By Kem Meyer
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so the necessary may speak. -Hans Hofmann
Information overload occurs when we receive more info than our brains can process. Even if it is good information, too much of a good thing is just not good—it’s bad. (Think “more pain than gain.”) Whether you’re an info addict or a simplification advocate, information overload affects us all.
It’s not new; information overload dates back to Gutenburg. But, the 24/7 digitization of information has blown up data access – bombardment to infinity and beyond. In 2011, it even got its own diagnosis (IFS: Information Fatigue Syndrome).
Here are just some of the costs of overfeeding the information appetite:
- Productivity Loss. In the face of too much information, we can easily get lost in the details. We waste time focusing on unimportant information and lose sight of our goal and purpose.
- Mind Clutter. The noise created by media and other sources of information clutters our minds and takes away from our inner peace.
- Lack of Time. Rich or poor, young or old, we all have the same limited amount of time in a day. And instead of spending a good chunk of my day filtering through incoming information, I’d rather spend the energy on bringing more enjoyment and fulfillment into my life.
- Lack of Personal Reflection. I find that if I am constantly consuming information, then I forget to connect with myself (and others). I realize that valuable personal reflection comes when we create a “space” for it in our lives. If there is always noise, then we won’t have the mental capacity to reflect within.
- Stress & Anxiety. Information inflow creates the illusion that we have more tasks to fill our lives than we have time for. Often, we might suddenly feel nervous without understanding why. Every piece of information carries with it energy, which demands our time. Even if we consciously ignore it, a part of us saw that data and recorded it within our subconscious.
Life is overwhelming enough as it is. Your church or organization shouldn’t pile more on top of an already mounting problem, especially when people are looking for answers that will make a difference.
If you want to be a credible source for those answers, look for “opposite thinking” ways to help reduce that load:
- Stick to the facts. Don’t over-sell, over-explain or over-control. Just provide the information someone needs to self-sort and self-decide. People don’t need a page on the philosophy of each ministry, activity or event. They do need to know who it’s for, when it happens and how to get there or sign up. Too often we justify added content with a lazy “it doesn’t hurt; just in case” rationale. Before you let yourself off the hook so easy, ask this instead: “Does this content help?” If the answer is no, cut it.
- Stick to the point. Start with the end in mind before you’re about to do something. If you can identify the one actionable purpose behind your mass mailing, status update, email, blog post, direct mail postcard, etc., it will be easier for you to stay focused and on track. If you lose sight of what you want to happen as a result of your communication, it’s hard to recognize your own excess. Do you want people to show up or respond? What are you asking them to do? If you can’t answer that question easily, they won’t be able to either.
- Consider the crowd. Does your announcement (handout, online or verbal) apply to everyone or just a handful of people? If it’s not affecting the masses, it’s just going to land like dead weight. Don’t punish the crowd to keep a few people happy (even if they are the most vocal). Find a way to deliver your news in appropriate venues. Ask yourself questions like, “Does this apply to the whole weekend service, or just fifth grade parents?” “Is this a question 5,000 people are asking, or is it more helpful to a targeted list of fifty?”
- Don’t intrude. Unless they’ve asked for it, people welcome unsolicited emails as much as a door-to-door salesperson during family dinner. Respect personal space and put information in an easy place for people to find it when they want it. In 2012, the American Psychological Association CEO spoke on a panel about how stress undermines our health. He stated 75 percent of healthcare costs are associated with chronic illnesses. And, the key driver of chronic illnesses? Stress.
Marketers have responded with superficial, tranquility promises: happiness in a perfume, peace in a lotion, focus in a drink, euphoria in a bubble bath, sex in a lip gloss, etc.
Our response should be less complex, more authentic and, ultimately, life-giving—it’s as simple as dialing back the volume.
More isn’t what people are looking for; relief from the pressure of more is what they’re looking for.
Kem Meyer has spent nearly three decades helping people communicate better. She spent 15 years in corporate communications, and led communications at Granger Community Church. Kem lives to simplify complexity and reduce information obesity in churches and organizations. She is the author of Less Chaos. Less Noise: Effective Communications for an Effective Church.