Close

How to Overcome Information Overload and Focus on What Matters

Ever sat down to work on a task and asked yourself: “what was I doing again?” How can something go from important to forgotten in 5 seconds? Why does it constantly feel like we don’t have enough time to focus on what we want and get things done?

When we first sat down to talk about creating Chillpill, we wanted to get really clear with ourselves about what problem we wanted to solve. We knew we wanted to make health and happiness simpler. We knew we all deserved a clear path through the jungle of life. We quickly realized we had friends and family asking us for tips and hacks on how to accomplish different goals, so we thought we’d start there.

The first question we had asked ourselves was: “In a world where we have almost all the world’s information in our pocket, why do we all struggle so much with being accomplishing our goals? Why is it SO hard?”

It took about 30 seconds for us to realize that we all have entirely too many options. Too many dietary plans, too many types of workouts, too much everything. Information Overload!!!!

 

Information Overload Star Trek

 

Information Overload has led us from a problem of “how do I?” to a problem of “which way is perfect for me?” We’re always 2 seconds away from Googling anything on our phones. We can always find something easier or more suited for us. Personally, I used to get so focused on maximum results that I’d spend months researching for the perfect path and never even get started toward my goal. I had to sort through so much noise, that my chances of actually being more active were about zero.

Never in the history of humanity have people had the amount of choice that we do now. While access to information is certainly a great problem to have, it isn’t one that we are really ready to deal with. Let’s face it, Thomas Edison probably would’ve taken a bit longer to invent the light bulb if he had to spend 20 mins sifting through Thai food restaurant reviews before he took his bae Mary Stilwell out on a Friday night.

How Information Overload Affects Happiness

Happiness researcher (and maker of my favorite TED Talk of all time) Shawn Achor, speaks as elegantly about information overload and the noise of modern society as anyone I have read or heard. In his book Before Happiness, Achor explains that many people are unable to make changes in their life because their brains are taking in too much noise.

Achor defines noise as:

“Any information that is negative, false or unnecessary or that prevents you from perceiving a world in which success is possible.”

I’m especially drawn to the last part. Think about all the information that you take in that changes how optimistic you are about achieving your goals. It often seems like the bigger the goal, the more noise we have to sift through just to get started. Friends, family, news, phone alerts, Twitter, Facebook, Buzzfeed quizzes that tell us we’re supposed to live in Oregon when we really want to live in Texas…and on and on. Some things are more subtle than others, but it adds up quickly.

There are two types of noise according to Achor; external and internal. External noise may include negative information, news, gossip, or negative people. Internal noise includes what most people consider their genetic makeup, such as: self-doubt and fear of the future.

Achor recommends “noise cancelling,” or reducing your intake of negative news stories and the amount of time you listen to the radio in the car by just 5 percent.

How to Eliminate the Noise
Recognize the Signal

The best way to know what is noise, is by defining what isn’t. Ask yourself if the information you’re about to consume helps you to accomplish your goals and carry out your personal vision? What action will you take when you’re finished?

There’s a reason that we talk so much about creating a personal vision before you spend time developing new habits and skills; it’s your source of truth – your signal transmitter. You can always hold anything you do up to your vision and easily keep yourself honest. Without that, all you have to do is tell yourself a nice little story about how you just want to be happy and donuts make you happy and before you know it:

 

I Want a Donut

 

The point is, we have a tendency to forget about future us if we aren’t connected to it in a meaningful way. So get connected with what you want and you will get better and better at recognizing the signal.

Stop the Addiction to Noise

Accept that you can’t consume every great or entertaining thing on earth. Think of your brain like storage on your phone. Just like you don’t need all 27 versions of that selfie shoot you did in January 2015, neither do you need to read every great book on productivity or keep up with all the Kardashians.

One of the most challenging examples for most of us is when a tragedy strikes. Think about what happens when a major earthquake or air plane crash comes across the airwaves. Modern media goes all in and we tend to follow them for the ride: airplane holograms, Wolf Blitzer stating the obvious, no spin zones, and general wild speculation about what did or could happen.

