In the digital era, it can feel like the world is going mad… and that you’re following suit. Never were our attention spans so fragmented than they are today, which is probably one of the biggest downsides to the easy access we have to the internet and all that comes with it. The mind can get clogged up with all kinds of details; ideas and concepts, possibilities, decisions to be made, tasks to finish, products to buy… you name it. The result is confusion at best, and stress or mental paralysis at worst. In other words, information overload can bring us to a frustrating, grinding halt.
There is so much choice available to us now that we can quickly end up suffering from information overload. Information overload is (in technical terms) what happens when the level of input into a system exceeds the capacity to process it. This negatively impacts the ability to make decisions – and the quality of decisions actually made. It is therefore necessary to develop strategies to cope when this happens.
Keep reading for our top five ways to deal with information overload:
Organization is very important when dealing with information overload. It can be tempting to want to multitask in order to stay on top of your schedule, but this isn’t necessarily the best way to retain mental clarity. That’s because although we may well ‘get things done’ this way, there is a mental cost involved in terms of pressure and stress. When there is too much to do, we can end up managing things in a chaotic and nonsensical way.
Multitasking is a no-no. It has actually been shown to decrease IQ, which doesn’t help future information overload at all. Your brain can start to adapt to this kind of dysfunctional strategy too, as with any habit. If you want to get things done without making mistakes and upping your stress levels… don’t go there.
So what to do instead? The answers are simple:
- Discipline – stay away from social media and other distractions for a set time
- Realistic prioritization of tasks
- Organized lists of tasks with realistic allotted timeframes for completion
Most people are at their most energetic in the earlier parts of the day. It tends to be downhill from there on the energy front, and on a physical level, as your brain uses up its glucose reserves with each task. Not only that, but your brain also uses the same level of energy for trivial tasks as it does for important ones.
Using your list of priorities, make sure you get done what is most important at the start of the day, no matter how unpalatable it seems. You’ll probably then feel relieved to have got those out of the way, and the remainder of the day will go more smoothly. If you get bored or tired of the task, don’t let your mind run away with negative ideas about how tedious this task is. Shut down that mental chatter, roll up your sleeves and finish the job – you’ll thank yourself for it later.
Once you have a list of tasks to be completed, organize them into groups, as that will help you to stay focused. If you’re the type to get distracted easily, this is more than necessary. Here are some examples of useful task grouping:
- Get all your bills together and pay them in one hit
- Clean your house room by room and avoid distractions like throwing out old clothes
- Stay in the same vicinity while shopping by pre-planning where to buy things
Don’t be tempted to stop one task in favor of another just because it has become challenging or tedious. Take the “I’ve started so I’ll finish” approach or your mind will start to lose focus and you’re more likely to go about all tasks in an erratic fashion. This approach will help you to save time over the long term, so it’s a great way to stay focused on your goals – whether short-term or long-term!
Unless they are a necessary part of the task at hand, social media, emails, text messages, videos and the like are never going to help you deal with information overload. These things are so accessible to us that it’s difficult to ignore them; what’s more, the temptation to grab your phone and scroll through Facebook or Instagram could be high when you’re up to the eyeballs in a task you’re not enjoying. Here’s how to overcome that temptation:
- Either switch your phone off, put it on silent mode, turn off the signal or leave it in another room until your tasks are finished
- Set a period of time during the day for this activity, but postpone it if you find you’re behind schedule
- Close down your apps or notifications on your device if you’re using it to work from
Try not to view indulging in these things as a treat. In truth, it’s a procrastination strategy. By the way, Apple users can set a screen time monitor that will remind them of exactly how much time they’re spending on the device… it’s a motivating eye opener! Becoming aware of your habits nips the temptation to procrastinate in the bud, which is a powerful way of bringing your A-game to the modern world!
Your brain has two modes of thinking: in one, you’re directing your thoughts and are therefore in control of them. In the second, you’re letting your thoughts run on autopilot. That’s a flow state in which you’re having no conscious input. Although this second state might sound counterproductive, both states are actually necessary when you’re trying to get things done – what matters most is when they happen.
The first state is the one you’ll use to achieve a specific task, as you’re focusing directly on what needs to be done. However, your mind will struggle to retain this state for extended periods, which is when information overload kicks in. It is apt to wander eventually, but provided this happens at relatively appropriate times, it’s a good thing – you’re essentially daydreaming, which acts a kind of reset for your brain. And that helps replenish some of that precious, task-enhancing glucose. On top of this, it’s a creative process – some of your best ideas arise when you’re not actually thinking directly about a task or solution, right?
Although you can’t always fully control the state your mind is in, you can give it the best chance by taking regular breaks. Give it all you’ve got while in the directional state, but allow yourself intervals between tasks to switch off from focusing on ‘doing’, and see what happens. If your brain is going into information overload during a task, you might even benefit from a short break then.
To conclude, when you’re in the midst of information overload it can be a tough place to pull yourself back from. However, now you know some great ways to deal with information overload: being organized, dedicating yourself to your task-plan, grouping tasks together, dropping the distractions and managing your mental states as best you can.
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