Managing Your Attention as a Precursor to Information Overload

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 :

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 ,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 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 Excellencesensory 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.

  1. Meditate

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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).