Information Overwhelm? – Here is an Important Word You MUST Know

Yesterday I ran another one of my Hour a Day Workshops at a rather nice hotel in central London.

The background to the development of this programme was rooted in the Information Overwhelm problem that we face in today’s fast paced world.

At first glance the most obvious skill to develop is that of being able to read faster.

The logic being that with so much to read if you can do that faster you will be able to get more done.

Of course that is not always the case for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here.

It will help but there is far more to it than that.

My Speed Reading material will tell you more about that if you are interested.

So whilst I do cover becoming a more Effective Reader in this programme, much of it focuses on just becoming more effective generally.

At the beginning of the session I always ask the group these questions:

How do you feel about the QUANTITY of information you have to deal with
How do you feel about your EFFECTIVENESS in dealing with that information

I get them to respond by numerically scoring on a scale of 1-10 (1 being bad, 10 being very good) and to give me a single word that would describe their feelings in each case.

Here are some of the results I got from yesterday’s group (who were all senior directors in large companies by the way):


If we look at the figures in the left hand column we see a set of results that is a reflection of how they feel about the quantity they have to deal with.

It is important to understand that this is not a measure of the quantity, more a reflection of what their workload means to them.

The numbers are pretty arbitary and it is the words that are the most revealing.

In this group there is a mixed set of feelings about their information workload that varies from being quite desperate about it to being fairly relaxed.

Now in the right hand column there is a little more consistency in both the numerical scores and the more subjective, but more revealing verbal answers.

So whilst probably having negative thoughts about the quantity of information these people have to deal with, most on balance feel they are at the very least coping with it and indeed one or two are even thriving on it.

This is the sort of result I would expect from such high achievers.

However one result sticks out and that is the person who scored 3 and Desperate for quantity and 5 and Unfocused for effectiveness.

When we chatted this person revealed that 12 months ago their scores would have been much better.

They knew their job inside out and had a complete grasp of what needed to be done and how to do it.

But in the last few months their role had changed and they were still struggling to come to terms with their new responsibilities.

They said (and I quote) “It was much easier in my last role because I had very clear objectives and responsibilities and it was easy to know how to deal with all the stuff that came my way”

They went on to say “Perhaps I need to get clear on exactly what it is I need to do so that I can be more decisive and focussed like some of the other people in this room” (they were sate between the “decisive” and”skilled” people).

It was interesting watching them speak because this person pretty much came to the conclusion they had to get clarity on what they needed to do without any intervention on my part at all.

They answered their question themselves before they had even asked it.

So the most important word to know when dealing with information overwhelm is CLARITY.

I learnt this from Brian Tracy who loves this word. You will hear him say it over and over again on his audio programmes – “Clarity, Clarity, Clarity”.

This person, who quite clearly was a highly capable individual, used to have clarity in his former role but had neglected to gain it in their new role.

So why is clarity so important?

Well decisiveness is a vital quality to have in today’s information laden environment.

When something hits your desk or your inbox you need to decide if you are going to deal with it and if you are, what you are going to do.

And with so much coming at you, those decisions need to be made almost minute by minute.

But if you do not have the clarity about what you are trying to achieve or what is vital for you to know, those decisions are muddied by this lack of focus.

Unfortunately in the absence of this clarity, rather than deciding (and potentially making a mistake), it seems easier to make no decision at all.

This is one of the reasons why many people’s e mail inboxes are filled full of emails “waiting to be dealt with”.

This is one of the reasons why many people’s in tray is piled high with documents, reports and papers just waiting to be processed.

So if you are overwhelmed with the amount of information you have to deal with, just do a quick clarity check to see how clear you are on what is vital for you to do right now because I pretty much guarantee that is where the problem lies.