Decide as soon as possible if the event is something where you have opportunity and resources to help make things better. Helping others by donating money or time is one of the most rewarding human experiences. If you can give any of those things, that is incredible! Go for it and put your energy there instead of watching the same horrible footage and guesswork on the screen. Put simply, if the information isn’t useful move on to other things.

The flow of information is everywhere. If it is important, it will make its way to you in short order. Don’t associate empathy and sympathy with the time you spend consuming information about something. Spend your emotional energy focusing on making the world a better place in the way that only you can. It doesn’t make you a bad person if you aren’t spending as much time watching the headlines about an event.

Cancel the Internal Noise

This is the tough one. The solution is simple, but it isn’t easy. Wait for it………be nice to yourself. Treat yourself like you would your best friend in crisis. Ditch the pessimism and self-deprecating dialogue. It serves no purpose.

Take Action NOW with These Helpful Tools and Tips
External Noise Eliminators
  • Facebook News feed Eradicator
    • This will eliminate your news feed on Facebook and replace it with a motivational quote. For most of us, that means less updates on what someone we never talked in high school had for lunch and an extra 30 mins a day to use being awesome.
  • StayFocusd
    • You can set up how much time you want to spend on certain websites that create noise in your life.
  • Listen to Music with No Lyrics
    • I love music more than just about anything, but it does require me to take in more information and distracts me from writing and reading efficiently. Here’s a great Jazz playlist we listen to when we need to focus at Chillpill.
  • Turn the radio off while you’re talking to others
  • Only watch TV ‘On Demand’
    • This is a great example of owning your time and choosing what information you want to take in. Watch things on your schedule, not NBC’s.
Internal Noise Eliminators
  • Meditate…Meditate…Meditate
    • We love Headspace and Calm if you’re new to meditation. Both have great websites and free versions of their app to help you get started.
  • Manage your worry
    • Meditation REALLY helps with this, but also try to notice your worry and call it out on its own bullshit 🙂
    • Writing a quick daily journal is really helpful for identifying your ‘worry triggers’ and has a host of other benefits as well.
  • Surround yourself with positive and supportive people
    • In my experience, successful people like to help other people be successful. Don’t be shy.
    • Use the Meetup app to find like-minded people if you aren’t sure where to find other positive people.
What Information is Essential?

Essential information is something that is different for each person, but the steps to identifying it are the same for all of us. Overall, become focused on quality over quantity when choosing the information you take in. It isn’t about avoiding every guilty pleasure, it’s about only doing the things that bring you long-term happiness. Isolate the things that make you feel accomplished and genuinely happy throughout the day and do those same things over and over.

If you’re unsure how to find what’s essential to you, understand the vision that you have for yourself and get more in tune with hearing your signal and eliminating the noise.

In his incredible book, Essentialism, Greg Mckeown encourages us to: “Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.” Taken most literally, this means that your boss, partner, or other influential person in your life will fill up your day if you don’t, but it’s so much more than that. It is the 24/7 news, your Facebook Feed, a group text, a party you don’t really want to go to, etc… Again, it isn’t about completely isolating yourself from these things. It is about realizing that:

Evvveeerrrryyything is competing for your attention.

 

everything

 

Take it down a notch Jennifer. We get it.

Control Information Like a Boss…Like Right Now

If you take one thing away from this article, realize that you are in control of the information you take in. Information Overload can only occur if you aren’t actively aware of what you are taking in. You can do simple things now to take control.

If none of tips above inspired you follow along with this next part closely.

Your phone is the gateway to everything. Taking a break from your phone is the single easiest way to cut the noise out of your life and find deep focus. Think about the amount of time you spend noticing an alert or looking for that perfect emoji. Let that sink in…

Get comfortable turning your phone off. Seriously, turn it off now and let the anxiety wash over you. Change that panicky feeling you get when you think you’ve lost your phone into a feeling of appreciation for space in your life. Go to a park and read or write with your electronics in airplane mode. Choose to read one article. Reflect on it. Take action on what you learned. Make 20 minutes 100% yours.

 

Do you have tips or tricks you use to stay focused and avoid information overload? Please share with us in the comments or shoot me an e-mail at [email protected]. We love hearing from our community!

Read previous post:
Can Helplessness Be Unlearned?

Introduction “My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will." - William James Have you ever felt...

Close