipes with no regrets.  Then I stuck to my time limit and moved on.


  1. Always carry essential reading is a great tip! I’m relatively young in my career and wondered how my colleagues manage to keep on top of emerging trends. I attend networking events and belong to professional organizations, but it didn’t occur to me (until this post) to keep career-related reading material with me for those times when then commuter rail is running behind schedule, or for times when I arrive 20 minutes ahead of my dentist appointment. It beats reading about the latest in flossing techniques!

  2. It’s true… why read something irrelevant, out of desperation, when you can make a dent in your own reading pile!
    I always felt defeated by my reading pile. Making sure that I have something with me to read at all times really helped me make good use of my downtime.
    Thanks for your comment Jill and thanks for reading.

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