It is a challenge of modern life: email, Facebook feeds, instant messaging, text messages, and other snippets of information are coming at us so fast that it is hard not to feel under digital attack. Sure, some of it is important — and that is precisely the problem. Turn it all off and you might as well quit the workforce. Then read it all and your mind becomes so drained that it is a challenge to get anything else done.
In some ways, technology has evolved in a way that puts mere humans in a bind. From the moment you wake up, it seems the inbox is calling your name and if you’re like most of us, you must answer its call pretty quickly.
According to Wikipedia, ‘Infomania’ is the debilitating state of information overload, caused by the combination of a backlog of information to process (usually in email), and continuous interruptions from technologies like phones, instant messaging, and email.
On an average, how many sources for News do we use? Newspaper, radio, TV, news web sites, Youtube, blogs, RSS feeds- list goes on. Most of the times, we get the same information from various sources.
For communication, we use email, phone, IM, text messages, voicemail, Facebook, MySpace and so on. Not only that, we have multiple phones, email addresses and instant messengers.
I read David Rock’s book “Your Brain at Work ‘’ where he writes that the brain hates uncertainty. It is literally unsettling to not run to your several inboxes first thing in the morning but once you’ve processed 20 or 30 mails, you’ve ruined your brain chemistry for higher level tasks that are going to create value.
In fact, a University of London study done for Hewlett-Packard found that Infomania can lower your IQ by twice as much as smoking marijuana.
And that email can raise the levels of noradrenaline and dopamine in your brain by constantly introducing new stimuli into your day. When those levels get too high, complex thinking becomes more difficult, making it harder to make decisions and solve problems.
In short, the brain’s capacity for decision-making evolved at a time when people had less to think about. So now you have an excuse for not keeping up. But you still need a game plan.
Take control of email. On an average, a person gets 75 to 100 work emails a day, 50% of these are not relevant. We feel overwhelmed with where to look and what to do, how to find important information or tasks from the bulk - how to sort the grain from the chaff.
Prioritize by setting clear goals. I have come to learn that doing less per day will help me to prioritize the right way. We all tend to do this subconsciously, but writing them down helps you actually achieve them.
Prioritizing is one of the brain’s most energy-hungry processes,” writes Rock in his book. That means its best done when your mind is fresh and well rested.
Unplug. Shut off the fire hydrant of information. Take a break from it. It is tempting to think that more information makes for better decisions but in most cases, it just erodes your focus. You need time to synthesize information and generate real intelligence.
We do need to switch off and rebalance our brain chemistry if we’re going to come up with new ideas,” says Rock.
The information revolution and information overload is going to continue in the 21st century. In order to leverage this revolution for better, we need to pick and choose. And, we need to ask ourselves at the end of the day, week, month - Are we adding value to our lives and our world?
Or, are we getting exhausted coping with the technology created by others?
Emmanuel Nyagapfizi is a Management Information Systems manager