How to battle information overload
It isn’t uncommon for us these days to feel like we are constantly battling too much information. It isn’t just a matter of feeling more comfortable from a societal standpoint sharing details about our lives that we wouldn’t have only a decade ago. It is also the increase in information outlets now compared with what existed previously. Whereas we used to have to turn on the news or buy the newspaper to stay current, every single device we own today wants to feed us information no matter where we are.
This could be seen as a great advancement, right? Who wouldn’t want more information to help make accurate and effective decisions? Who wouldn’t want more information in order to grow our own learning?
If only it were that simple.
Today, our information overload isn’t just about being exposed to more information. It is about being inundated 24/7 with the wrong information from so many different sources. And misinformation is even more damaging than lacking information to begin with, as it can believed by those who would never be influenced by it in the past.
So what can we do as leaders to help ourselves (and others) deal with the curse of TMI?
Do your homework. Just because you are exposed to information, doesn’t mean you have to value it. To use information effectively we have to understand what we are really being told. How can we verify information and make sure it isn’t being shared to misinform us?
First, we can check the source. Where did it come from? What do we know about the views of that person, those people or that organization? Second, what is the “point” of the story? Knowing why the news is being reported and what the source hopes will happen from sharing it can make us be better consumers and action-takers. Finally, running the news by colleagues or friends to gauge their reactions helps us see whether our interpretations are common, rare or something else entirely.
Allow for “settling time.” Generally speaking, reacting to news never works; reflecting on news does. Often in our sensationalist society, news is meant to cause a reaction. As leaders, reacting to situations can be a necessity from time to time. That said, we tend to lead most effectively when we give ourselves an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve heard, seen or experienced. “Settling time” allows our brains and bodies to adjust to the new information and make reasoned and rationalized judgements based on it.
While we don’t always have the luxury of time, when we do, and when we use it, we are likely to make choices that better support those we serve.
Widen your perspective. Welcoming greater exposure means we are more protected against binary mindsets. By expanding our vision and perspectives, we can push ourselves to understand situations the way others do. What sounds bizarre to us may not be the case for others. If we see a goal of our work as leading for everyone, then we have to recognize that everyone has and brings a different perspective.
That doesn’t mean that all perspectives are inherently good for all, however. We can recognize these different perspectives while still advocating for what will support all those we serve. The key is that by widening our perspective, we are more apt to see everything as a continuum rather than simply the “right” information or the “wrong” information.
Information overload isn’t going anywhere. Therefore, leaders everywhere need to prepare themselves to see through the fog for the important details that can help us grow and better serve others. We also owe it to those we serve to help them separate fact from fiction. While never easy, turning away from TMI makes us better at what we do and better prepared to welcome challenges and successes as we encounter them.
Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, Professional Development That Sticks, and Forces of Influence, are available from ASCD. Connect with Fred on his website or on Twitter.
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