Information Overload: Still A Challenge for Leaders

Information Overload

Information OverloadEditor’s Note: This blog was originally posted prior to the coronavirus pandemic. We’re hoping 2021 will see us making a healthy return to the pre-COVID days. With the family loaded in the car, you’re headed to your child’s friend’s house. While you’ve never been to this house before, you know the general area and have the address on hand. As you get closer to the destination, what do you do? Do you continue chatting away with the family about your plans or do you turn down the radio and ask everyone in the car to be quiet?

Like most people, you probably asked for silence as you crawled through the neighborhood looking for your destination. But why? The sound of the radio may not visually impair us, but it does divide the finite amount of cognitive resources we have available to solve problems.

In the car, we unconsciously demand silence as we decide to turn left or right. We know that to make the best possible decision, we must devote our full attention to the issue at hand. But in the workplace, we rarely “turn down the radio” as we make decision after decision.

As a leader, it is your obligation to make solid decisions and solve problems efficiently and effectively. It is also your obligation to manage your cognitive load and focus on the most important issue at hand.

On average, we consume consume more hours of media than we sleep. We answer 141 emails a day, take 6 phone calls, and send and receive dozens of text messages.

Interruptions caused by information overload cost US companies $650 Billion a year.

Give yourself the freedom to “turn down the radio” in your head. That may involve silencing your phone, shutting down your computer, or closing your office door. Block out an hour of your calendar to do nothing more than breathe and think. Studies show that going for a walk helps us think better, too. The fresh air and additional circulation from getting the heart pumping kicks the brain into high gear and allows you to see possibilities that were previously hidden from the confines of your office walls. The time you spend being disconnected will pay off with better decisions and more creative solutions.

Disconnecting from calls, texts, IMs, and emails seems like a simple action. We’re all capable of hitting the power button on our electronics. That’s not the challenge. The challenge is combating our “always on” culture. It will take time to turn the Titanic around on that issue, but as a leader, you have the opportunity to set the culture on your team.

Encourage your employees to stop and think before answering every incoming message. Can the text, email, or IM wait until your action item is finished? Establish that the most important characteristic of your team members isn’t that they’re always available, it’s that they produce results. Mindfulness is more valuable than reactiveness.

Take the lead on establishing a culture of clear-headed thinking. Protect your employees’ cognitive resources and improve their results by letting them “turn the radio down” when necessary.