How to deal with information overload and stay present by Wendela Wolters

Surrounded by the rolling hills of the beautiful Swiss Normandy our guesthouse on a biological farm provided us with the perfect environment for winding down after a busy year. But not before we experienced some mild digital withdrawal anxiety!

Our guesthouse had no Internet connection and on top of that our Dutch telecom company had trouble connecting our phones to the local network. We were on our own - isolated; cut off from business, news, family & friends, even the media frenzy surrounding the birth of the royal baby!

Although it took some time getting accustomed to being disconnected from the digital world, which felt uncomfortable, I wondered if I missed something important?  I adjusted after a few days and started to work on my pile of books that had been waiting for far too long to be read.  After a wonderful week we left the farm, the telephone company solved its communication problems and we came home greeted by pile of newspapers. I went through all of them to make sure I didn’t miss something important.

Skimming through the news I was struck by a sad message; Carsten Schloter, CEO of a Swiss telecom company was found dead [in all probability by his own hand]/and most probably a suicide. Although privately he went through a rough divorce, in recent years he had been complaining about the enormous avalanche of information he had to tackle daily. During a convention in Interlaken he said: “….Not wanting to live in a world where it was impossible to find a quiet space due to the continuous stream of new information…” For a CEO of a large telecom company this was quite a surprising statement!

Manfred Kets de Vries, clinical Professor of leadership development at INSEAD and also a psychoanalyst, states that many leaders in politics, healthcare and education suffer from Internet addiction disorder (IAD). They are addicted to their inbox and have great problems in finding a balance between action and reflection.

Carsten Schloter was a charismatic and popular boss known for his enormous dedication and passion for the company, and being close to his people. At some point for him it became impossible to find that balance, to find that quiet space.

According to professor Kets de Vries the fast growing use of Internet has been one of the biggest changes for people at the top since the Romans. Dealing with this avalanche of cognitive information is not always easy. He advises top managers to let an assistant handle the inbox and have a weekly meeting about 4-5 priory mails. 

To find a balance between action and reflection it is important to give our brains some rest, for it is in that quiet time that we come up with our best decisions!

Hereby some tips from Lucy Palladino (psychologist) which can make it easier to find that balance:

  • Schedule a break regularly. I find it very refreshing to do something the opposite of what I was doing. I try to alternate brainwork with a no-brainer like taking a walk or playing with my dog.
  • Set a limit: Internet can eat up your time, before your realize an hour has passed. Limit how long you scan for information and focus on the high quality sources.
  • Keep your virtual and physical space clutter free. If you spend regular time organizing and updating your files it becomes much easier to handle the information overflow. Keep an eye on helpful apps and programs, they can make a difference.

 I hope that these tips can become useful for you. Give your brain a breather and enjoy the beautiful day!