7 Tips to Deal with TMI (Too Much Information) | The Thinking Blog ~ Knowledge Grows When Shared
Futurist Educator

09 October 2007

7 Tips to Deal with TMI (Too Much Information)

Over 1,000,000 new books published every year. More than 100,000,000 scientific papers released. Billions of websites at your googletips. It is often said that Leonardo da Vinci was one of the last persons who was aware of all the main knowledge available in his time. Since then, the amount of data, information and knowledge has exploded exponentially, stretching the capacity of our brains. Which, remember, given the slow speed at which evolution happens, may be optimized for the time when we were still hunters-gatherers.

We sometimes complain we cannot process all this information. Now, let me ask, should we even try?

Quick answer: No. Don't engage in a losing proposition. Instead, follow these simple tips that will help you manage the flow of information better.

1. Set very Clear Goals you want to achieve this week. Maybe 3 -5. Write them down, and review every day. Why is this important? Because by writing those clear goals you are developing you own lens through which to filter information, and prioritize the information you really care about. You can set up your own agenda, and not be at the mercy of the TV anchor who decides, on your behalf, what information you need. You don't need to know, you really don't need to know (unless you work in People), what is going on with Paris Hilton this week.

2. Review those goals at the end of the week. Did you achieve them? Think what you could have done differently, better. The goal here is to increase your motivation and ability to avoid distractions, and to ensure a learning loop. You can "evolve your brain" in your lifetime by making sure you learn a bit every day, every week, and accumulate abilities over time.

3. Prioritize: management consulting firms such as McKinsey train their staff in the so-called 80/20 rule: 80% of effects are caused by 20% of causes-so focus on the 20%. In a company, 80% revenues may come from 20% of the clients. Get the best information on those; don't spend so much on the 80% who only account for 20%. 80% of people will vote for you if you focus on the right 20% of the causes.

4. Use a scientific mindset. Scientists must shift through tons of data in very efficient ways. How do they do it? By first defining a hypothesis and then looking for information that either corroborates or refutes that hypothesis. For example, an untrained person could spend months in "boiling the ocean" and trying to read as much as possible, in a very unstructured way, about how stress affects our brain. A trained scientist would first define specific hypotheses or preliminary assumptions, such as "Stress reduces the brain's ability to generate new neurons" or "We can learn how to manage stress", and look specifically for data that corroborates or refutes those sentences. Which will probably happen faster, and enable him or her to refine the hypotheses further, based on accumulated knowledge, in a virtuous learning cycle.

5. Link the new information to what you already know. You cannot process, or remember, millions of fragmented, random facts. Try to relate the new information to previous one. Drawing concept maps can be extremely powerful ways to build knowledge over time-the opposite of being lost in a sea of random tidbits. Here is an example and a guide on how to create a concept map:


6. Make sure to keep stress and anxiety under control. Why is this important? Because stress can narrow your focus of attention too much and make you miss the big picture. Why is this so? Well, imagine you are a zebra about to be attacked by a lion. Your only priority now is to run as fast as possible and try to survive. It is not the time for complex thinking, for learning new skills. In fact, most of the blood flow that usualy goes to the brain gets diverted and gets sent to the zebra's main muscles, to run faster. And the same happens with humans, when we see a real or imaginary "lion": we can not think clearly. For example, try this experiment: Attention and working memory.

7. Don't train your brain to become a visual, unreflective, passive recipient of information. If you are the average American, stop watching TV 5 hours a day. You may have heard the expression "Cells that fire together wire together." Our brains are composed of billions of neurons, each of which can have thousand of connections to other neurons. Any thing you do in life is going to activate a specific constellation of neurons. Visualize one million neurons firing at the same time when you watch a TV program. Now, the more TV you watch, the more those neurons will fire together, and therefore the more they will wire together (meaning that the connections between them become, literally, stronger), which then creates automatic-like behaviors. You are making yourself more passive, unreflective, person, the more TV you watch. Exactly the opposite of what you need to prioritize and process the growing amount of information we have available these days.

This article was written by Alvaro Fernandez from SharpBrains. Alvaro is the main writer at SharpBrains brain fitness and exercise website. If you are interested in contributing to the thinking process and become a guest writer on The Thinking Blog, find out more information here and be my guest!

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