A Surprising Solution For Information Overload

Brain overload

With the explosion of technology, it’s mind-boggling to consider how much more information the human brain has access to. While the upside to this is great, there is a challenge in how we process all of this newfound knowledge. Unlike what we do with our phones, tablets and computers, we can’t click on an UPGRADE or OPTIMIZE option to increase our hard-drive capacity or our working RAM and accommodate this influx. Without a way to increase our capacity to process and store new information, we can end up overwhelmed by information overload.

Information overload is a growing problem and a leading cause of flawed decision making. Meetings are a common medium for information sharing and decision making. Once new insights have been shared and an action plan decided on, we disperse to meet with teams or individual contributors to implement change. Our memory needs to handle these active tasks and manage them effectively. We also need to recognize the limitations of our memory and find a consistent way to document those tasks.

Also Read: The Science Behind Taking Notes and Memory Retention


One method to help deal with information overload is called Chunking. Chunking is a memory management technique that takes a large amount of information and breaks it down into smaller nested pieces. Then all of those pieces come back together to rebuild the original picture.

As a very simple example, a phone number is parsed into a string of 3 digits and then a string of 4 digits. Combining the full string, for example 987-6543 builds the complete phone number. Interestingly, a phone number consisting of seven digits is not arbitrary at all. Back in the 1950s scientists found that 7 (plus or minus 2) is the capacity of what an adult can store in short term memory. We learn that a phone number has two important memory considerations.

  • Phone numbers chunk the string to a set of 3 words/numbers and then a set of 4 words/numbers
  • Phone numbers are designed to the Magic 7 principle for short term memory retention

How to apply chunking to meetings

Think of a meeting title as the name of the person whose phone number you’re trying to commit to memory. The title is important information, but is essentially only a label for the meeting to get classified under. Separate out your meeting so that each topic is addressing small, specific areas. The topics are now chunks of information that will have associated action items. When noting down information in a meeting, the notes are nested under a chunk, not all under a single meeting title.  These chunks coalesce, under the meeting title, and form the collection of information discussed in the meeting. When your memory can serve up accurate details, you can feel more confident in the decision making process.

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