How to process information faster and better: 6 data-backed tactics

In the knowledge economy, your ability to process information quickly and deeply is paramount to doing your job to the best of your ability. From reading reports to learning a coding language, data synthesis is at the core of what many people do day in and day out.

Despite being such a central part of many jobs, learning how to process data better is rarely taught. Most people rely on habits picked up from school and their innate talent for crunching numbers, remembering facts, and connecting the dots. 

Luckily, your ability to learn new information isn't fixed. There are a number of tactics backed by science to help you process information better. This guide will walk you through the most important of these tactics so that you can make yourself a better, more efficient worker, learner, and person.

1. Use research tools to find information easily

You probably have a ton of data and information you need to keep organized in your daily life. However, despite your best efforts, achieving this is often easier said than done. This means many people spend lots of time and mental energy simply looking for the information they need to do their job.

All of this searching has a cost, namely the mental energy you need for the higher-level processing involved in your life. According to an SHRM survey, nearly half of all American workers felt mentally and physically exhausted after work. The result of this cognitive dulling is that people are less able to concentrate, perform mental tasks or stay productive. 

For this reason, finding ways to access information more easily can free up your finite amount of mental energy to focus on valuable information processing. An AI research assistant is one way you can do exactly this. With Heyday’s research assistant, you can resurface: 

  • Old documents
  • Emails
  • Articles you’ve seen
  • Tweets

All of this allows you to spend your mental energy more wisely on data processing instead of looking for one of the hundreds of emails you handle a day. Get started making your work life easier by trying out Heyday free today.

2. Stay physically fit

Taking the time to keep your body in shape is an evidence-based way to perform better mentally in your everyday life. According to Harvard Medical School, exercise leads to a healthier brain more capable of thinking and remembering crucial facts. The school found that exercise enlarges areas of the brain involved in memory and indirectly promotes better brain cognition through a better mood and reduced stress.

Some ways you can start improving your physical health include:

  • Eating a healthy diet: Diets full of fish, leafy greens, and nuts can help you improve your memory and cognition. 
  • Building an exercise regimen: Performing aerobic and resistance training regularly has been shown to have a healthy impact on brains
  • Getting enough sleep: Experts say that sleeping 7-8 hours a night is best for brain development and health. 
  • Improving your physical environment: Toxins like lead, cadmium, and pollution can all negatively affect your mental abilities. Make sure that your home and workplace are as clean as possible for better information processing. 

To learn more about boosting your cognition, check out this toolkit from the National Institutes of Health detailing ways to live healthier lives. 

3. Paraphrase what you learn

When processing a lot of information, it’s easy for what we read or hear to go in one ear and out the other. Retain more information overall by paraphrasing everything important that you learn.

Paraphrasing forces your brain to think about what you just read in your own terms, which helps you remember the idea. A study by the University of Alabama found that learners who were asked to paraphrase a text scored much better in recall and critical thinking questions than those who just rewrote the text.

When applying paraphrasing at work, some things you could try include:

  • Writing meeting notes in your own words.
  • Explaining a difficult concept to a colleague.
  • Keeping a journal summarizing what you’ve learned from industry papers.

For many of us, journaling might not be something you’ve done in a very long time, if ever. Read about how to start a work journal in this guide from Friday

4. Time block your day

Most people’s brains tend to slow down during a typical workday as the day drags on. This phenomenon is natural—people get tired as they work, so their brain becomes more sluggish and sloppy.

Using a time blocking calendar is an effective way of combating this slowdown. Time blocking is the practice of chunking your day into blocks where only one task or kind of task gets performed. By focusing on a single task at a time, you avoid context switches that can sap your energy and slow your brain down

Say you're writing a report while having your phone, email, and Slack on. Over the course of two hours, six messages pop in that you decide to respond to. It takes your brain about 23 minutes to refocus after switching tasks, according to Gloria Mark at the University of California. So chances are, you spent the whole two hours just trying to bring your full attention back to the report writing.

oil painting, man looking at phone

Restructuring your day isn’t always easy, depending on the type of work you do. Take a look at this resource from Asana for tips and templates to start time blocking. 

5. Take breaks

Sometimes the most effective solutions are the simplest. Breaks may seem like a no-brainer, but they are both seriously important for mental efficiency and sorely underused.

Breaks allow your brain to focus and solve the most difficult complex problems facing you in your workday. According to the University of British Columbia, the parts of our brains involved in problem-solving are incredibly active when people can daydream and relax. It doesn’t even really matter what you’re doing to get that extra mental boost as long as it’s something you like to do

Despite these benefits, many people still don’t take breaks. One study of 2000 Americans found that 29% don’t even break for meals during their workday. 

If you’re a part of this group, it’s worth looking at your day and finding ways to step away from work. Not only will it give you a chance to socialize and eat, but it’ll also help you work through information faster after you do.

Some easy break ideas include:

  • Taking a quick nap.
  • Having a snack.
  • Going for a walk.
  • Doing some yoga.

Still struggling with how to take a break? Peruse this list of 51 break ideas to find something perfect to give your brain a rest.

6. Create an illustration

For most people, writing is the primary method they use to bolster their memory, usually in the form of notes. However, drawing can be an even better way to process all kinds of information in your daily life or work. 

Instead of listing out your shopping list, you could draw it. At work, you could process a new workflow by creating a detailed diagram. Drawing this information will help your brain process this information more deeply, allowing you to remember more of what you’re learning. In a 2018 experiment, drawing outperformed other memorization techniques like mnemonic devices and writing things down.

Beyond helping you remember details, drawing can also help you find areas of improvement. For instance, when you diagram that new workflow you’re developing, you may spot unnecessary steps that may be overlooked in a list. 

Learn more about how art can help you in this report from NPR

Processing less is just as important as processing quickly

While processing information quickly makes our jobs easier, the end goal isn't to consume as much knowledge as possible. We recently found in our 2022 report that people are already consuming a ton of information. The average person reads four articles, 8,200 words, and 226 messages daily.

Minimize information overload

Information can overwhelm our minds and force us to slow down. The good news is we have ideas about how you can minimize this information overload. Learn more in our report on the data we consumed in 2022.

Josh Chapman

Content marketer who specializes in SEO-optimized articles for SaaS companies.