Every minute 500 hours of video is uploaded to Youtube and over 131,000 videos are consumed every second. Our attention spans have diminished from 20 seconds to 8 seconds, and some say to 4 seconds now. Some of you won’t even read beyond the headline, if you’ve reached this far – you’re in the 60% that read beyond the first paragraph.
Ever since the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, there’s been an explosion in information. What used to be the domain of the scholars and the wealthy, is now easily accessible to everyone. Today, the average adult consumes around 16 hours or nine DVDs worth of media, every day.
If you’re an information junkie like me, or have infomania – pay attention because you’re suffering from Information Overload.Information overload is an increasingly real problem, both in the workplace and in life – thanks to the Internet, Email & Telecommunications.
We all need to make decisions, in the past – that would be risky because of the limited information we had. However, today the case is different – the problem is we have too much, causing analysis paralysis.
Futurist, Alvin Toffler (who recently passed away in June 2016) wrote about IO in 1970, when he predicted that the rapidly increasing amounts of information being produced would eventually cause people problems. Yes, we’re in the information age, but things are changing now… again.
Is our brain the bottle neck? Is there a better way to process or separate what we require and ignore the rest, what about FOMO – fear of missing out? Stock traders have learned how to deal with such problems on a regular basis, and some have learned how to distinguish signal from noise through pattern recognition.
How do you distinguish ‘nice to know” information from “quality information” and quality information that needs to be used in the moment, vs. quality information that could be used tomorrow? How can you bold your brain to accept more information in a short space of time, without fatiguing ourselves?
Here are a couple of ideas, based on neuroscience that may just help you…
- RECORD – I’m a big advocate of this – free up processing power of the brain by externalizing the data. The more information you carry in your head, the less you have for processing. Processing requires energy, which is why you’ll be mentally and physically tired after a lot of mental work. Writing (or recording) encodes that information to be retrieved later.
- ACT – When you need to make an important decision, make sure you do it when the brain has rested, usually when you wake up in the morning hours – when you’re more alert and you have recharged. Remember, the brain requires resources to process all the data you have and you can’t do that after spending it. Which is why I suggest choosing your wardrobe for tomorrow, the night before. Little decisions will consume resources that could have been allocated to larger more important ones.
- ORGANIZE – As much as you convince yourself that clutter is good, the evidence is against you. Physical clutter requires your mind to process all the information before you. Every time you see something, your brain is unconsciously storing that information. Which is why having a clean desk or desktop can improve your productivity – it gives you the required focus you need to get the job done. Time wasted on maintaining that information can be used for better purposes. Large corporations have figured out how to do this by building knowledge management divisions that organize the information within the company – too often, they’ve seen that they have information, but it’s just that companies don’t know where to find it. Search technologies maybe good, but it's not the most efficient way to retrieve data.
- FOCUS – Every time you switch attention from one area of focus to another, you incur a penalty called Cognitive Switching Penalty. Your brain spends time and energy thrashing, loading and reloading contexts – playing a mental gymnastics. Neurologically, multitasking is impossible. You are not really doing two things, you’re switching your attention from one thing to the other, consuming precious brain resources and its glucose supply, leading to fatigue, stress and poor decision making. So either focus on one thing at a time, or group similar tasks together. That way your brain needs to load the context into working memory only once. You’ll get more done with less effort. If it helps, remember that your IQ drops by 10 points when you rapidly switch tasks. Or take up the challenge of doing one and only one thing for that day. Nothing else, do just one thing for that whole day, till it is 100% complete and then only start the next one. It could be reading a book, finish that book and then move on.
- SAVE – When you see a link on social media or the internet, actually read the full thing instead of adding to the hundreds of tabs that are already open. Alternatively save it or bookmark it so you can read it later using your collection tool of choice – Pocket, Evernote, Pinterest, Google Docs.
- DISCONNECT – Get off the grid. As we’ve become more connected, we’ve become more narcissistic and less empathetic. Image has become your identify, and likes have become your attention. Admit it, you prefer to text than talk, you use the phone when you’re sitting with others. If yes, then you’ve lost touch with reality. Your brain has become numb with all the scrolling of information that passes through your eyes. Take a break and actually start talking about, have a conversation – talking is apparently good for the brain.
- FILTER – So you’re still bombarded with information. Why not try master the art of filtering, which is excluding information – until it becomes important. For example, you don’t listen to the news channels anymore, that’s because you will see patterns of what’s being shared more often by your friends and following in your network of relationships. The problem with this sort of filtering mechanism is that if you choose the wrong filter, you’ll absorb low quality information, as we call it – seeing through rose colored glasses.
What are you doing to deal with Information Overload, I’d like to hear more.