You wake in the morning and immediately grab your smart phone. On your way to the shower you start checking your twitter feed, the weather, and traffic conditions. At breakfast you skim the latest news while catching up with your closest 600 friends and family members on Facebook while juggling four text conversations. There is time, of course, for a quick round of Bejeweled Blitz and tending to your online pet menagerie. Before you head out the door to work or school you can’t resist an initial plunge into at least one of your email boxes. As you hit the road you switch to hands-free voice text and calling, catching up with your sister about travel plans, your boss about your priority project, and your research group about pulling in just a little more data.
And then your day begins.
Author and science columnist Sharon Begley in an article entitled “I Can’t Think!” originally published in Newsweek Magazine discusses how too much information can serve as a distraction to successful decision making. Citing researchers at Temple University she details how we can reach cognitive overload which results in people making poor choices. Begley states that each new piece of information, whether a Twitter post, text, email, news alert, game invitation, secret tip, gossip on the work floor or anything else requires us to make a judgment around importance and reaction. Do we ignore, respond, or include them our decision systems? All of these amount to constant interruptions in our thought processes and can lead to no conclusions at all. Her recommendation is to self-limit our exposure to interference either by batching like actions, turning off the influx to allow your unconscious reactions to at least partially decide, and prioritize the data you access.
Another effective tool for limiting excessive disruption is by setting a deadline. Entrepreneur Jimi Jones, in an article entitled Productivity – The Importance of Setting Deadlines lists some of the key benefits of deadlines as providing a schedule, increasing discipline, decreasing procrastination, and preventing overload. Each of these items speaks to structure and limits. As Jones states, “a deadline is simply a means of budgeting your time and since time is limited, we have to spend it wisely.”
Ecclesiastes 3 brings us to a similar conclusion as it details the various times, events, and seasons making up the flow of our lives. Logically we can grasp the concept of deadlines and the need to limit distractions when the author states there is a time to plant and a time to reap. We understand the timeline of life moves forward ready or not and if we miss the spring planting it is gone for good. Therefore we are forced to limit interruptions and take actions.
Our lives are filled with distractions which are with us wherever we go. We each have the option to immerse ourselves into the never ending stream of data that surrounds us on a continual basis. Research shows we do this at our peril and we must learn to self-limit what we take into our brains. Failure to do this will lead to poor decisions and reduced performance. One method to enforce an information screen is through setting a deadline. This will encourage a choice or action by a specific time, allowing you to move forward with results. Such time budgeting will help you succeed as you continue battling distraction.