Our work environment is designed to distract us. In a highly interconnected world it feels as if everything and everyone is seeking your attention – you are a small part in someone else’s long supply chain! But not only of one person – but maybe of 10, 30 or 100…If the number of supply chains we’re involved in reaches a certain threshold, we tend to suffer of “information overlaod” and the typical feeling of stress that comes with it.
With around 929 million Business email accounts worldwide and over 100 billion emails sent and received each day in a business context alone, it is no wonder that we juggle with more information than the brain is configured to handle. Our conscious mind can focus on three, maybe four things at once. If we are forced to focus on more things simultaneously, we begin to exercise poorer judgment, lose track of things and lose our focus.
But is it really the information overlaod part that makes us feel overwhelmed, unfocused and stressed? Or is it maybe the fact that most of us haven’t learned yet to establish a proper filter that helps us navigate the many requests, opportunities and informations that we receive on a daily basis? The information balloon is going to blow up over the years tremendously, so what can we do?
1. Clear your mind
Productivity guru David Allen and author of the book “The organized mind”, recommends to throw out everything out of your head that is floating around there. What are the to-do’s, questions, calls etc. you keep thinking about? Ease your mind by creating an extensive list of everything floating around your head.
Also, be prepared to immediately note down thoughts that interrupt either your work flow or leisure time. Writing things down gets them out of your head, just like cleaning your desktop or dropbox. You see a clearer picture and reduce the level of stress.
Once written down, prioritize the items into these categories: do today, delegate, do this week, and drop. Make those items actionable and break them down in smaller, more concrete tasks if necessary.
2. Combine similar tasks
It may sound tempting to switch after 10 min when doing a routine task that is not bringing you flow but has to be accomplished anyway – everytime you switch though, you loose efficiency and time. In order to use the synergy of those small tasks, group them into categories like “paying bills” or “catch up by email after networking event” – this way you finish them faster and also they disappear from your to-do list, which helps to achieve #1!
3. Be a master over your emails
Psychologist Glenn Wilson found that having an unread email in your inbox while you’re trying to complete a task can chop 10 points off your effective IQ. According to his research, multitasking is even more of a detriment to memory and our ability to concentrate than smoking pot is.
Many people have their e-mail programs set to put through arriving e-mails automatically or every five minutes. Let’s assume you’re checking every 5 minutes – that makes 200 times a day!
Set aside 3 or 4 times of day for email. Yes, sometimes there are emergencies which require quick correspondence – maybe that’s the time to reach for the phone instead?
4. First things first – take advantage of your morning energy
Despite individual preferences, our biological clock claims: concentration and focus is highest before noon. Make the best out of it by starting your working day with the most important and difficult tasks on your daily to-do list. It can be also the most unpleasant task – which certainly will clear your mind for the rest of the day.
5. Really do use that timer…
You make have heard of the Parkinson’s Law before: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” or put differently: set yourself a timer for a task that is predictable and try to finish before the alarm goes off. This is not only satisfying when you finish earlier but also increase your productivity and decrease distraction – the same effect as during tests. Many productivity apps and online to-do lists like Trello have an integrated pomodoro timer.
6. Reset your brain
Each decision we make today, consumes a bit of our glucose. Our brains operate in two modes: One mode directs your thoughts, the other has no script so your thoughts run themselves. The directing mode allows us to get work done but we can’t stay in that mode all day long. At some point our thoughts start to wander. In daydreaming mode one thought melds into another without us consciously directing it. You may regard this as an unwelcome thing during your working hours but daydreaming is like a reset button and refills some of the glucose you use up in making decisions and staying on a task.
It can also spark creativity. The thoughts wander from one to the next, creating links between ideas we might not have seen as linked before, and from that may come the solutions to a problem.
Instead of fighting it, allow yourself to daydream if you feel that your concentration is decreasing. Again, a timer can be helpful here. Take for example 10 minutes between tasks…in addition to being more concentrated, you may even come up with an innovative solution!
7. Authorize and delegate
The last one if for managers and/or perfectionists who suffer from information overlaod because they want everything to be “done yesterday” and overdeliver- learn to delegate and authorize others. Trust subordinates and colleagues -you can’t oversee everything and you shouldn’t. Besides, most people like to have at least some autonomy at work – even when they are interns. Learn to trust and – very crucial – to communicate tasks/request accurately and briefly. Also, most people like to help – so get the help from colleagues if you feel that there is too much on your plate. Sometime even the best filters are not enough to deal with the information overlaod processing!