Achtung, Informationsflut!

It’s the end of a long day. You zombiewalk home, head empty, physically totally drained like after running a marathon, although you’ve been sitting on a chair all day long and you’re asking yourself, what you’ve done all day. You seem to have been answering hundreds of emails and dozen of phone calls, but in the end you don’t have anything concrete to show for.

Two things are probably to blame for it: information overload and decision fatigue.

Information 24/7: why too much input is driving you crazy

In these present times of constant availability due to mobile phones and the like, the borders between work and life get blurred more and more. A quarter of all employees is available for his employer during their time off. The growing flood of information and the constant availability in general is a huge challenge for the brain. And 9 hours of daily media consumption is also added on top of it. Not surprising that our brain isn’t able to process anything anymore at some point. According to a survey by BITKOM (german) from 2011 30 % of the Germans are overwhelmed by the daily information. Furthermore, there’s the fact that the brain cannot process any new information in an optimal way after a period of constant stress. Scientists call this phenomenon Attention Deficit Trait, short ADT. It’s related to ADHS, an attention deficit disorder. The consequences are lack of concentration, short attention span, a shortened tolerance for frustration and procrastination.

There’s another factor, besides information overload, that will let you drop dead at the end of the day: decision fatigue.

What Barack Obama’s suit has to do with decision fatigue

We are making more than 100.000 decisions per day, most of them unconsciously. It starts with breakfast (tea or coffee, bread or granola?) and continues throughout the day to our evening entertainment (reading a book or binge-watching Netflix?). To make all these decisions consciously would be overwhelming for everyone. It’s not surprising that we are more likely to pick up some convenience food rather than a healthy salad at the grocery store.

Psychologists in the US have researched why most decisions at the end of the day are worse than the ones made in the morning. They’ve analyzed court hearings and got the following result: misdemeanants with their hearing in the morning or shortly after lunch break, got a better verdict than those having their hearing in the late afternoon. The psychologists found out that you need willpower to make good decisions. But willpower is like a muscle, that tires over time. That’s why we feel so drained after a day full of important decisions.

And what does that have to do with Barack Obama’s suit, you might ask. In 2012 Barack Obama gave the Vanity Fair a look into his daily work routine. To minimize his everyday decisions, he put different routines and systems in place. That’s why you either see him in a blue or a grey suit. There are no other options. By limiting his options, he has more mental energy to make important decisions.

5 tips and trick to manage the flood of information and reducing your daily decisions

You can use routines and systems like that to make better decisions. Here are a 5 tips for achieving it:

1. Add daily routines to your life

Routines are quite helpful to minimize recurring decisions. You can develop a routine for the morning or evening with a fixed procedure. Always at the same time is even better.
Here’s an example from my morning routine: for more than a year I’m eating porridge with chia seeds and a bit of jam for breakfast every day. Including a cup of green tea. By now I can make all of it being half awake and I don’t have to ask myself day in and day out what I’m going to eat for breakfast.

2. Plan your day in the evening before

Write down the three most important tasks for the next day on a piece of paper, sticky note or your To do – app. This way you know what to expect of the next day. Maybe not everything, but you know what’s most important and won’t forget it. It works best shortly before going to bed. It helped me to get rid of ruminating thoughts, if I’m trying to fall asleep.

3. The most important thing comes first

Did you write down your tasks for today? Good, do the most important task first. In the beginning of the day your willpower for making decisions is strongest and you have the most energy.

4. Turn your decisions into a mandatory date

You want to exercise regularly or cook healthy meals more often? It doesn’t work so well, because you’re not willing to do it at the end of the day? Try turning it into a mandatory date that cannot be rescheduled or negotiated.

5. Limit your input of information

To not get lost in the flood of information, it’s best to schedule your information input. For example only check your email at 10 am and 4 pm. Or use social media sites only after hours. It helps you to be more focused throughout the day.

I hope these tips are helpful to you and you’re excited to try them out. More tips for handling media can be found in my post „Unplug„. And if you want to be more focused at work to get more done, you can find a few tips for increasing your productivity in my post „Focus“.

How do you handle information overload and what helps you to make better decisions? Let me know about it in the comments.

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