Tick Tock Goes the Clock: How Information Overload Sucks Up Our Time

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Information vs. Knowledge

Information is defined as that which informs (i.e., an answer to a question or that from which knowledge and data can be derived). Information’s existence is not necessarily coupled with an observer — it’s raw data and exists beyond an event. Knowledge on the other hand is information that requires a cognitive observer who will learn something. Information resolves uncertainty, because it provides knowledge.

How We Take it All In

Time seems to have sped up. We often hear (and say), “Where did the time go?” or “The year is almost gone, how did that happen?” or “There is not enough time in the day to get everything done.” And on and on. Time keeps ticking away at the speed it always has. So what happened?

In 2011, Americans took in five time as much information every day as they did in 1986. We have to make a conscious effort to beat back the flood. Multitasking makes the days seem shorter, and buzzing through our tasks mindlessly does too. When it comes to information overload, we’re speeding up our perception of time and watching our lives whiz by in the process!

Google executive Eric Schmidt states that “instantaneous devices and the abundance of information people are exposed to through e-mail and other technology based sources could be having an impact on our thought processes, obstructing ‘deep thinking’, understanding, impedes the formation of memories and makes learning more difficult. This condition of ‘cognitive overload’ results in diminished information retaining ability and failing to connect remembrances to experiences stored in long term memory. This leaves thoughts thin and scattered. This is also manifest in the education process.” (found on wikipedia)

So information floods in, but we don’t quite retain it or the experiences we might be having around it.

Information Overload

Information Overload image sourced from SparkCBC through Flickr

Get More Focused, More Productive and Less Stressed

The tips I’ll share today comes from The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin. Here are Levitin’s nine tips for thinking straight, overcoming procrastination, and putting in less time but getting more done.

  1. Do a Brain Dump Get things out of your head with a “brain dump.” David Allen, the Getting-things-done Guru recommends what he calls “clearing the mind.” This means creating a big list of everything floating around in your mind to free up some space.
  2. Just say “No”- Become your own enforcer of no e-mail or internet for certain periods of time so you can sustain your concentration and give yourself a limit of how much time you will spend available for interruption. Do not listen to that nagging voice that is trying to get you to do something else like checking out the latest cat videos on You Tube.
  3. Reach for reset – When the brain goes into “mind wandering mode” it is serving as a neural reset button that gives you a refreshed perspective. A 15-minute nap can provide such a reset, as can reading, walking outside, looking at art, allowing your thoughts to flow freely, or meditating.
  4. Buy some index cards  Putting a “to do” list on the computer or smart phone is not a good idea. The problem is that you have to scroll through the whole list every time you consult it. With index cards you prioritize your tasks with the most important on the top.
  5. Control phone messages coming in – Jot down on the index card who is calling and take notes of what you want to remember while you are talking.
  6. Purge at least once a year – Look at those stacks of paper teetering on your desk like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Whittle them down, throw away a lot of “stuff”. Not everything in those stacks remains relevant forever.
  7. Take 10 – Psychiatrists work a 50 minute hour. This allows them to finalize their notes before going on to the next patient. If you have several meetings in a day give yourself some breathing space in between to take a deep breath and reset before the next one.
  8. Scrutinize your junk drawer – That drawer provides a perfect metaphor for how we live our lives. Old shopping lists, broken dog collars and 5 screwdrivers all the same size make no sense. Does it clutter up your thinking so that you are not open to new ideas? Is the purpose clear? Levitan says, “‘Organizing’ can bring us to the next level of our lives.”
  9. Stop Multi-tasking – This has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the flight or fight syndrome.

One last thought. The processing capacity of the conscious mind has been estimated at 120 bits per second. According to my “techie guru“ that’s pretty fast.

One thought on “Tick Tock Goes the Clock: How Information Overload Sucks Up Our Time

  1. I loved your newsletter this week and will share it with others 🙂  Have a great evening.Margaret

    Peace and Blessings,  Margaret Erickson PhD, RN, CNS, APHN-BC Executive Director, AHNCC

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