Beat Information Overload by Clearing Your Mind

When you feel overwhelmed with too much information, take some time to clear your mind. Even a short break can relieve stress and give you a fresh perspective.

If you can, step away from the information and distractions that surround you, be they computer programs, phones, TV, books, or papers. Go for a short walk, preferably outdoors, but indoors if necessary. (But don’t make a vending machine or kitchen your destination, unless you’re truly hungry. Sugary snacks and caffeine will only give you a temporary lift and end up leaving you more stressed.)

If you can’t get away at all, simply turn aside from your work and do some mindful breathing. Close your eyes (if you can do so safely), sit with both feet on the floor, and put your hands on your lap. Your hands should be open and not touching each other. Inhale slowly through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth when you need to. Notice the weight and posture of your body in the chair, and let other thoughts go. Repeat for at least five long, slow breaths. Notice how much calmer you feel.

When you can get away for twenty minutes or more, here are some other ideas to try:

  • Take a longer walk outdoors. Watch for changes in the environment. What flowers are blooming? Are the trees beginning to change color in the fall? Is a new store opening in the neighborhood? Or look for the negative spaces between objects, such as the shape of the sky seen between tree branches.
  • Spend time on a craft or hobby. Choose a project that keeps your hands busy, but that doesn’t require much concentration. Rhythmic activities such as knitting or pottery can be particularly effective for relaxation, but it’s most important to choose something you enjoy.
  • Listen to music. Don’t multitask; just listen and follow the melody and/or rhythm. You may find instrumental music the most relaxing when you’re feeling overwhelmed, but experiment to find what works best for you.
  • Have a massage, or take a hot bath.

When you return to your work, you’ll feel more relaxed and better able to focus your attention. If you need to do information-intensive work for several hours at a time, plan a five minute break about every forty minutes. When you have long-term projects that require ongoing concentration, schedule longer breaks, at least one day/week if possible. Taking time to clear your mind will help you be more productive and beat information overload.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Cathy Demers April 14, 2010, 12:30 pm

    Great article, Jane. Overwhelm is such a big problem for so many, and especially at tax time. I think that avoiding overwhelm is why so many procrastinate on getting their taxes done on time, never mind in advance! You provide a good reminder to relax and breathe!

  • Jane Plass April 14, 2010, 9:00 pm

    It’s also good to take a longer break after finishing a project. For tax professionals and individuals working hard on U.S. taxes this week, be sure to take some down time this Friday or during the weekend. My sister is a tax preparer, so I know how hard they work this time of year.

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