information overload

This article has been provided by LawCare – health support and advice for lawyers

Life in today’s world has given rise to a whole range of new phenomena and our vocabulary has had to expand as new maladies have been identified. We are familiar with the concepts of desk rage and road rage and now a new name has been added – that of “Technostress”, the term used to describe what happens to us when we suffer from information overload, brought about by all the technical wizardry purportedly designed to make our lives easier.

In the average day, you might expect to receive information from the radio and / or television, fax machines, telephones, voice-mail messages, e-mail and the Internet. This obliges you interact with a whole range of machines and to process vast quantities of new data. Moreover, this data is conveyed at a pace that scarcely allows for thinking time.

Technostress, or as authors Dr. Larry Rosen and Michelle Weil in their book “Technostress: Coping with Technology @work @home @play” describe it, “Multitasking Madness”, results when you attempt to cope with a number of tasks at the one time.

Although, from the outside, you may appear to only be dealing with one issue, in fact, your brain is having to perform a juggling act to keep all of those other issues which require attention active on a conscious level. The harder this juggling act becomes, the more performance levels decline. The more you get interrupted in the execution of one task, the harder it can be to pick up where you left off.

Multitasking can lead to people feeling as though they are no longer in control, which is a major symptom of stress. Other signs of the effects of multitasking are difficulty in concentrating; inability to remember things, inability to relax and difficulty in getting to sleep due to the unwelcome presence of too many thoughts chasing each other around in your head.

E-mail appears to be responsible for a specific group of problems. Some people are reporting that in the process of embracing e-mail and its undeniable advantages of speed and immediacy, they find themselves becoming increasingly impatient when delays are experienced or when they actually come to deal with people directly, since. Others report feeling persecuted by a tool that is meant to aid, but to which they feel so attached and beholden that they can never turn it off, so that it comes to rule their lives rather than the other way around. Now that you can e-mail to and from mobile phones and before long you will be able to do this even on a plane, potentially, you are never going to be free of being bombarded with information, both welcome and unwelcome.

There is also the danger of the stress caused by e-mail encouraging detachment from human contact. It can become the norm to e-mail rather than to actually speak, even if the person you are contacting is only in the next room. This can lead to a diminution of sensitivity, so that wholly inappropriate matters are communicated by e-mail, rather than person-to-person e.g. people being fired or resigning by e-mail; announcing the end of a marriage / relationship to the other party concerned. It can also lead to misunderstandings when a tone or meaning is read into an e-mail that was never intended by the person who wrote it. Without visual or audible cues such as are given to us when we communicate either face to face or by telephone, misinterpretations can occur.

Further, the process of e-mailing documents is so simple that a trend has developed of distributing vast quantities of information indiscriminately, whereas in the past, the time involved in duplicating the same data on paper would have made this impracticable. Hence, people are bombarded with information, much of which is utterly irrelevant to them. E-mail seems to be developing its own language and there is scope for further difficulty, e.g. one person’s attempt at humour might be misconstrued as a criticism and prompt a reply totally at odds with the original message.

The symptoms described above are just as likely to be experienced by the technophiles (i.e. those who embrace new technology and the opportunities it presents) as by the technophobes ( i.e. those who struggle to come to terms with the technological revolution).

There are several simple measures that can be taken to minimise technostress. These are:

  • Dedicate a set time in your day for the task of replying to e-mail, faxes and voice-mails and resist the temptation to respond to each new message the instant it arrives.
  • Allow yourself to concentrate of one important task at a time by having some prime time every day i.e. a period during which you turn off the ringer on your fax; divert your line to someone else / a voice-mail; and turn off your e-mail notification message.
  • If you develop the habit of writing down those tasks which are lurking in the back of your mind, you will lighten the load on your brain and this should help you to focus on the task in hand, or, at night, help in getting a period of restful sleep.
  • Before you send an e-mail to a whole raft of people, ask yourself “Who really needs to know this?”
  • Ensure that you look after your physical well-being by getting enough sleep, eating healthily and taking some form of exercise.
  • Take short breaks away from your desk during the day and perform some simple stretching exercises.
  • Try to maintain a balance in your life and ensure that you can have some time totally free of interruptions to pursue a leisure interest.
  • Leave your mobile phone at home or switched off when you go on holiday.

If you simply cannot break free of all of the gadgets in your life and you are feeling the stressful results, then contact LawCare, 9am – 7.30 pm weekdays and 10am – 4pm at weekends / UK Bank Holidays, 365 days a year on our free and confidential helpline:-

Solicitors, Trainees, Law Students, Paralegals and Legal Executives in England and Wales
0800 279 6888
Barristers, Pupils, Barristers Clerks and Judges in England and Wales
0800 018 4299
Solicitors and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man
0800 279 6869
For Solicitors in Ireland
1800 991801
For Barristers in Ireland
1800 303145

or visit the LawCare web site at

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