3 Tips to Conquer Information Overload


Credit: Ex Machina

Eighteen plus years ago, the milkman would come every morning to our front door.  On his tricycle, there’s a giant vat of milk.  We’ll each get a cup of milk and that was our ration for the day.  Today, in the diary section, you’ll find 1%, 2%, whole milk, non-fat milk, organic, raw, almond milk, goat milk and the list goes on.  And this explosion of information and options is not just exclusive to your grocery list, it’s affecting every facet of our lives.  At this very moment, there are 6000+ hours of video clips being uploaded to Youtube.  In other words, you’ll have to watch clips after clips continuously for 9 months to catch up with just 1 day worth of uploads.

Now, access to limitless information isn’t necessarily bad.  After all, it has afforded us fancy new cars and craft beer.  But access to an abundance of knowledge and information WITHOUT wisdom (that shows us how and why) can cause a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety.  And that brings us to the topic at hand. Here are 3 simple tips to break through the noise and conquer information overload.

  1. Multitasking is a Myth –  It’s something that we all do and some of us are doing it right now.  Imagine your attention span as a whole pie. What happens when you split the pie?  You created more pieces that are smaller. You’ve also created crumbs as a result.  And the crumbs represent your loss in productivity.  While most of us think that we’re being more productive in multitasking, studies have shown that you’re actually 30% less productive when you have to jump between one task and another.  The truth is, if you have an important task or project that you really need to finish, you need long stretches of dedicated, uninterrupted time.  Set aside 1-2 hours a day to focus on your most important project and don’t let anything distract you until that time is up.  That means no emails, no cell phones, no cat videos, nothing.  Do this and you’ll notice an incredible gain in your productivity.
  2. Time to Wanderlust –  Imagine yourself on a date with an incredible physicist and he can’t stop talking about quantum mechanics.  As much as you’re struggling to stay polite and pay attention, your mind keeps wandering off.  You think to yourself, ” boy, I really need a new pair of socks.”  Some might even call it day dreaming but it is essentially the resting state in your brain.  Now this differs from the executive functioning state where your brain creates a tunnel vision and focuses on achieving a specific task.  Mind wandering is important because, unlike the executive functioning state, it does not create a tunnel vision.  This resting state is the interface among all the different pockets of memories that you have, your career, your personal life, all the books you’ve read, people you’ve met.  It is no surprise that the brain is also most creative when it is in its mind wandering state.  So here’s tip number 2: don’t skip that canoeing trip or that hike in the park.  Set aside time to let your mind wander off and you’ll discover some of  your most innovative ideas.
  3. Extend your Brain –  Take a look at the device you’re reading this article on today and ask yourself, how heavy do you think this tablet or phone is?  The answer (like most consultants would say) depends on how long you’re holding on to the device.  Holding onto my phone for a minute would feel vastly different from holding onto my phone for a whole year.  The same concept translates over to holding onto your thoughts (particularly stressful thoughts).  If you have even a moderately stressful thought several times a day for the span of a month, the idea will start to weigh down on you.  To conquer this, you’ll need to build a system to essentially brain dump.  Write down your ideas, stresses and thoughts onto a piece of paper, your tablet, your email, whatever it may be.  The goal is to preserve your mental real estate and make room in your mind to tackle more meaningful problems and bigger decisions.

In sum, human beings have been organizing and categorizing information for thousands of years.   That is why we put our crock pots in the kitchen, our pillows in our bedrooms.  That’s why we name our plants and furniture.  With the development of the internet and mobile technology, our relationship with information has changed drastically.  If I ask an under-educated 13 year old boy from Mumbai how tall is the Statue of Liberty, with access to Google, he will likely find that answer faster than you can.  And you’re the one with the expensive American education.  The point I want to deliver here is that you should not treat your brain like a piece of hardware that encodes raw data.  Create a system to store your information so you can make room for memories that you actually care about, like waking up 18+ years ago every morning to the smell of fresh milk.

REF: An Organized Mind – Daniel Levitin


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