Information Overload

There was a time when the start and finish of a job was clear.

If you were working in manufacturing, on a production line, or farming, it was clear at which point you started and finished. You clocked in and clocked out. You worked for so many hours and when the job was finished, you went home. If you wanted greater output, you just worked harder.

As a result, many of us have been brought up during various phases of our lives adopting the ‘just work harder’ mindset. And it’s easy to see where it came from. Want to make more widgets? Just work harder. Want to pack more boxes? Work harder. Want to sew more seed? Work harder. And so it was instilled is us. Want to be more successful or better at what you do? No problem. Just work harder.

However, we no longer live in an industrial age but an information age. Many of us now deal with hundreds of pieces of information daily and are paid to process that information and make decisions on how that information is managed. We’re constantly being fed information via a range of devices to the point where the list is endless and the volume all-consuming. And in many instances there is no clear definition as to the start and end point of a job. Work and life just becomes one long project, punctuated by new initiatives, ideas and problems to solve.

So the two factors compound – the fact that we have a constant stream of information and that we have no clear definition of what it means to start and end.

The old thinking of ‘just work harder’ won’t cut it anymore. There comes a point where you can’t work any harder, you can’t work faster and you can’t work longer without seeing a reduction in marginal gain – the point at which doing any more of these things does not result in a relative increase in output.

So what can we do to deal with this? Well, the first thing is to recognize that this is actually the case and to break the cycle of outdated thinking. The second is to use ways to help define what success looks like and how to better manage the constant information flow.

The following ‘D’s’ may help:

  1. Define success. Decide the evening before, what the 3-5 main tasks are you need to accomplish the following day. This isn’t a ‘task list’ but a ‘must do list’. Tackle them first before you do anything else.
  2. Deal with information quickly
    1. If it can be done within two minutes do it
    2. If it will take longer than two minutes, defer it until you have more time and plan it into your diary
    3. If you don’t need to do it, delete it
    4. If someone else can do it, delegate it – up, across, down or outsource.

As our working world has evolved then the old belief of ‘just work harder’ is no longer entirely applicable and therefore our approach must evolve. There comes a point where it is no longer a question of working harder, but working smarter; and we can do so by defining success and improving the way in which we deal with the information flow.

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