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4 Ways to Retrain Your Brain to Handle Information Overload

| December 2, 2014

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading, “Why We Humblebrag About Being Busy,” comes from the pen of Greg McKeown and recently appeared in the HBR blogs.  McKeown is author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and is a business writer, consultant, and researcher specializing in leadership, strategy design, collective intelligence and human systems.

McKeown begins his essay “We have a problem – and the odd thing is we not only know about it, we’re celebrating it.”  He goes on to note that someone had boasted about being so busy that she’d averaged four hours of sleep a night over the past two weeks.  This was not a complaint; she was proud of it.

He sees this as a bubble, an asset that we absurdly overvalue until at some point it bursts and we wonder why we were so irrationally exuberant in the first place.  “The asset we are overvaluing now is the notion of doing it all, having it all, achieving it all.”  Jim Collins calls his “the undisciplined pursuit of more.”

The recommended antidote for the undisciplined pursuit of more is the pursuit of less, a better less.  He calls individuals who do this, Essentialists.  Essentialists are people who design their lives around what is essential and eliminate everything else.  He points out that they take walks to think, they have real weekends, they have technology-off times and don’t feel guilty about it, they put space on their calendars to get important work done, etc.

What are some steps you can take to move towards being an Essentialist?  McKoewn suggests four:

1.  Schedule a personal quarterly offsite.  He notes that “if we want to avoid being tripped up by the trivial … take time once a quarter to think about what is essential and what is nonessential.”  He also suggests practicing the rule of three – every three months take three hours to identify three things you want to accomplish over the next three months.

2.  Rest well to excel.  Everyone knows that a significant difference between good and excellent performers is the number of hours each practices.  The second most significant difference is how much each sleeps.  So, the question for each of us is are we getting enough quality sleep?

3.  Add expiration dates on new activities.  McKeown notes that traditions have an important role in building relationships and memories.  But not every successful activity needs to become a tradition.  Stop and consider is this something to continue without limit.  And, while you are at it, consider your current traditions.  Which ones are just nice and not essential and, therefore, candidates for discontinuing.

4.  Say no to a good opportunity every week.  Just because you receive an invitation is not sufficient reason to say yes.  Before you say yes, stop and consider what you would bring to the table, what you might drop to take this on, etc.  If you don’t have time to do this evaluation, you don’t have the space to do it if you accept. 

Much of what McKeon suggests is a call for each of us to be more intentional about our time.  I don’t know about you, but it is a call to action for me.

.  .  .  .    jim