After spending the last few days managing a massive volume of email, I decided to look online for some practical tips that can be practiced to be more efficient and effective in preventing email overload.
The attached article recently published in the AICPA online news provides several practical tips such as:
• Adopt an email folder system to organize your emails
• Use filters to automatically file or better yet delete unwanted emails
• Don’t use emails for conversation, try good old telephone or in person conversations
• Don’t allow emails to interrupt workflow or other planned activities
• Avoid “reply to all” when really not required
• Don’t skim and skip to come back later, handle once
• Think before you send, is the email important? would you want to receive it?
Read the full article and helpful insights when dealing with a deluge of email
Information Overload [IO] may occur when we collect too many items related to a task stemming from FOMO or optimizing rather than satisficing (Herbert Simon) a judgment or decision. Also, we may permit too many notifications or subscriptions. IO is a legitimate concern for overloading our cognitive processing capacity. However, attention processing usually occurs prior to the cognitive processing of captured stimuli. We can improve out attention processing to decrease IO.
A few excerpts from : https://www.basicknowledge101.com/categories/focus.html
Attention is a natural function of the body because individuals are constantly in a state of paying attention to different aspects of the environment. … Focus, on the other hand, requires paying attention to something for an extended period of time while tuning out other stimuli. CAN we improve our focus to decrease IO?/mb
Attention Skills: Knowing when to focus on small details and when to focus on the bigger picture. Knowing how to filter out unimportant sights, sounds or information. Paying attention without getting distracted. Holding a train of thought when interrupted. Following through on a task without needing to hear directions several times. Concentrate on one activity at a time.
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
Jim Clear https://jamesclear.com/focus ,author of a recent book Atomic Habits suggests
How to improve your focus (essentially limits the amount of extraneous stimuli) that should reduce IO. Jim’s Focus page: Luckily, this page contains the best ideas and top research on how to get and stay focused. We will break down the science behind sharpening your mind and paying attention to what matters.
Jim, as others, dismisses our brain’s ability to: “Multitasking forces your brain to switch your focus back and forth very quickly from one task to another. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the human brain could transition seamlessly from one job to the next, but it can’t.”
He describes the Buffet top 5 of 25 items to sequentially focus for completion. Other methods include other methods before like The Ivy Lee Method and The Eisenhower Box Jim also suggests methods to maintain/extend our attention span.
His website and related newsletter contain much useful information for improving productivity.
Belle Beth Cooper https://buffer.com/resources/the-science-of-focus-and-how-to-improve-your-attention-span describes how Kahneman’s Two Brain System from his book Thinking Fast and Slow impacts our attention processing:
“System 1 is the involuntary, always-on network in our brains that takes in stimuli and process it. It’s the system that makes automatic decisions for us, like turning our heads when we hear our names called or freezing when we see a spider.
System 2 runs the voluntary parts of our brains. It processes suggestions offered by System 1, makes final decisions and chooses where to allocate our attention. The funny thing about how these system work is that we assume a lot of the things we do are purely conscious decisions made by System 2. In fact, almost everything we consciously decide on is based on automatic reactions and suggestions fed to us by System 1. Here is another great illustration of both systems at work:
System 2 is in charge of anything that takes willpower and self-control, and anything that’s too difficult for System 1.”
Our willpower often is challenged by distractions.
Distractions come in two main kinds, which Daniel Goleman explains in Focus: The Hidden Power of Excellence: sensory distractions (things happening around you) and emotional distractions (your inner dialogue, thoughts about things happening in your life).
If you’ve ever had something emotional weighing on your mind, you’ll know how hard it is to block out that kind of distraction. Goleman explains that this happens for a reason: if something is upsetting us, our brains want us to find a solution so we won’t keep worrying about it. Putting it off doesn’t help us concentrate, because we can’t truly let go of those worrying thoughts until we have a plan to work through it.
Belle further offers these recommendations for enabling focus to operate.
I’ve written about the benefits of mediation before, which can help us to improve our attention spans.
Because meditation is a practice in focusing our attention and being aware of when it drifts, this actually improves our focus when we’re not meditating, as well. It’s a lasting effect that comes from regular bouts of meditation.
Focused attention is very much like a muscle, one that needs to be strengthened through exercise.
- Spend time in nature
One of Goleman’s suggestions for improving our ability to focus is to spend time in nature. This is to help our brains switch off—an experiment found that even going for a walk on a city street didn’t let the brain switch off enough to fully recover its focus, whereas walking in a park offered far fewer things for the brain to pay attention and respond to.
- Lose yourself in something you enjoy
I love this last suggestion from Goleman and I think I’ll try to incorporate all three of these into my routine.
Goleman pointed out that when you’re completely wrapped up in doing something easy that you enjoy, your inner dialogue switches off. This lets your mind rest and recoup the ability to focus on difficult tasks again later.
How can all of the above reduce IO? Beyond the automatic recognition of some stimuli, e.g., flash of lightning or police siren, the System 2 discretionary attention to other stimuli IF focus on a task is engaged, can reduce the pass-through of extraneous stimuli that can exceed a person’s capability to process information (pollute the relevant information with useless noise).
Are the Information Overload types, sources, remedies a source of Information Overload itself?
This self-test website has a very comprehensive and clear set of answers to the above.
For example does task overload cause IO or the reverse?
Worth viewing this site.
Context is critical.
As noted in previous attention research and a forthcoming book:
How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction (The MIT Press) March 2019
“we gather only relevant information. We focus on one snippet of information and assume that everything else is stable and consistent with past experience.”
Our perceptual process attempts to focus on the most salient data or pixel set (e.g., bold type, color, relative position) to reduce IO.
As van der Stigchel’s quote above suggests, we can be mislead by ignoring related contextual attributes. Thus, we need to ask ourselves if the perceptual input is complete and consistent with our task objective. ]
Critical thinking skills can help.
Don’t be an IO victim.
Embedded algorithms processing big data are proposed to reduce human information processing demands.
Edward Tenner in his book The Efficiency Paradox: What Big Data Can’t Do [Alfred a Knopf, 2018] proposes that the efficiency from embedded Big Data Analytics can be counterproductive, e.g., missed opportunities, adopting new approaches, less intuitive thinking.
He provides a persuasive rationale for his position including many valuable examples. Tenner recommends that a selective combination of embedded algorithms and human intuition will improve judgments, learning and decision-making.
Our mental effort or workload is reduced when a set of information items or chunks are delivered as a story. Indeed our ability to recall the content also is improved. A new book Storynomics: Story-Driven Marketing in the Post-Advertising World by respected storyteller Robert McKee & Thomas Gerace (Twelvebooks.com; Hatchett Book Group; March 2018) provides a field-tested approach to creating effective stories.
Decades ago, I (others also?) proposed that Information was defined as more than “data relevant to the task,” but also an effective representation or format to understand and communicate the information effectively. Stories provide an extremely effective frame for delivering information content. A number of software modeling applications, e.g., Tableau and IBM WATSON Analytics have built-in capability for creating storyboards. These are elements that are more than a PPT deck–a set of slides integrated by a common storyline having a captivating beginning, followed by valuable content, and often concluded with some “call to action.” If you have not tried storyboarding to reduce the mental processing effort by your audience, jump onto the storytelling bandwagon.