Blogger: Craig Roth
The inaugural Information Overload Awareness Day is being held on Wednesday (8/12/09). And I'm dreading it. That may seem odd since I cover this topic as an industry analyst and any additional attention on my space is a good thing. Also, I agree that too many people aren't aware of how far down the slippery slope they've gone in terms of being interruptible at all times and trying to follow ever more information sources and communication channels.
The reason I'm dreading this is that most of the material I've seen from the folks putting this on overstates the problem while understating the solution. So on one hand the problem is inflated to encompass insidious damage to our (worded in first-person guru tense) psyche, attention spans, and well-being, not to mention about $1 trillion per year (I dispute this). And on the other hand the solutions offered up are menial: don't use "reply all", try e-mail-free Fridays (yuk), and a smattering of time management and e-etiquette tips. That's all fine for individuals (I offer my own personal attention management tips here, and Lifehack.org and 43 folders are full of tips). But a systemic problem requires a systemic solution.
To their defense, I'm not the target audience for this information. As it says in the title, the point of the day is "awareness". To make people aware it helps to shake people awake with a narrative tying the rise of communication technology to ADD to the broad arc of information work. I've given that presentation myself and, I'll be honest, it's rewarding to do! I got a very good response too, but after seeing many others do the same thing I realized it's like shooting fish in a barrel.
So I'm already aware. In fact, I've become a connoisseur of info overload articles, books, and presentations. I feel like a movie critic who has seen every fish-out-of-water, buddy cop movie, making him disgruntled when a new release rehashes the cliche without offering anything new (even though the audience consists of people who are seeing the cliche for the first time and like it).
The tough part is not putting on a day where you raise awareness of information overload, but figuring out what to do the day after. That's the day when the evangelical zeal wears off and you try describing this to your co-workers, many of whom honestly don't feel that overloaded most of the time. You can make a few personal behavioral changes and convince some others to do the same, but they have little impact and wear off soon. And then you catch yourself interrupting people because you actually need to and they "tsk tsk" you saying it was unnecessary to them. Then you find that of the 28% of your day that is supposedly wasted, really only a few percent of it can truly be recovered without treating every day like a nine hour sprint. Without any real solutions to survive the information deluge you come off like someone complaining about the weather. "Bring an umbrella" as the morning show weatherman says over and over ad nauseam.
Enjoy Information Overload Awareness Day if you're new to the subject, but the next day think about real actions that can be taken. Think about a systemic solution, like Enterprise Attention Management which describes how to pull important information forward and push less important information back. EAM avoids the moralizing about what you're doing to yourself and others and doesn't require adherents to be converts. It shifts the focus to enterprise-wide efficiency rather than individual struggle.