Stop Information Overload and Treating Your Mind Like a Filing Cabinet

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By Sasha Rezvina

In the SaaS startup world, there’s always a push towards self-improvement. Every employee tries to learn, memorize, and have working knowledge of everything even loosely associated with their role in the company.

But unlike the tools we work with, we’re not super-computers and we often face information overload. Our brains aren’t designed to soak up, process, and store all the information that we encounter. Ironically, in order to retain more, we actually have to absorb less. You have to be selective about what you put your mind to.

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You have a limited amount of mental resources, so you have to free up some of that space by outsourcing. Here’s how.

Intelligent resourcefulness

Because news, definitions, historical facts, and other nuggets of information are just a mouse click away, our brains are no longer accustomed to retaining a repository of information. For this reason, there has been this trend in online literature that tells us the internet makes us stupid.

information overload

But psychologist Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic debunks this misconception. He explains that there are two different types of intelligence that are affected by the internet: crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence.

Crystallized intelligence is knowledge. The ability to understand things, based on the information you store. Fluid knowledge, on the other hand, is the ability to process and understand information by outsourcing some of that work, i.e., looking stuff up.

While people have become worse at memorizing things, the overall fluid IQ has drastically increased over time. So if you actually want to make better use of your brain power, create an online repository. This avoids information overload and you can access any other particulars you need as quickly as possible.

Bookmark and catalogue

Make information even more accessible by cataloging useful online resources. So instead of trying to relocate that amazing JIRA tutorial you saw last week, you can access it at the click of a button.

Here are some great bookmarking apps that will help you organize your online repository of information overload.

  • DRAGDIS is a super user-friendly drag-and-drop visual bookmarking program. You can save images, links, videos, and even text excerpts. From there you can access your repository from any device and share it with your team.
  • diigo is less flashy than DRAGDIS, but it has many more capabilities. You can save, tag, organize, annotate, archive, and share resources with people and groups. This is really great for a collaborative work environment that involves sharing resources.
  • Saved.io is a cloud bookmarking program. It’s simple, and you don’t have to download an extension, app, or software in order to use it. All you have to do is type in “saved.io” to take advantage of an accessible bookmarks bar across all browsers and devices.

Lean decision-making

For Zuckerburg, it’s a grey short-sleeve shirt. For Jobs, it was a black turtleneck. Obama has his go-to navy blue suit. Why do all these big shots stick to a single outfit like the mystery gang from Scooby Doo? It’s not like they can’t afford a better wardrobe.

It’s probably because they have more important things to think about, like running a country, or pioneering social media. A Columbia University study revealed that having to make too many decisions throughout the day (aka decision fatigue), can wear you out, present you with even more information overload, and drastically decrease your judgment skills.

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The team of researchers evaluated 1,112 judicial hearings to see whether decision fatigue affected the judge’s ruling on criminals’ parole. The results revealed a direct correlation. Criminals that would appeal in the mornings had a 70% chance of getting parole, and as the day wore on, that number would drop to 10%. The researchers surmised that the judge became less capable of being a decision-maker.

So try to filter out unnecessary decision-making in order to think clearly and make decisions when they really matter.

Create mindless habits to avoid information overload

Limit your decision-making by adding routine to your life. The more habits you create, the less you have to worry over information overload and other trivial things, like your outfit choices or your exercise routine.

Here are some habit-forming apps that will help you create routine and free your mind of clutter.

  • Stickk is a web-based app developed by Yale University economists. Upon signing up, you sign a “commitment contract” that makes you commit to doing your habit every day. You’re encouraged to keep up your habit through a cheerleading network, and money you can put on the line.
  • 21 Habit is similar to Stickk, except it hinges on the “21 days to form a habit” rule. They also require that you put in $21. For every day you don’t keep up the habit, they donate a buck to charity.
  • Lifetick lets you take habit-making to a whole new level. They take a more analytical approach to habit-making. They use the S.M.A.R.T. methodology, and help you prioritize and track your goals.

Merry monotasking

We’ve all felt the heavy burden of multi-tasking. Thrown onto the “skills” section of practically every resume, the ability to do many things at once is an admirable and highly desirable skill among employees.

But studies have proven that multi-tasking is not only an ineffective way to get stuff done, but it’s actually harmful for your brain. Stanford researchers proved this in an experiment where they compared results of multi-taskers to the results of mono-taskers (those that took on one task at a time).

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They found that the people who multi-tasked couldn’t perform as well as their brains were confronted with information overload, and even once they switched over to mono-tasking, their focus and attention span was shot. The researches concluded that chronic multi-tasking makes you incapable of quickly recognizing what is and what isn’t important to fulfill your objective.

But multi-tasking often seems unavoidable. Responsibilities fall into our laps without us having much of a say. Use to-do lists as an opportunity to stick to your mono-tasking ways. Instead of switching tasks as soon as they arise, just add it to your to-do list and return to your task at hand.

One task at a time

To-do lists (and done lists!) are perfect for mono-taskers. Instead of trying to do everything on your plate at once, you can quickly jot down your responsibilities, and work through each task efficiently.

  • I Done This helps you mono-task collaboratively. That means you can check off your tasks, or just let your team know what you’ve been doing on your own time. You can do this through email or via the dashboard.
  • Carrot is an iOS app, self-proclaimed as the to-do list with a personality. It keeps you updated with your to-dos, and gets angry with you whenever you slack off.
  • Todoist is for Gmail-lovers. The plugin turns your email into a to-do list so you can extract information from emails and organize your schedule around it.

Stop information overload and commit your mind to stuff that matters

There’s a famous anecdote about Albert Einstein not knowing his own phone number or his friends’ birthdays. And we all know that it wasn’t because he was bad with numbers. He simply didn’t waste his mental energy on trivial things.

Instead of crumbling under information overload and trying to keep track of your schedule and obligations, free your mind of that clutter to focus on the stuff that matters. Work on improving your focus and learning invaluable skills, and leave the rest to the MacBooks!

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