• BLOG | Information Overload: The Curse of Modernity

    February 17, 2021 | Andrew Stead
  • “Distringit librorum multitudo – The abundance of books is a distraction”. This is how Seneca the Elder, famed Roman rhetorician and father of the infamous stoic philosopher of the same name, expressed the inconvenience of what we nowadays call ‘Information Overload.’

    • Information overload is recognised as the No. 1 problem in organisations. (Williams, 2012)
    • Studies show that in 2010 information overload cost the US economy approximatelyUS$ 1trillion (Spira, 2011)

    From the minute we leave the safety of our mother’s womb we become overexposed to all kinds of information: billions of pieces of data that our time constrained brain is forced to process. Consider the meaningless texts, unimportant mails, ineffectual reports, boring Power Point presentations during completely dull and unnecessary, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly –OMG – meetings. But what happens when all this noise obscures a beautiful song? And how can we avoid feeling overwhelmed by all the messages, mails, and information we receive every day?

    Let’s look at stress and burnout for example, a massive risk for the modern C-level executive. Amazon lists over 90,000 books on stress, 50,000 on depression, 5,000 on burnout and 4,000 on breakdown. How can you know where to focus on first?


    Science tells us that information overload radically impacts our personal productivity and well-being:

    • Studies show that after a 30 second interruption our brain needs up to five minutes to return back to its focus level. Hence, simply reading and processing 100 emails can absorb half of an employee’s time. (Spira, 2011)
    • Distracts us and prevents effective prioritisation, making us less efficient
    • Reduces productivity, leading to a reduction in performance
    • Leads to frustration, which has a detrimental impact on our well-being and happiness


    Atos is a French-based information technology conglomerate, with over 70.000 employees in more than 40 offices all over the world. In 2013 CEO Thierry Breton, declared: “We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives. We are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.”

    With that, he took the brave decision to ban all emails in 2013!

    The outcomes: increased productivity, better engagement and team work; improved performance and well-being!


    • Urgent vs Important: analyse what is actually urgent vs important. This will help you prioritise and keep focus
    • GTD: dip into the workshops available on ‘Getting Things Done’ that provide simple methods to keep your work more organised and efficient
    • Mindfulness: Keeping a focused mind while surrounded by distractions can be challenging but will dramatically improve productivity
    • Ask your organisation. Forward thinking businesses have responded to disengagement and frustration generated by information overload with programmes designed for well-being in the workplace and coaching for executives.


    Don’t let the torrent of information overload drag you down - surf the wave!