The Triple Overload Problem – And What To Do About It

This article was kindly provided to BAB by Anthony Bartlett, Senior Copywriter, Evernote. You can find out more about Evernote here.


“Where did the time go?”

“Will you look at the time!?”

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

If you have the alarming feeling that time is actually speeding up, that somehow your days are getting shorter while the list of things you need to do is getting longer, then you’re not alone. But although time itself isn’t really speeding up, you’re not imagining things, either. We are, in fact, being bombarded with more data, more communication, and more interruption than ever before, creating ever more demands on our limited time and attention. That can leave us burned out and feeling as though there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for us to achieve everything we need—and want—to do.

If it’s not one thing, it’s three

You probably already know the feeling: There’s 150 emails you haven’t answered. Slack is blowing up. Client calls are always urgent (obviously). Lunch? Not a chance—and that third coffee certainly isn’t helping. You can’t find the files you need so you’re left chasing your tail, going around in circles. And at the end of the day, all you’ve really done is move some data from one place to another, hoping you’ve connected enough dots that something, somewhere actually happens.

Dr. Beat Bühlmann has a name for this problem: Triple Overload.

As the name suggests, Triple Overload is a multifaceted problem—three separate yet interconnected issues that plague almost every company. Each is a direct result of the explosion of information and technology that has come to define the modern world. They are:

Data Overload—the exponential growth of knowledge

By 1950, human knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today, that’s been reduced to 14 months. In less than a decade, thanks largely to our interconnected devices, the sum total of all human knowledge will be doubling every day.

This growth of knowledge is something to celebrate. After all, it’s driven incredible advances in our standard of living; it’s helped us find cures for previously fatal diseases, send rockets to the stars, and watch videos of cats on the internet. But there’s a flip side to that progress: a typical office may now have so much knowledge scattered across teams and folders, or buried inside emails, that it can be almost impossible to find what you need.

Communication Overload—finding the space for deep work

There you are, trying to get things done, when you see that little red circle pop up at the bottom of your computer screen, notifying you of a new email or chat message. It’s beckoning to you, practically shouting at you, and even if you don’t open it immediately, it’s already done its sneaky job by pulling your focus away from what you were doing. “It’s only 30 seconds,” you tell yourself as you switch windows. But since you spend 80 percent of your day ‘communicating,’ you might never get back to what you were doing.

While once upon a time, in the days B.C. (Before Cellphone), we may have wished we could be more connected, today’s near-ubiquitous communication tools leave us longing for a time when it really was possible to disconnect and find a space free from distraction.

Cognitive Overload—the need for GTD

Five minutes between interruptions. That’s all you get these days. And let’s face it, between emails, chat messages, phone calls, meetings, and the constant “Hey, have you got a minute?”, most days you’re lucky to even get that.

Here’s the unfortunate truth: it takes you an average of 23 minutes to fully refocus after an interruption. In other words, by answering that message, you’ve zapped your ability to focus for the next half hour. As a result, you finish the day exhausted and defeated, with a to-do list that’s still maddeningly long.

Scared, yet? Don’t be.

We recently put together a whitepaper, Triple Overload and What You Can Do About It, to help you tackle this challenge head-on. In this paper, Dr. Bühlmann, Evernote’s General Manager EMEA, and Think Productive’s Graham Allcott lay out a number of simple success strategies you can put into action today to help you overcome the dreaded Triple Overload, reclaim control of your time, and transform your life.

While we definitely recommend you read the complete white paper, here are a few suggestions to get you started:

1. Protect your best attention

Wouldn’t it be great if you could engage in deep work for the entire eight or more hours you’re at work? The fact is, the human brain isn’t wired that way. We all have a window of time when our attention is at its highest, and we can devote all our mental resources to the task at hand.

Protect that time.

Reducing or removing as many distractions as possible gives you the opportunity to get more done in two hours than you previously did in eight.

2. Embrace the word “No”

It can be emotionally painful to say “No” to a new task. Perhaps you want to be a team player, perhaps you feel pressure to accept everything that is thrown at you, or perhaps your company’s culture is simply to work until you drop. Regardless, it’s in your—and your company’s—best interest to get comfortable with “No.”

Your best work comes when you are rested and recharged, so politely declining requests for your time gives you the opportunity to perform at your highest level on the tasks that really matter.

Remember that self-care is not selfish. And that “No” is a complete sentence.

3. Collect info in big buckets, not tiny cups

If you’re trying to throw a piece of paper into a wastepaper basket from across the room, would you rather be aiming for one big target or a dozen tiny ones?

When you’re saving documents, email attachments, and other files, it can be tempting to create a large number of small folders, each with a narrow purpose. After all, you’d think it would be easier to find something if it lives in a folder with a very specific name and few other items.

Actually, the opposite is true. A smaller number of ‘big buckets,’ each containing a large number of files, is quicker to search, easier to maintain, and more convenient to file new items into. That helps you stay ‘in the flow’ and operate at your highest level.

There’s much more to see in the white paper, Triple Overload and What You Can Do About It. For extra steps you can take to start living a more balanced, productive life, check it out today.