Eliminate Information Overload

According to recent research, the average adult makes approximately 35,000 decisions a day. These range from small average decisions like what clothes to wear to, in the case of business managers, large decisions such as what assets to acquire or how to restructure our organizations to maximize potential. 

Each decision made requires information input for the best conclusions. So, it is vital to maximize the data-to-decision process and understand the effects information overload has on decision-making, learning/retention and overall well-being.

To accept more information without more (or better) decisions would be like welcoming more volume at your company for less net profit. It just does not make sense. Learn to maximize useful information and reduce the noise below.

Does more Info Produce Better Decisions? 

Bertram Gross, professor at Hunter College who coined the phrase "information overload", had the following to say on his findings: “Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Decision makers have fairly limited cognitive processing capacity. Consequently, when information overload occurs, it is likely a reduction in decision quality will occur.” 

Simply put, more information does not make for better decisions and many times can lead to no decision at all. How often have you heard, or said, a decision was delayed until some additional and typically undefined amount of data is gathered?

We live in a era in which data is constantly mistaken for facts. No one has the answers or enough details. We have to take the available information and make a choice. Be wary that your efforts to act more intelligently don’t lead you in the opposite direction. Only gather more data when it will lead to distinctly better decisions. Always err on the side of making a decision and getting events moving, over the ambiguous void of "needing more data".

"A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week." -George S. Patton

Information & Learning Paradox

We often take in information that is interesting to us, but not currently relevant. How many can relate to me in the following: Being a planner, I know my future ambitions. When I see an article, documentary, book...etc I think "hey that is useful information for some future point in my life". I read it, and guess what? In the future when (or if) the information becomes relevant I have to find/read it again at the moment of needed decision or action. Every time, the second reading on the subject would have been enough. Further, when the reading is put into action immediately, it is retained more effectively anyway.

This is defined in the forgetting curve below, and is a subject that has been studied extensively since its founding in 1885 by Hermann Ebbinghaus. 

Quick Tips:

  • Feel free to ignore information. Recognize you can't consume every ounce of data available, and don't feel guilty to ignore the majority of it.
  • Filter info ruthlessly. Create filters on your inbox. Ensure only priority material receives your attention during the day.
  • Realize each bit of data consumes your finite mental calories. Don't waste them.
  • Ask yourself repeatedly is the info I'm looking at relevant and important. If it is not... stop reading it. This leads to our final tip
  • It is okay not to finish boring, sinceless and/or irrelevant articles, books, movies...etc we are wired to feel like everything we start we have to finish. Do not get caught up in this trap. If it is worthless, put it down and walk away.

Information Gluttony & Your Mental State

Just like the articles and magazines we stack away for future reading, our mental backlog keeps becoming more cluttered. Useful relevant information is stacked right beside noise and useless information. Soon your inbox, desk, and mind become a mess you cannot stand to face. 

There are multiple mental detriments when your brain is not happy with your content consumption. Watch for the following signs/effects of information overload:

  • Decline in memory / information retention
  • Anxiety and indesisive
  • Stress and burn out 
  • Lower mental endurance and capacity 
  • Decreased uptake of new valuable information

In conclusion, don't be a information glutton. Information gathered that is not used raises your anxiety, lowers your productivity, clutters your mind and in the end is forgotten anyway. Our argument here is that if you are not going to use the information in a week or less, use your time for something more relevant.

Action Steps

  1. Take 1 hour today to go through personal/professional emails and click spam and/or unsubscribe from every un-relevant email service. (i.e. Do you really need an update sent to your company email during the workday on the next season of your favorite show being available?)
  2. Start saying no to your devices sending you push notifications. The red indicators when you open your phone will be enough indication, without the phone going off anymore than it already does. As discussed in our multitasking article, the mental switching goes hand and hand with causing mental fatigue as much as the additional irrelevant information on the phone screen.
  3. Be brutal on filtering the data you take in daily. Your decisions will improve, you will learn and retain more, and your mental state will thank you. If you will not use the information you are consuming in less than one week, use your processing capacity for something more useful.
  4. Final tip is to not use the single most distracting device you own to plan your days. If every time you go to your to-do list or project notes you have to make it past ten notifications and the countless time-absorbing apps we own, you are inviting regular detours from productive days. Choose an unplugged system that will allow you to write/store your daily activity in a set apart location. If you are a project or business manager, The Manager's Journal has been designed for you with this and many more purposes taken into considerations. Continue to our website today to learn more.

Blessings In Your Endeavors, 

Ruben Watson 

“I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.” -Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet


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