Arghhh...information overload!

addtoany linkedin

Most people understand how valuable information is in the business world; however, many struggle with the myriad of sources available and how to keep up with Generation Y and the astonishing ease in with they can collect, sort and process information. For those of us a little older, we have to change the way we deal with information and be open minded for the rapid transformations we are facing. For example, when email was introduced it turned out to be extremely helpful and time saving. Nowadays, many became so dependent on email that they forget in many situations it’s more productive to pick up the phone for a quick question rather than to spend time writing down the electronic message and then waiting for the response. Not to mention the extra time and effort to deal with misunderstandings that arises from the lack of emotional translation in written communication. Of course the number of social and professional network websites only increases the amount of information we are to process.

Information overload

A new way of thinking is needed to be successful in this almost infinite abundance of information in the world. According to an article I read a couple of weeks ago (P. Hemp, “Death by Information Overload,” Harvard Business Review, September 2009), recent research suggests that the surging volume of information and its interruption of people’s work can adversely affect not only personal well-being but also decision making, innovation and productivity - I guess most of the readers here wouldn’t be surprised to learn that one study indicated that it takes in average 25 minutes for people to return to a work task after an e-mail interruption! The information age is changing the way some professionals carry on their duties. Take College professors, for instance. They cannot dream to prepare enough for a class, given all the information available to students. Rather than ‘teach’, they are becoming facilitators in the classroom: guiding the students on topics to be further explored. The young students are very quick in validating online and on the spot whatever is shared in lectures. Here are some takeaways from the article and my own observations:

  • The article starts with “Can everyone stop whining about information overload?” It’s our most valuable commodity! I personally have stopped answering “so busy” when people ask me how things are going - I’ve accepted that this is just the lifestyle I chose and so I shouldn’t complain about it!
  • I have also stopped feeling guilty about not getting back to some people – let’s face it, it’s impossible to even read all emails! Those of us suffering from “continuous partial attention” (multitasking, anyone?) often feel depleted and demoralized by “the stress of not being able to process information as fast as it arrives – combined with the personal and social expectation, we’ll answer every email message”.
  • It takes A LOT of work to maintain all the different networks we belong to after the explosion of the internet. We need a new mindset and new tools - and we need to learn how to use them effectively without going crazy.
  • Having extensive networks to care for might seem another source of stress, but in fact it is one of your best tools to surf the information wave. Let go of the feeling that you need to know everything; rather, make sure you have contacts you can tap in to when facing questions you can’t quickly answer – “know who” instead of “knowhow”.
  • On the practical level, the article mentions some techniques and tools to help us dealing with the challenge. Here are some tools that you may or may not be aware of:
    1. TheBrain: visually associates related pieces of information to organize all your knowledge (Right!)
    2. Twine: help get up to date on selected topics of interest (twines) - Tools to regulate email volume within organizations – that’s right! Some of them work by allotting ‘credits’ to be spent on email activity e.g. Postware and Attent. I am sure that this would scare some buyers and planners that still use emails to communicate orders and production plans to suppliers!

Some of you might have seen the article (or maybe not, I know you have too much to read!). In any case, I thought I’d contribute this other piece of information to your busy day.


Andrew R
- January 19, 2011 at 11:06pm
Dear Ms. Ortiz:

Excellent and Must Heed advice for people, especially managers, that feel multi... err... continuous partial attention, leads to higher productivity.

Bombardment is everywhere, which is why I live without TV. I found when I was younger that I could read some baseline facts from a trusted source then start to associate new facts I discovered with this baseline. I would not try and cram every known fact on Earth in my head but rather 'tag' the fact to a baseline and visually remember the book or article the fact came from for later retrieval. I found it easier to be a card catalogue rather than the entire encyclopedia set.

The take away I would like to offer from this response is in this age of the internet and fast information it is more helpful to generate small descriptions or tags that can be used to associate and retrieve information at a later time. Keywords are very powerful tools.

Leave a Reply