Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian are teaching anthropology to a chimpanzee.
“Beauty is why humans are nature’s exception. It’s really the center of culture,” says Trump. “Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”
Kim nods in agreement and takes a selfie. “There’s a lot of baggage that comes with our species, but it’s like Louis Vuitton baggage.”
The alarm clock saves you from the recurring dream. But the beeping transitions seamlessly to Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram alerts.
You don’t have time to reflect on it. You see that half the country is up in arms over the right to bear arms while others speculate that the Dalai Lama will defeat the Pope in an arm wrestling match.
You need another cup of coffee before you check LinkedIn.
Information Overload Threatens Business
You’ve told your friends about this dream. They have a theory: the days were slower in the Pleistocene than they are in the Internet Era.
Humans evolved to gather food and hunt large animals in tribes of 60-150, depending on whom you ask.
Now, we may interact virtually with hundreds of people every day. Half of Facebook users have over 200 friends. We see between 360 and 5,000 ads daily from companies who want to be our friends. We have real lives too. We may work with a few hundred people and negotiate road space with hundreds of others.
Our norm has become overwhelming. While we have greater access to information than ever before, it comes at a cost. Information overload negatively impacts decision-making, innovation, and productivity. Harvard Business Review estimates that it costs the US economy $900 billion every year.
To be competitive, you have to plan for this. Here are a few tips to manage the load.
Unplug. Refresh. Plug In.
Surfing the web gives you plenty to think about and to chat about, but do you remember the great powers of silence?
People report feelings of peace and relaxation when they aren’t checking ten different social feeds, and half a dozen news sources. They say they pay more attention to the world around them. They even talk to the people they’re physically with.
The world is spinning over 1000mph. Sometimes it’s good to turn off the phone and just appreciate it.
Focus on the task at hand to stay productive
Elon Musk can do ten things at once, but most of us make poorer decisions when we try to do the same. The brain has finite resources. When we try to do too much at once, we make mistakes. Not only that, it takes us longer to juggle tasks than to complete them sequentially.
One way to avoid information overload is to simply do one thing at a time. Don’t plan your day in a meeting. Don’t write emails while you scan headlines. And for the love of kittens, put the second screen away. Challenge yourself to do one thing at a time. Oz’s editor, Cat, even puts a note on her screen and sets a timer, just to remember the one task she should be doing at the moment. You’ll be surprised at the power of focus.
Schedule breaks to avoid decision fatigue
When we make too many decisions, we suffer from decision fatigue, which is exactly what it sounds like: mental exhaustion from making too many decisions.
Every choice we make chips away at our attention. When we have four friends with Facebook birthdays, three emails to respond to, Twitter comments to address, and other social media obligations, it’s easy to be delayed. And while each of these decisions can be made in seconds, we may not refocus for 23 minutes.
Social media can be overwhelming. It can also be a great boon to life. It keeps people in touch and dramatically accelerates communication. Treat social media like a water cooler break. Schedule time for it. Set time restrictions. Don’t let it interrupt what you need to do. You wouldn’t take an all-day water break.
Ask questions to Innovate
If information is rushing at you like a river, raise a dam. Check yourself. Take nothing for granted. Ask a question.
If you find yourself having a conversation and you can’t summarize why you’re there in a sentence, ask yourself “How does this help us achieve our objectives?” Doing so, you remind yourself why you’re there. If you can find out why the conversation matters, you’ll get more out of it.
If you’re reading a story after story and post after post, you’re probably not digesting the information, even if you’re absorbing it. Sometimes, it’s important to ask, “Who stands to gain from this story?” It puts the event into a larger context.
Still, other times, it’s important to ask, “Does this make life better for anyone?” Your time is finite. If it’s not doing any good, it probably isn’t any good for you.
Balance is everything
Information is information. Knowledge is knowledge. If we slow down and consume information deliberately, we’ll remember the difference between the two.
Things won’t muddle up or run together as much. Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian will visit our dreams with less frequency.
If we use our computers as tools, they become bicycles for our minds. We’ll achieve more, meaningfully.”
Writers and marketers looking to cut through the noise can benefit from more focused research. Check out our site to learn more at Oz.