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Information overload is when your brain exceeds its processing capacity and leaves you feeling tired (like when your computer runs out of RAM and your computer crashes). It can also weaken your concentration, leaving you more susceptible to making bad decisions, and as a result, more likely to overload yourself from other sources of information as a means of procrastinating on important tasks. Yep, that’s right, I’m talking about television, the internet, checking emails, watching videos, and anything else that feeds you with information.
Let’s take a look at how information overload can ruin your work life and how you’re probably doing it without even realizing.
Why Your Body Craves Information
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that affects your productivity, motivation and focus — some even call it the “motivation molecule” because it boosts your drive and concentration while helping you to resist negative impulses.
One of those impulses is the need to feed and I’m not only talking about your dietary intake; your body also craves information. Dopamine induces feelings of euphoria when you exercise, eat, drink, engage with your hobbies, and so on. Many of these things, including information, are addictive.
Basically, anything you do that makes you happy, makes you happy because it releases dopamine into your brain. Most of these things are bad for you (like unhealthy food, for instance) if your intake isn’t moderated. One of the hardest to moderate is your information intake because it only affects your mental wellbeing, leaving you feeling lethargic, unfocused, and sometimes even depressed if you overload yourself with it.
What Information Overload Does to You
Information overload can mean many things. It can mean that you’ve ingested too much of your to-do list at once and you’re feeling a little overwhelmed; it can mean that you’ve used up all of your cognitive capacity scrolling Facebook for the last two hours; it can mean that you’re not filtering your emails enough and you’ve wasted half of the day replying to them.
It could even mean that you’ve watched too many YouTube videos or Googled too many things — internet addiction is a real thing because it also induces dopamine in the body. We live in a world where the internet makes information so accessible to us that we can even become desensitized to dopamine over time, making it much harder for us to achieve optimum happiness.
Information overload can be trigged in many ways, and the result of that trigger is something that we call attention fatigue.
Attention fatigue is when your brain literally shuts down as a result of having too much information to deal with, leaving you feeling unmotivated and tired. In many ways you can limit your information intake, but sometimes (when you simply have too much to do) you can also reset your brain by taking a break. Lets take a look at some ways that we can curb attention fatigue.
How to Break Bad Habits
Breaking bad habits is stressful at first because you’re addicted to the dopamine high that they give you, and you’re also repeating your bad habits because they’ve become a second-nature to you — you do them without even thinking. Here’s a list of things you can do right now to kick these habits:
1. Have regular breaks or optimize your work hours
After some trial-and-error I found that working 4 hours a day (every day) leaves me feeling incredibly energetic, as opposed to a typical 9-5 weekday setup that left me feeling drained.
2. Boost your dopamine levels in a variety of ways
Don’t commit all of your time to one activity; this applies to hobbies and your day-to-day work tasks. Too much of anything will eventually cause boredom and attention fatigue.
3. Don’t start the day with your computer — ever
Don’t waste all of your juice before you’ve even started the day. This is a very common mistake, and the worst one to make!
4. Lock away your triggers (television, internet)
While I’m not a huge fan of television myself, there are TV features that can block access during certain times of the day, and there are a number of apps that can do the same thing for internet access (or specific websites if needed).
Further reading: How to Master the Habit of Forming Good Habits
How to Curb Unnecessary Communication
Reaching inbox zero only to have another bundle of emails flow right in is something I’m sure everyone can relate to. It’s a never-ending story, and even if you manage to finish the book there’s a sequel called “Communication & Collaboration: How to Talk About Your Project As a Team Until It’s Time to Go Home”.
Preventing attention fatigue boils down to prioritizing what you actually do at work. If you find that half the emails you receive could have been avoided, then maybe you need to have kind of system that filters unsolicited requests, spam, newsletters and notifications from your social media channels. I filter all of those into separate mailboxes so that I can leave unimportant emails until the end of the day, otherwise I grow very tired and bored before I’ve even begun my work day.
A common mistake when setting up teams is throwing a communication app into the workflow and assuming that it will automatically improve productivity. If you allow teams to talk with one another, they will talk until the cows come home, sometimes even as a means of avoiding doing any actual work.
Let’s take Slack for example. You can integrate your other apps (management apps, to-do apps, customer service apps, collaboration apps, whiteboard apps) into Slack to make the conversation more actionable and contextual.
So rather than saying “Yeah, so when we end this conversation I’ll do this and that,” you can instead do it from within Slack, in the moment. Many other communication apps are extensible like this, enabling you to shift back to your work very quickly.
Feeling the effects of attention fatigue is quite awful, especially when the focus of your attention doesn’t exactly bring you closer to achieving your goals, leaving you feeling “done” before you’ve even started. But now that you know how information overload works, you can prioritize (or eliminate) activities that would usually take a huge bite out of your day.
It’s actually quite fascinating how time flies when you’re checking your Facebook or replying to emails, and how addictive that can be when you’re constantly searching for something to stimulate your brain. How do you allocate your time?