I dropped the mail and booted up my laptop – and found seventeen e-mails in my inbox.

Is information overload real? Absolutely. Though the real danger is the flood of potentially meaningful information we let in.

‘Infobesity’ — the Over-consumption of Information — Could Be Raising the Stress Levels of Almost Half of British Office Workers, Reveals a UK Report.

To be clear, even though consuming 35 billion bits of data daily is substantial, that‘s not what’s creating the crisis. It’s the potential meaning that could be in the information we have  received that stresses us out and keeps us from focusing on one thing at a time.

In our age of information overload, Christians must learn to discern between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsity.

Handling the “Not so important things”  

When you set foot in a forest, every one of your human  senses feeds you information about your environment and surroundings. But you don’t implode because initially there aren’t that many things you have to worry about unless  you come across a dangerous animal or suspicious looking fruit.  

Email is a completely different story. You never know which message is urgent,  has a hidden agenda, or is just spam. Therefore, every new message in your inbox becomes a potential poisonous berry.

Not knowing which emails are important causes most of us to become overly stressed and pressures us  to get through them instantly, instead of working on tasks at hand.

This leads to addictive behavior and sometimes  getting involved in tasks that  aren’t even on your to-do list.

Without the ability to discern, we stand impotent in an age of information overload.

Addicted to Dopamine

Checking and organising emails  creates dopamine in the brain (a compound present in the body  that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure center)  making email  highly addictive. It’s no surprise  that about  30%  of our working day is spent interacting with email. We simply love the rush of going through new messages and quickly replying because it  makes us feel extremely productive.  However, in reality, it’s sapping us of the energy we need to manage our work  successfully.  

“Your Mind Is for Having Ideas, Not Holding Them”

Cognitive Load

Managing  all this potentially meaningful information in our email inboxes is taxing and according to a study by Baba Shiv at Stanford University, there is a limit to our “cognitive load,”  the total amount of mental effort that can be  used in the working memory  to accomplish a specific task. Once this load is exhausted, hardly any  energy is left to make clear and concise  decisions.

Even to live in our Age of Information is hard; to lead in our Age of Information is even harder.

So how does one deal with all this information without getting stressed?

1. Clarify and Organise

For spiritual leaders, it’s important to recognize that information must not only be managed but also dethroned. You have to set apart a time to clarify and organise these inputs before you can act on them. Allen’s GTD method calls this  the processing stage: you decide what you want to do with each idea. Is it urgent? What’s the goal? What’s your next action step?

2. Appropriate Use
Match the message to the best medium. Recognise  when email is not the best method of  communicating. Sometimes  face-to-face meetings are better than a string of unclear or sensitive emails going  back and forth.

3. To: vs. Cc:
Be discerning about your use of To: vs. Cc:. Why? Ever receive an email where it’s unclear who has the  action because everyone is in the “To” field?

4. Subject Lines
Use clear subject lines that clearly describe the topic.

5. Reply to All
Resist the urge to simply click reply to all, if not everyone needs to receive your reply. Another tip to avoid the Reply to All cycle is to use the Bcc: field for all recipients, when appropriate. That way only the sender will receive the replies.

6. Response Times
What are you’re agreed upon response times for internal and external communications? If there are none maybe its time to agree on them with your relevant stakeholders.

7. Information Fast

At least one day a week, we must rest from gathering information just as the ancient Israelites rested from gathering wood. We must still our racing minds and rest our information-soaked souls. By so doing, we declare that humans cannot live by information alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

So how can you keep up? Learn what’s important? Filter out what’s not? Grow as a person? Get things done?

Responses

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  1. Michael Einstein

    These are some great suggestions to help reduce Email Overload, and many that I often endorse in training or speaking to others about this growing issue.

    If interested, please check out my little Blog, emailoverloadsolutions Dot Com, where I focus on Email Overload (a particularly nasty subset of Information Overload) for ideas, resources, and tools.

    Dr. Michael Einstein