Information Starvation VS Information Obesity
How our minds transition from feeling excited to overwhelmed and how to deal with it.
Sometimes I feel like I have bipolar disorder. On Monday, I want to read, watch and consume new knowledge. By Friday, I isolate myself from any information. I monitored my behavior and noticed a trend of going from information starvation to information obesity. If you felt a strong desire to learn and then felt overwhelmed, this article may help you understand why. You may find more joy with learning and work by identifying what state you’re in.
Information starvation is when you crave new information. It’s hard to make any progress on a project or do something without new knowledge. When I starve, I read something, and it instantly makes sense. My brain makes connections across different topics. It’s a state of intellectual joy.
Information obesity is the opposite. It’s a state when you feel overwhelmed with new information. My brain hurts when I read something. Any new content I consume makes no sense.
Let me illustrate a transition from starvation to obesity with the process of writing an article. It starts with research - I’m starving for information. Eventually, I feel overwhelmed by all the links, screenshots, and other materials collected. That’s when I had enough and start to feel obese. I’d argue that it’s a common scenario for any knowledge worker.
How this is relevant to your work
Imagine you start a new project at work. To get a complete picture of what’s happening, you meet with other teammates and ask to share what they know. You accumulate knowledge about the project. Eventually, you get enough information and need to decide on the next steps. Even if you continue to collect new information, it won’t help you cause you know all the necessary facts.
Scenario #1: you collect more data and eventually experience analysis paralysis. The team makes no progress; you feel stressed and need a fresh start.
Scenario #2: you accept unknowns, but you know enough to make the next step. You synthesize the knowledge, make a decision, take action, learn something new and repeat it. You make iterations, have small wins, everyone is happy.
A solution to feeling less overwhelmed - EOW decluttering
End of week (EOW) decluttering routine is my practice of mental clarity. While it’s tempting to accumulate new information, I use it every Friday to organize what I know, need to do, and care about. I try to finish current tasks without committing to new ones. I use of out-of-sight out-of-mind principle - delete or archive things that are no longer relevant. Set reminders for tasks that will need to be done next week. Below is a checklist sorted in order from most to least mental effort required.
Review files in Gdrive and desktop. Delete old ones, merge duplicates.
Organize inbox and snoozed emails.
Respond to unread/saved Slack messages and reminders.
Clean up personal notes.
Check scheduled events for the upcoming week.
Close old browser links on all devices.
Check social media and save anything interesting to read later.
Clean work devices so that they are pleasant to use. Water plants.
If you continue to feel overwhelmed, try to write down what’s on your mind and categorize it with priorities. For more checklists and advice like this one - subscribe to this newsletter.
Virtuous cycle of consumption and creation
To take things one step further, consider creating something out of the information you have. We learn new things for use, don’t we? If we acquire knowledge, a good habit is to compile it and create new knowledge. When you feel overwhelmed and need to free space in your mind for new knowledge, consider writing an article, drawing a picture, or speaking about what you learned. The creation process became an essential part of my journey cause it allows me to free my mind from consumed information. And that space can be used for new learnings. Do you have a routine that helps you to free your mind for something new?