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Too Much Information


Regular readers will know I regularly have a look at Richard Watson’s blog.  He’s recently posted regarding a study that has been done looking at how people’s brains deal with overloads of information.  I have copied his post below as it gives you cause to think (if you have the time….):

Feeling anxious today? The reason could be a surfeit of information and the long-term consequences could include critical errors. A study conducted by Angela Dimoka, director of the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University (US) has found that as information flow is increased, so too is activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with decision making. Sounds good, but is it? As the flow of information is increased further, activity in this region suddenly falls off.

Why could this be so?

The reason is that part of the brain has essentially left the building. When incoming information reaches a certain point the brain protects itself by shutting down certain of its functions. The result is that decision-making is impaired. Other consequences include a tendency for anxiety and stress levels to soar and for people to abstain from making any kind of decision at all. Even worse is the impact on creative thinking, which research suggests requires periods of incubation and reflection to function well.

During the recent BP disaster, Coastguard Admiral Thad Allen, who was the incident commander at the time, received between 300 and 400 pages of emails, texts and reports every day during the oil rig blow out. Nobody is making a direct connection between this data deluge and subsequent actions but the possibility certainly exists.

The takeaway here is that Dimoka’s research suggests that being exposed to too much information is changing how we think and we should think carefully about restricting the flow of incoming (and outgoing) information and also pre-plan periods of quiet down time and reflection.

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1 Comment
  • Russ Wylie
    Reply

    Good posting, Matt.

    Taking possession of your own mind by taking possession of your communication time is a powerful thing to do … and is definitely worth the effort!

    How can you do this in relation to the constant flow of communication coming your way?

    Firstly, simplify your approach to email, in particular, by using the Out of Office (… unavailable for now) Reply on your mail system to let people know that you will be checking your Inbox twice a day only; and if it’s truly urgent (… and define what constitutes “truly urgent” in your “Out of Office” response system), then a phone call is needed, and will get to you quicker.

    Having used this system, I’ve found that most people appreciate the effort you take to let them know what your situation is, and how you are handling your work flow. They also appreciate that you have clarity around your situation; and respect them enough to let them know what’s happening … and handle it as a professional courtesy. Most people can handle any “What”, if they are given a strong enough “Why”, and have reasonable alternatives for urgent access.

    Once you’ve done this, switch off the sound or visual notifications to your email box. The noise and visual interruption can damage and sabotage your current focus & concentration. Instead, let your mind go to work on the high or higher value stuff you have chosen to work on right now!

    Allocate an amount of time … say no more than 60 -90 minutes to each of these “Inbox Check-in times”; and track how many emails, on average, you are able to read and respond to in these times. (That will be revealing and illuminating all in one go!)

    Once you’ve quantified the number, you have a clear benchmark on your realistic capacity in this area of communication. Having done this, check who you email and respond to most.

    Ask yourself: “Are these emails related to High Payoff work or Core Values?”.

    If they are, then keep the (email) doorway open to them. If not, use the “Rules” section of your Inbox to delegate this items to someone else, or somewhere (e.g. The “Do Later” or “Deleted Items” Folders). Check the “Do Later” Folder twice a week and make a judgement call from there.

    Taking control of your communication is great for your self-esteem too! And, if you make an appointment with yourself and read and respond to your emails at those times, people will get used to … and appreciate the consistency and reliability of your improved communication system.

    Simplicity leads to genius … and simplicity starts with focussing and concentrating.

    Remember: “All you can do, is all you can do … and all you can do is enough!”

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