Five Ways to Avoid Information Overload
By: American Nurses Association
Information overload. The term has been around since at least the 1970s, but it has become an everyday experience in the recent decades. Information overload is commonly defined as the problem of trying to make a decision about a complex situation when we have too much information about the decision at hand. Information overload is common when trying to make a decision about a major purchase, for example. There is no end to the number of variables that we can consider when purchasing a car or a home, and information overload can make it almost impossible to actually come to a decision.
Nurses are subject to a unique kind of information overload, in that we are expected to pay attention to innumerable details about our patients, yet still be able to pull out the relevant information to make critical decisions at a moment’s notice. Call bells ringing and doctors’ orders and lab reports and family members’ random info and possible side effects and changing vital signs and red flags. The cacophony creates a unique chaos that can quickly run together and cause us to miss the crucial change. How do we make sense of the swirl of information? How do we keep from being overrun by information?
Here is a short list of tips for managing and avoiding information overload.
- Chunk it. As much possible, don’t remember single bits of information, but put things together in chunks. Disease specific protocols help with this, in that you don’t need to try to remember that this patient needs vital signs every 15 and a DVT check and can wean off NPO after four hours, or whatever it might be. Instead you just remember that they are on the basic post-op protocol. When you do as assessment, try to always do it in the same order, so that you aren’t having to remember which steps you haven’t done yet. This is almost like creating folders in your brain, with lists inside. Time and experience help a lot with this, but deliberately putting information together will facilitate the process of learning how to “chunk” information. Writing things down in an organized fashion will also help.
- Demand clarity. Part of the information overload nurses experience happens when others give a disorganized or incomplete report. One of the simplest ways to prevent this (although not necessarily easiest), is to demand clarity. If you consistently demand clarity from the reportee, they will start giving you a more organized report, simply to avoid being embarrassed by your keen questions.
- Be boring. Do stuff the same way each time. Be predictable. Since every decision made takes energy, you may want to pack the same lunch every day to avoid having to make that choice. Put your pen back in the same pocket, in the same slot, each time. Sling your stethoscope around your neck or tuck it in your pocket, the same way, each time. Organize all your pockets the same way. Find a scrub top and pants or skirt that you like, and order a half dozen so you don’t have to do things differently because of the different pocket arrangement.
- Know your stuff. Study the protocols. Take opportunities to practice the skills you do semi-regularly so that they become as easy as the stuff you do every day. Figure out how to do your charting and other time-eaters in the fastest and most boring way possible. Ask IT about shortcuts, and use them.
- Take a lunch break. Your brain needs the break. Even if it feels like you don’t have time, take your break! And make sure you actually eat. Not junk food, but real food. Your body and your brain will thank you for it. You will be able to work better and faster, with fewer errors, when you come back.
Finally, check out this resource for a thorough overview of how to avoid and manage information overload. And now for a limited time through December 31, take 30% off this book and others (Use Offer Code: BOOKSALE30). https://www.nursingworld.org/nurses-books/information-overload-framework-tips-and-tools-to-manage-incomplex-healt/