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Two nursing professionals wearing scrub outfits are at a desk area in a hospital. One nurse is standing and talking on the phone. The other nurse is seated and holding a folder. Both nurses are looking at information in the folder.

5 Ways to Avoid Information Overload

4 min readFebruary, 21 2024

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 a crucial change. How do we make sense of the swirl of information? How do we keep from being overrun by information?

Here is a List of Tips for Managing and Avoiding Information Overload

A female emergency room nurse wearing blue scrubs and a yellow surgical mask is checking monitoring equipment in preparation before receiving a trauma patient.

  1. Chunk it. As much as 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. Attach your stethoscope to a holder or belt clip, 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 arrangements.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Finding ways to avoid information overload will reduce your stress level, save you time and help to make your day run smoother, which is a benefit for both you and your patients. You can also check out this great resource on how to avoid and manage information overload, Information Overload: Framework, Tips, and Tools to Manage in Complex Healthcare Environments.


Images sourced from Getty Images

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