During this recent season of Mad Men (for the record, I'm in withdrawal having to wait till 2015 for new episodes, yikes), a new character featured prominently over several episodes -- the big, honking IBM computer that the ad agency purchased at great expense to give them a competitive edge.
"The Computer" created much disruption and even fear to the point of causing one of the creative guys to have what used to be called "a nervous breakdown."
It was 1969 and the world was an increasingly overwhelming, confusing and complicated place for those in it, due in large part to the tsunami of information coming at them rapid fire.
It is said that everything changes and nothing ever really does.
In 2014 I doubt that the humble, ubiquitous and truly wonderful iPad is prompting mental or emotional breakdowns, but you've got to wonder about the overall impact of the information that the two billion+ global Internet users today (including yours truly) generate daily is contributing to the growing overwhelm we feel in our own everyday lives.
Growing up, most of us had encyclopedia sets at home. Remember those? Big, beautifully printed and often fancy physical specimens filled with interesting facts and photographs. Essential to school projects, or just hanging out with on a rainy day. Compared to kids (and grown ups) today, did we live like animals? I think not.
As humans, our appetite for information is truly insatiable. Don't get me wrong, information is a great thing (can you really imagine life without Google?) But at what cost?
We have so much information coming at us rapid-fire that sometimes I think it's making us dumber.
There are "10 tips for this"..."20 things you must do right now to achieve X"..."The five things you should never do..." And so on. Hey, I'm guilty of pandering to those lists myself.
The thing is, when we're given so much to consider and think about, what do we do? Usually nothing. We get confused, immobilized by so much information and choice, and out of fear of doing the wrong thing, we end up doing nothing. And that costs us dearly.
Yet, what often makes the biggest difference is one thing. Not five things. Not 16 things. Not 12 things. One small thing that you can do right now, in this moment that will have the biggest and most positive impact. Right now. Not tomorrow or next week when it's too late.
More is not necessarily better. There is a growing trend in society for simplicity beyond farmers markets, whole foods and yoga classes. Many companies, faced with a workforce burning out in record numbers, are finally starting to change their policies encouraging and supporting employees to not feeling compelled to check and respond to email after hours. Now there's a concept in our always-on, 24/7 world!
I don't know what you're facing today that has you feeling overwhelmed and scattered, but I'm asking you to do the same thing I remind myself of every day in those same moments:
Take a step back (physically if you have to, i.e. go for a walk), close your eyes (obviously not while walking!), take a couple of big deep breaths and ask yourself: "What is the one small thing I can do right now that will make a real difference to what's going on right now?"
Go ahead. Try it. Trust me, it works.