The information overload caused by constant digital connections puts us at risk of a burnout. Neuroscientists all agree that the human brain is not capable of multitasking, which only saps our energy and lowers efficiency. Yet what can we do to mitigate the constant flow of professional and personal messages? Caroline Cuny, a researcher and professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management, provides us with three fundamental tips to successfully navigate our never-ending flow of digital information.
Current information overload is characterized by an excess of digital information that has to be constantly processed by our brain. We're dealing with information at work, home, during pastimes and even at night for those who read messages early in the morning or during bouts of insomnia.
Caroline Cuny explains that: "The cognitive system processes information on both conscious and unconscious levels. When individuals are faced with a flow of information they believe must be processed and answered, their mental capacities are in peril. Constantly processing digital information gives us the illusion of concentration. But in fact, the human brain can't multitask and therefore this tendency to zap from one piece of information to another lowers our abilities and creates exhaustion."
Messages with cognitive and emotional content create stress
Included in this flow of information are often messages from our managers or clients. These types of messages are strong in terms of content because of the expectations they embody. As a result, they also carry an emotional charge that can lead to stress. "We often believe that we can deal with such messages in an almost automatic manner. But that's just an illusion. These messages in particular are the ones we have to be able to take a step back from before answering," adds Caroline.
Who hasn't tried to answer an urgent message during a meeting. We do so while thinking we can follow the meeting and provide a complete and appropriate answer, but that rarely happens. "It's a slippery slope. You'll often leave out important information or respond in a manner that isn't appropriate. Working in an urgent manner puts excessive pressure on us. It's a source of stress and in addition, it causes mistakes that could be avoided. So we have to learn how to prioritize information!" explains Caroline.
Caroline's 3 tips to deal with information overload
1- Be organized!
- This means setting up various communication channels for the people you interact with. For example, text messages can be for family members (when there’s an emergency), the telephone can be for your manager, emails for clients and colleagues can come knock on your door.
- Answer emails in an orderly and proactive manner. Set aside several times during the day during which you can focus solely on answering emails.
- Maintain a global perspective. You have to prioritize the urgency of messages. That means taking time to rank information and decide how much effort each incoming piece of information requires
2- Limit or simply eliminate any interruptions when you're concentrating
- Set up your email to deactivate push notifications or alerts on your computer and smartphone.
- Practice the art of compromise. Accept you will not deal with certain emails immediately or at all, and warn those you interact with about your approach.
3- Resist the desire to do everything immediately
- It's essential to take time for breaks. Otherwise you risk a burnout due to mental overload. What are the signs of a burnout? For example, pay attention to whether or not you can still share positive information with family and friends.
A guide to good habits
The Grenoble Ecole de Management Chair for the Talents of a Digital Transformation has launched a research project to characterize the various types of breaks workers can take such as sudoku, crossword puzzles, gardening or knitting, all of which are recognized as positive break activities. The idea is to identify which habits can help deal with continuous digital demands. The results will be used to produce a guide of good habits to be published mid-2017. The research will be carried out in collaboration with Gaël Allain, a specialist of cognitive psychology and the co-founder and co-director of the My Mental Training startup, which developed an application to manage mental work loads thanks to visualization exercises.