As the season changes to warmer temperatures, many Americans will take time off from work to go on vacation, work on household projects, and spend time with family and friends. Many will feel guilty for doing so, thinking about…
- Emails backing up at work
- Telephone messages that cannot be answered until you get back
- Not being able to work on projects that were started
- Missing important meetings and discussions
- Mail and correspondence not being answered
In many cases, American workers will continue to compulsively check their work email during precious time off.
Are you one of these individuals?
Now more than ever we are bombarded by with virtual facts, media news feeds, social networking sites, texts and rapid speech, it’s coming from all different directions.
Studies have shown that a typical media user consumes 285 pieces of content, 54,000 words daily. Another way to look at it is many Americans are reading the equivalent of 174 newspapers a day as compared with just two and a half pages 24 years ago. And to top it off, according to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches approximately 5 hours of TV each day.
The average American now receives five times more information every day as we did in 1986.
So, ask yourself this, do feel as if you are on information overload? If you answered yes, there is a reason.
Your brain, that thing between your two ears, and it processing capacity are on overload. Magnetic resonance imaging measures changes in blood flow to the brain, and as the brain receives more and more and more and more information the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for problem solving, processing complex thoughts, planning and reasoning, are shut down.
I like to say to my clients, how can you make decisions, problem solve, or be creative if your brain is on constant overload. There is no open clear space to let your answers or creativity in.
Now this is a very difficult task for Americans, as our culture has been conditioned to have a very rigid work ethic, multitask and be constantly on the go. We have difficulty and feel uncomfortable with just doing nothing.
In a study done by Harvard and and the University of Virginia, they asked subjects to sit in an empty room for fifteen minutes with nothing to do other then to just sit with their thoughts. In the room was also a machine for administering small electrical shocks. The subjects had a choice to sit in silence or administer the small electrical shocks to themselves. The results were shocking. Just under two-thirds of the men gave themselves one or more electrical shocks due to boredom, with one man who administered 190 shocks to himself rather than sitting and do nothing. Under the same conditions, one quarter of women pressed the same button.
The findings showed that most people hate sitting and doing nothing, which could be why they feel guilty if not working or doing something productive.
But, putting away electronics, shutting off the computer, and no TV may be just what you need. It is in those moments of silence, relaxation, doing nothing, that the brain is given a chance to rest and receive.
When the brain is in a state of rest, not on information processing overload, the blood flow makes connections among disparate ideas and thoughts, and is responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, when we’re able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable.
Some examples are when you go for a walk in nature, grocery shop, listen to music, or do something that doesn’t require sustained attention and suddenly – Eureka!, the moment of insight – the answer to a problem that had been vexing you suddenly appears.
5 Tips to Control Information Overload
1. Purchase a daily planner. Create a daily schedule in your planner and stick to it, have project periods. If you have something that needs that special attention, do it first thing in the morning before anything else when you are well rested and your brain is fresh. This way you are not being distracted by multitasking and incoming information. You can feel good knowing your project was attended to.
2. Manage your email. The world is not going to stop sending you information so mold it to your liking verses tolerating it, and have a positive effect on your environment. Pick designated times of the day for answering emails. An example would be to check emails first thing in the morning, right before lunch, and then mid afternoon.
3. Pick a designated time of the day for social networking on the internet. If you use Face book, Twitter, or LinkedIn, set aside a specific time or times of the day to do your networking. Try not to get distracted and lost with the time. Use a timer to help you regulate your time.
4. Disconnect from the information sources. To improve your attention, a sense of control, as well as help in getting your creative juices flowing, turn your email program off. If you do not, the ping will distract you with what you are doing, and wanting to see what it is. These constant interruptions will interfere and you will reach a point of diminishing returns.
5. Say no. When you are too distracted to focus and are on information overload it is time to say no. It’s time to look at what is not needed, what can you let go of? Stop reading articles, checking social media sites, or links that are of no importance. Make a conscious choice to prioritize what is important and get rid of the rest. Ask yourself, is this truly important, if not, STOP RIGHT THERE!
So take the needed time to problem solve and let the creative juices flow in, it doesn’t always have to be accomplished immediately – it will have profound effects on your decision making and the quality of your life.
I’d love to hear how you are preventing information overload. Do you have any tips to share?