Does it ever feel like there is just too much information coming your way? You are not the only one who is exhausted. The whole team is drowning — chasing down customer requests, navigating conflicting executive decrees, and trying to prioritize which colleague to respond to first. It is no wonder the mental exhaustion seems contagious. This overcommitted and overloaded state is not sustainable. But the solution might surprise you.
I suggest that instead of tuning out the noise, you try tuning in — to pick out the most important information.
This may seem contrary to conventional wisdom. Most people are taught to tune out because there are so many urgent — yet unimportant — requests streaming in.
Tuning out might seem like a good way to keep your head above water. But you will miss out on valuable information. And it makes it nearly impossible to say no to requests that can be handled by someone else (or not at all).
This struggle to deal with an onslaught of information is one reason that we developed The Responsive Method (TRM). For us, it is the engine that drives the business. One of the key components of the TRM framework is that you should listen carefully to the noise so you can pick out the most valuable data. And then say “no” to the rest.
We call this being “interrupt-driven.” It is a big part of what makes Aha! move as quickly as we do.
But how do you deal with real information overload — the proverbial fire house? Being interrupt-driven will not turn it off. You still have to face everything that comes at you each day. But it does not have to drown you. You can take control when you have a strategy for handling the stream of information.
Here are my suggestions to get you started:
Filter against your goals
According to one report, in 2015 more than 205 billion emails were sent and received each day. (I will bet there were some days it felt like all of those emails popped up in your inbox alone.) Well, the emails and requests will not stop coming. But you can use your team’s goals as your filter to reveal the most important data. Ask yourself, “What goal does this serve? How does addressing this help or prevent us from getting closer to what we are trying to achieve?” The answer will reveal which pieces of information need your immediate attention and which ones are less urgent.
Respond to requests as they come
Part of tuning into the noise is responding to it so it stops. If you do not, you will continue to face the same requests again and again. It ends up taking more of your time to ignore. Save yourself and the people who need your help by giving a reply. As requests come in, you should quickly analyze against your goals and respond with a “yes,” “no,” or “not right now.” Deliver your answer with kindness and a clear explanation of your decision. When you do this, you will find even the “no” answers will be welcomed by the recipient.
Make room for good work
Did you know your brain uses 20 percent of your body’s energy? So, if you are skipping meals and pulling all-nighters, you will be prone to a full mind/body crash. Avoid this by incorporating healthy practices into your work and life. Start your day with exercise, try meditation, or use a standing desk or lunchtime walk to avoid the negative effects of sitting all day. Give your brain space as well. Build time into your day to follow up on those “not right now” replies, and dig into the important work you have identified.
You cannot ignore the endless stream of information. But you do need to take thoughtful steps to manage it.
It takes confidence and clarity to incorporate interrupt-driven practices. And you might be the only one at your work to do so. But when you do, you will no longer look at those daily requests, concerns, and demands as stressful nuisances. Whether you are a leader in title or action, others will notice you getting more done and start to follow your approach.
You will see the constant information stream for what it is — an opportunity to identify and achieve your most meaningful work.
How do you deal with information overload?