By: Patrick Williams EdD, Master Certified Coach
How many times have you screamed to yourself: “There is too much information online! Make it stop! Argh!”
According to a 2009 study conducted by the University of California, San Diego, Americans consume on average approximately 34 gigabytes of information a day. This translates to about 100,000 words of information in a single 24-hour period.
Our culture, work and media celebrate our unfettered access to music, videogames, television, and websites. But overloading the human brain has negative consequences. Many people worry what this information gluttony is doing to their mental and physical health.
Rates of repetitive stress disorders, such as computer-related eye strain and carpal tunnel syndrome (from excess computer use), are rising, along with rates of Attention Deficit Disorder. Lack of focus is a common complaint. Lack of time is another.
An Internet search for things like “info overload cure,” reveals thousands of articles about what to do. Many of these articles have good advice. But there again, it's possible to get snowed under by an avalanche of information about information overload.
So let’s boil down the actions you can take right now to simplify your life and clear your mind.
1. Seize on opportunities to be satisfied with less
As the old cliché goes: “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” We often crave the "best" answer or path. But the sheer number of options paralyzes us. Sociologist Barry Schwartz details this phenomenon in depth in his book, The Paradox of Choice.
Studies show that when you give people too many choices, they not only freeze up and have trouble deciding, but they also wind up less satisfied with what they choose. The more choices, the less satisfaction.
In fact, any time you can limit your choices to get a “good enough” answer instead of a “best” answer, you'll be better off.
Of course, as with all principles, caveats apply. If you want information about how to refinance your home, you would obviously want to consult more than one or two sources. But, in general, err on the side of limiting choice instead of expanding options.
2. Leverage the “Pareto Principle” ̶ also called the 80:20 rule
Author Timothy Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek) writes about the importance of the 80:20 rule, or the Pareto Principle. Essentially, this principle says that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. Conversely, 80% of your problems result from 20% of your inputs.
Let's apply this idea to the "info overload" problem. It’s almost certain that 80% of the information that comes into your life everyday is relatively useless. Get rid of that excess 80%. Focus on the 20% of information that genuinely adds to your life.
Do routine “80:20” audits of both your information and daily time usage to improve your productivity and clamp down on overload.
3. Use Parkinson’s Law
Parkinson’s Law essentially states that work will expand or contract to take up the amount of time allotted for it. In The 4-Hour Workweek, Ferriss talks about Parkinson’s Law as a companion principle to the 80:20 principle. The idea is that you should give yourself hard to meet (but not impossible) deadlines throughout the day.
For instance, say you enjoy surfing the internet. But you don’t want to spend 3 hours a day lost mindlessly on the web. Set a timer – say 30 minutes. Then allow yourself to swim in the info-sea until the timer buzzes.
4. Explore "Getting Things Done" – a productivity system
Productivity guru David Allen created the Getting Things Done (GTD) system to help info-overloaded people clear their slates and their minds. Essentially, Allen’s philosophy is to write down what’s on your mind – to collect your mind’s “open loops” in an objective format, such as a lengthy to-do list. In this way, your brain doesn’t have to “remember everything.” GTD is not a simple system to learn or use, but it contains many powerful ideas.
The ancient Buddhist art of mindfulness meditation provides a means for clearing the mind of chatter and stray thoughts. According to Buddhist teachings, the endless internal monologue that loops in our brains can cause serious problems, including stress, anxiety, and depression. In other words, info overload can rebound to have psychological and even physical manifestations.
One way to deal with the constant flux of thoughts is to take time out every day to let the mind settle down. Meditation techniques all center on the idea that the mind needs to rest from its chatter in order to restore its focus.
6. Cut off the flow
How can you retool your life to consume less info, less frequently? Make it a habit to leave the radio off in your car when you drive to work and enjoy the silence. You don't need the TV on to repeat the news talk. Make it a rule never to surf the web, TV, or other “glowing rectangles” after 8 P.M.
7. Outsource solution finding
Find ways to outsource your decision making and solution finding to other people, so you don’t have to bathe in the info stream to the point that it scalds your mind.
8. Reduce your informational needs
You can survive on far less information than you realize. Do you really need to scan the CNN headlines every morning on your cell phone? What is that doing for your life? How is it making you a better person and moving you closer to your goals? Excise what you don’t need – and do regular audits.
One wise person put herself on an information diet for a year. At the end of December, she accessed all the top news stories for the year on the Time Magazines site. Like watching the highlights of a football game, she only wants to know the interesting parts.
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[Deleted because you’ve gotten what you need out of this article and you don’t need to waste more time consuming information, even if it's about how to stop consuming information!]