No matter what we do for a living, we all encounter a deluge of distractions every day that can make us less effective. The question “What do I have to pay attention to right now, what can wait until later, what might be good to know but is not essential to my success, and what can I safely ignore?” must be asked to ourselves on a constant basis.
The difficulty of maintaining concentration in the face of an abundance of information predates the Computer Age, claims a January 2011 article in the McKinsey Quarterly.
In a 1967 article, management guru Peter Drucker advised executives to block off significant amounts of time on their calendars for thinking, refrain from picking up the phone, and only return calls once or twice per day.
Despite the absence of digital technology for Drucker’s readers in the 1960s, his warnings are still relevant today.
Anyone in a position of leadership, regardless of their level, must deal with a deluge of communications, including emails, calls, texts, tweets, Facebook posts, blog comments, and messages on other social media sites that could include useful customer feedback or details about rivals, new products, and industry trends. How can we fend off the onslaught of information?
Many of us think we can ride this wave if we are great at multitasking. According to the McKinsey article’s research citations, multitasking is a poor coping strategy that lowers creativity, productivity, and decision-making. In actuality, multitasking makes us less efficient.
When concentrating on one task at a time, the human brain performs at its best. People may disagree with this conclusion, but the facts are there. For instance, why is it now prohibited to text and drive?
The inability of the brain to allow us to perform two tasks at once is the cause of the inefficiency brought on by multitasking. While multitasking may enable us to check off easier items from our to-do lists, it rarely aids in the solution of more challenging issues. Procrastination can easily turn into multitasking.
Additionally, multitasking can make us anxious. Individuals who must multitask exhibit higher levels of stress. Multitasking’s association with information overload lowers job satisfaction and can damage interpersonal relationships.
What else can we do if multitasking doesn’t work? In (Figure 1)
- Manage your time with extreme discipline.
- Set and revise your priorities frequently.
- Concentrate on what is most important. Be cautious when browsing material that might be interesting to know but is not necessary for the tasks at hand. To quote one CEO, “You have to guard against the danger of overeating at an interesting intellectual buffet.”
- Request that your coworkers respect your priorities. One of my coworkers used to post a sign that read “Focus Time” at her desk.
- She made it clear to all of us that we were to leave her alone unless the company was in immediate danger and her input was necessary to deal with a crisis. We respected her wishes because she only put up this sign occasionally and usually only for a short period of time.
- As the information is presented to you, filter it. Recognize what you can skip over, what you should read in detail later, and what you need to deal with right away.
- During the working day, give your brain a break to think through issues and reorganize your priorities so that you are concentrating on the right things.
- The brain can work best when it has a short break from all communication technology, a quick walk, and a brief workout.
- Recognize that multitasking is not a virtue. Recognize that it actually has the opposite effect. Work on one task at a time, doing it well the first time, rather than trying to complete five tasks at once and then having to take more time to fix your mistakes.
How a leader Work with Information Overload PDF
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