Information Overload, Part 1
By now we all know what it is like to be inundated with too much information. As if it wasn’t bad enough that it assaults us at our work stations, we then decide to carry it around in our pockets too. The result is that there is no time to focus on what is important, or to even understand what is important in the first place. It’s a productivity killer. This has always been a problem but is made more acute today because of the amount of information available and pushed to us, and thus the distracting perceived opportunities in that information is exploding.
There is a hard limit on our ability to consume all that information and the quality of our outcomes decreases as we try to process more and more of it. Information overload happens when more data makes things worse rather than better.
To cope with this madness, people react in different ways, sometimes good but often bad and compounding the problem. It does not occur to a lot of people that a systematic problem requires a systematic solution rather than a gut reaction. Examples of gut reactions I have seen in the workplace are:
– hoarding (saving all information ‘just in case’ and not doing anything with it), purging (deleting everything as equally irrelevant and moving on with no information processed),
– rejecting (refusing any more information or assistance in processing it without assessing it’s value),
– being the luddite (opposing any innovation, assistance or technology to deal with the situation),
– and paralyzing (examining everything repeatedly without being able to reach a decision).
Obviously none of these are beneficial. Some lucky individuals have figured out for themselves that they need to find and understand the critical information and ignore the rest. That takes experience to know what is actually critical and what is garbage. Even with that knowledge, it requires a personal efficiency skill to give oneself the time to digest the critical information while holding back the onslaught of more garbage. There is always the temptation that amongst that garbage IS some critical information for your current or next activity, but you haven’t seen it yet. Schrödinger’s information, if you will: in your mind it is both garbage and critical at the same time until you open the box. Keeping focused on your task while not opening the box is a very difficult skill to master, because we are wired since the dawn of time to seek out new opportunities in a resource poor environment, not the information rich environment we live in now.
To learn this skill it is helpful to understand the causes of information overload first, which will be the topic for next week. After we understand the causes, we can then formulate more systematic methods of dealing with the problem and increasing our Personal Efficiency.
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