Are you longing for those days of the seventh grade English assignment. “Write a two page essay on a U.S. president.” You choose Lincoln, feeling all assertive and clever, head off to the middle school’s library where you promptly go to the shelf with the Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume L, and find the pages on Abe. But darn it, there are SIX pages, and you suddenly wished you had chosen a less popular president.
You trudged on, however, reading most paragraphs, scanning others, and spending too much time on the few black and white photos. You realize that you could actually use a better photo from his childhood. You asked your brother why there were no color pictures. You remembered your dad always sang a song about Abe, but your dad was in Europe on business and there was no way to reach him.
Ultimately you gathered the information you needed, wrote your report in your neatest handwriting (not as old fashioned as we think), slid the two pages of blue-lined, wide-ruled paper into a folder, watched one (yes, only one) episode of that night’s TV offerings, and off to bed you went.
Fast forward to information overload of the 21st century. Cortisol addiction is everywhere, and we are all pining for the good old days when six pages in 9 pt seemed too many. In fact, I was recently assigned the task of gathering information on that very same president, Abe, for a “Stories to Life” presentation at my local library. “Sure,” I said gleefully accepting this assignment, being the (former) lover of all things research.
Three nights and many hours later, after pouring through hundreds of pages on line, pages in books, images, movies, songs–you name it–and my gleeful “Sure!” had changed quite radically to a raucous . . . “What the heck was I thinking?”
My brain hurt! Cortisol overload. I was stressed. This state of mind is common, and not productive for anyone, let alone the entrepreneur.
According to Bernard Marr of Forbes, “Our brains aren’t built to cope with the ever increasing volumes of data we are trying to cram into them – and this is leading to brain malfunction in the form of stress.” And cortisol, our stress hormone, is released in big doses. For entrepreneurs, the stress could easily turn you away from your courageous ideas, running fast in the other direction.
Nonetheless, we are “addicted to information,” and we keep going back for more. So problematic is this that October 20 was officially declared “Information Overload Day” by the Information Overload Research Group, IORG, (yes, there really is such a thing), with a plea that we all reduce our usage by 20% one day a year. Who knew?
Why are we addicted to so much information? Because we simply love to figure stuff out. Now this is all too familiar to the entrepreneur. Marr explains it this way, “The human brain thrives on novelty and is driven to constantly seek it.” But when it’s availability is unlimited the brain overworks itself trying to search for more.
(Kind of sounds like what I go through with good red wine, and, unfortunately with the same results: confusion, memory loss and a state of restlessness.) Bad news for starting or growing a business, let alone my social life.
So, what do we do? While the days of complaining about a mere six pages are gone, the days of too much are definitely here. Are we any better off with so much information so quickly at our fingertips? Who knows, but until the researchers and academics at IORG, or elsewhere, tell us differently, let’s just figure out how to manage this addictive monkey on our back.
- While IORG has recommended one annual day to lighten your usage, why not attempt it daily? Consider taking a break without your phone, watching television without your tablet. And, of course, turn it off while you’re driving.
- Do you really have to answer every email or text or tweet NOW? And if so, can every response be accomplished in less than 10 words? Don’t forget that you are not the only voice providing information. Keep it brief and quiet. Be kind to your addicted friends.
- Practice simple responses like: “No, thank you.” “Yes, please.” “Drinks at 3?” “Babysitter’s number?” “Extra day on the deadline?”
- Can you challenge yourself to closing a few windows or apps? Admit it, you keep Facebook, Twitter, your favorite television show, a crossword puzzle, your email and website all open at once. Don’t you? Shut a few. Take a deep breath.
- Multi-tasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This is an entirely separate blog topic, but for now, the rumor is, that you are actually much less productive, and more stressed, when you attempt doing multiple things at once. Entrepreneurs are notorious for this habitual behavior. One thing at a time. You can do it.
- Narrow your choices. If you want to shop for shoes, first decide which color, style, price range, and favorite brands. Go specifically to a site you like, plug in your preferences, shop. Leave window shopping for malls, strolling with ice cream, admiring the innovative new stores that have replaced the businesses that went online.
- Remember the number FOUR. Believe it or not, this is the number of facts, factoids, dates, etc., the average brain can actually take in and remember. In one day. FOUR! Here you’ll find a few more great tips.
Finally, listen to Marr. “It’s important to remember that while computers are designed to handle fast, varied and complex digital data, brains are not.”
As much as we love it, it truly is keeping us stressed, tired, and less productive. Get the monkey off your back. Turn it all off. And go out for one, nice, glass of wine.