Are you like Emily and is it time to fight back against “Infomania”
Emily came at the last year to me with the coaching question; “how to deal with the challenge I face on daily base regarding email, twitter feeds, instant messaging, text messages, and other snippets of information that are coming at me so fast that it’s hard for me not to feel under digital attack. All this texting and instant messaging hinders my decision making, productivity and efficiency”.
When Emily shared her question with me I asked her only one question to find out if she is an infomaniac: “Can you do tasks without being interrupted by e-mail, or feeling the urge to check your inbox, mobile phone for messages?” What do you think her answer was, and what would be your answer, are you being interrupted while busy with a task?
In her coaching it became clear that Emily was hindered in getting her work done by emails, texting, instant messaging etcetera. This not only a challenge for Emily it’s a challenge of modern life, it’s hard not to feel under digital attack.
Emily mentioned in her first session that it was essential for her in her job to be on top of everything, that what she receives is important and needs her attention ASAP. Sure, some of it’s important — and that’s precisely the problem. Emily mentioned when I turn it all off I might as well quit my job. But at the same time reading it all and my mind becomes so drained that it’s a challenge for me to get anything else done.
In some ways, technology has evolved in a way that puts mere humans in a bind. Consider the email conundrum. From the moment we wake up, it seems the inbox is calling our name. And if you’re like most of us, you answer its call pretty quickly.
I shared in Emily’s first coaching that our brain hates uncertainty. It’s literally painful to not download our email the moment you arrive at your desk in the morning. But that once she has processed 30 or 40 emails, she has ruined her brain chemistry for higher level tasks that are going to create value. A study at the University of London found that email can raise the levels of noradrenaline and dopamine in our brain by constantly introducing new stimuli into our day. When those levels get too high, complex thinking becomes more difficult, making it harder to make decisions and solve problems — key roles for Emily. That is the reason it hinders her productivity and efficiency.
After sharing this Emily became aware that she needed a game plan. In the next coaching sessions Emily came up with her options for the game plan:
1. I take control of my email
She sopped starting her day with email. She set her email so it didn’t download new mail automatically, and she turned off all the alert systems she had for each of the instant messaging apps. Instead, she started setting a time to check her messages manually —she decided to do that later in the day, after she had used her brainpower for more important things. Furthermore she only allowed herself to check her email on certain times of the day. In the evening she only allowed herself to look for half an hour and the rest of the time her phone was on silent.
We did together a short workshop with her colleagues in how to use email. The main goal was that the emails became shorter, more concise, and used only when a conversation is not an option. They came up with a Team Email Etiquette. As a result, Emily received 50% less emails, and the emails she received were clearer and better structured.
2. I prioritize my priority list
To help her prioritize, Emily decided to start setting clear goals. She started writing them down which helped her actually in achieve them. Because prioritizing is one of the brain’s most energy-hungry processes, Emily started doing this in the morning when her mind is fresh and well rested. She allocates every morning time to order her thoughts.
3. I blindside data (approach it from an unexpected direction)
She started to break down complex information into sub-groups. Once she had determined a goal, she “chunked” her work into groups to achieve it. She did do this with her to-do lists too. According to an experiment at Wilfred Laurier University, (It’s About Time: Optimistic Predictions in Work and Love, European Review of Social Psychology) people are generally very bad at estimating how much time they need to finish their own work, but are good at guessing for others. So she gauged her timing by using her colleague’s experience. Emily became less stressed because she was realistic about her workload.
4. I do less by delegating more
To do less, Emily started to delegate more. Like many other managers Emily couldn’t resist the temptation personally to get involved in everything that’s happening. But she started asking herself the question do I really need to do this task? This helped her in limiting the amount of information she had to process, as well it helped in empowering those around her.
5. I unplug.
Emily became aware that she can’t shut off the fire hydrant of information, but she can take a break from it. She always had the idea that she could make better decisions based on acquiring lots of information. But actually she found out that in most cases, it just erodes her focus. She needed time to synthesize information and generate real intelligence. That took some discipline for Emily, she started to stop thinking when she was stuck on a project so her brain can recover. She started switching off more and rebalance her brain chemistry so she could come up with new ideas.
After her coaching sessions Emily felt that she was no longer an Infomaniac and that she was back in charge instead of that her environment was in charge. To remind herself she had stick her game plan actions on her computer;
- Take control of my email
- Prioritize my priority list
- Blindside data
- Do less delegate more
What is your Game plan in not becoming an Infomaniac or to fight back against Infomania?
Infomania is the debilitating state of information overload, caused by the combination of a backlog of information to process (usually in email), and continuous interruptions from technologies like phones, instant messaging, and email. It is also understood as distraction caused by the urge to check email, text messaging and other sources of information, which causes the person to show symptoms to neglect other, often more important things – duties, family, etc. (For instance, a typical symptom of infomania is that of checking email frequently during vacation.)
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