We recently attended a talk by award-wining author and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin on how to think and work more effectively in an age of information overload, following his recent book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.
According to Levitin, modern society is in a state of data deluge in an increasingly ‘connected’ and distracting world, and our brains are struggling to keep up with the demands of this digital age. We are bombarded with more information than at any time in history — the equivalent of 175 newspapers a day, five times as much information as we took in thirty years ago. However, Levitin has a few strategies to tackle information overload, based on his research findings.
Here are five strategies from Levitin on how you can boost your cognitive capacity in the age of information overload:
1) Focus on one thing at a time. Switching between tasks gives the illusion of productivity and efficiency, but continually engaging our brain to switch between tasks actually burns through vital cognitive resources and leaves us cognitively depleted.
2) Want to be creative? Take breaks. The brain is at its most creative when it is not engaged by any particular task. Taking breaks to allow the brain to fall into this ‘default’ state can allow for the germination of new ideas. Studies have shown that people are more productive if they take a break for 15 minutes every two hours to let the mind wander and relax. Walking is also a great way to engage creative thinking; behavioural scientist Daniel Kahneman thought of many of the ideas underpinning his Nobel Prize winning work while out on walks.
3) If you want to remember something, learn it actively. Research shows that active or participatory learning encodes information in long term memory. Passive learning but just receiving information is likely to be forgotten quickly.
4) Decision making is expensive – prioritise! Decision-making using our ‘System 2′ is effortful – it burns through glucose, a vital cognitive resource that has been linked to cognitive performance, creativity, willpower and attention. It does so equally for trivial as for important decisions, so prioritise the important ones and minimise trivial decisions! Barrack Obama (navy & grey suits) and Mark Zuckerberg (grey t-shirts) reportedly wear the same thing every day in order to minimise trivial decisions.
5) Remove distractions: Finally, the best strategy to create an organised, more productive mind is to get out of the way of what Levitin calls the ‘information fire hose’. When you need to get work done, switch off your phone, shut down your email and if possible disable your internet connection! An organised productive mind is one that is free from distractions.
Click HERE to watch Levitin’s talk in full. You can also read an article by Daniel Levitin about this topic HERE.