02/19/2014 01:48 pm ET Updated Apr 21, 2014

Do Something, Do Nothing, or Decide You Don't Care

When I was a kid, we didn't have weather.

That doesn't sound right. I'm pretty sure we had weather. We just didn't talk about it much.

That doesn't sound right either. We had weather, and we talked about it. But we mostly talked about what was falling on our heads at the moment, and what was coming next. Yes, if there was a major event somewhere else, we talked about it. I'm positive we would have talked about Atlanta this winter. But most of our focus was local and actionable. Put a coat on now. Bring a hat for tomorrow. Buy a swimsuit for summer.

These days, we're more informed. We have the internet and about a thousand times more news channels. We know about the weather everywhere, all the time. Our lives are enriched with information.

Sort of.

It seems like every year there's some weather event somewhere that's going to drive up the price of some crop or commodity. This year it's citrus in the U.S. A year ago it was worldwide grain availability.

The question these reports present is simple and troubling: What are you doing about it?

I'm really asking you. You can't just wear a hat or buy a swimsuit. What are you doing about the global and regional impacts of weather on crop availability and cost?

Some answer assertively. "I'm working on it!" They're researching, solution finding, and trying to anticipate, and solve for problems looming on the horizon in this arena.

Others answer responsively. "I'm planning accordingly." They're incorporating expected changes in availability and cost into their budgets to keep their loved ones secure and well-fed.

A third group takes it under advisement. "Interesting," they mentally note. "This may become important when I do next year's budget. I'll check on it again then." For now, they move on.

A fourth category doesn't care. They believe they can tolerate or adjust for fluctuations when they arise, so they ignore the topic entirely. This may seem irresponsible to someone in one of the categories above, but from an information management perspective, it's a useful approach.

The real problems stem from the final category -- those who monitor the situation for the express purpose of worrying about it. "This is terrible," they say -- and then continue reading. Over dinner, they rile up friends and family on the topic. "Isn't it awful," they begin. "We're all in trouble." "Such a shame." No solution is offered or work plan proposed.

Instead, the next step is to place blame. It's the democrats or the republicans, the environmentalists or big business, the current president or the past president, the incompetent bureaucrats or the lazy farmers. Who's at fault doesn't really matter; everyone is screwed up and screwed over, and there's no hope.

Worry-and-do-nothing-else is fatal, literally and figuratively. It's stress-producing, which is fatal to your health. It's likely to move you into a social circle filled with other complainers, which is fatal to your dinner parties. And every hour you spend doing it is time you can't spend doing something more productive, which is fatal to whatever goals you have. Worry-and-do-nothing-else is a recipe for inaction and stress, and a big part of the reason that the information age has proven to be more daunting than helpful to many.

The information is compelling, media-rich, and ever-present. All those channels! Weather is just an example. The real question is, how will we ever make any intelligent decisions at all, when deluged with such excessive input?

In the organizations with whom I consult, people at every level face an overwhelming amount of information. It comes by email, by video and by verbal report, by day and by night, by push and by pull, on demand and despite resistance. It comes in updates, reports, news briefs, questions, answers, and demands. It comes from engineers, lawyers, accountants, executives, and line workers; from boss, peers, direct reports, and customers. It comes from everywhere, about everything, all the time. It never stops.

Literally. It never stops. Like the weather reports.

Still, those people have to make decisions. They have to take the business in one direction or another. They have to release a product or delay it. They have to hire, to reorganize, to strategize, to execute. They have to get things done.

The best among them do. They get quite a lot done, actually -- largely by taking care not to worry-and-do-nothing-else. Sure, they worry -- some a little, some a lot. But they don't just worry -- they worry and decide. They decide to act assertively, and take on a problem. They decide to act responsively, and position themselves for what's coming. They decide to take something under advisement and look again later. And, they decide to ignore a lot of what comes at them.

They don't rile up coworkers by rambling on about problems with no solutions. They don't annoy supervisors by crying woe is me, and placing blame. They don't alienate customers by asserting that everything is beyond their control and nothing can be done by anyone.

That, today, is your task in every arena. Whether it's workplace report or weather report, when you're faced with new information, make two decisions. First, decide if you care or not. If you care, decide whether you'll act now or monitor for later. If you don't care, decide to set it aside. But whatever you do, decide. Decide! Decide every time. Decide now to decide. Decide you'll never again passively worry-and-do-nothing-else.

If you're like others who use this approach, you'll find yourself feeling more in control of your environment, and less at the whim of the morning news. You'll begin sensing that you're more efficient, and more enriched than overwhelmed by the constant stream of information you face. In the best case, you may even find yourself left with more time and energy for your favorite recreational activities, like hiking or canoeing.

Before you go, for goodness' sake, check the weather report. You may need a hat.