Information overload is an excuse

One of the things we talk about extensively in Social Business is we are asking everyone to contribute and collaborate. This will ultimately generate a lot of content. We seem to think since the amount of content is increasing that we are going to be exposed to Information Overload. The reality is we will, but only because most of us lack the discipline to focus our attention on what matters and to filter everything else out. Only part of this is a technology issue, most of it is about getting our arms around and managing our attention.

More and more studies are indicating that despite what we may believe (or what today’s teens try to tell us), our brains suck at multi-tasking. Additionally, this constant switching influenced by multiple stimuli is actually making us less productive. Back in 2009, Kathleen Culver and I talked about the Dark Side of Enterprise 2.0 at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in San Francisco. In this talk, Kathleen laid out that attention is a limited resource and is as valuable as time and money.

I call out this because already people are thinking this is a tools problem, but in actuality the best tools in the world will have a difficult time keeping up with how quickly our priorities can change in our daily business/personal lives. For example, Your boss calls you and says there is a problem that needs to be taken care of right away. Because this was a direct request, you drop everything you are doing and focus on resolving the problem. During this time your tools are providing you information that is in your normal workflow. During this time of crisis, this isn’t valuable information; it’s noise. If we are disciplined, we shut down all the tools that are causing us to lose focus on the immediate goals, but often this only solves part of the problem. We are still bombarded with alerts either on our phones, via e-mail or perhaps Instant Messages. Most of us are not disciplined, and instead we try to ignore all the distractions, often with marginal success.

Why do we have such a hard time with this? Some of it is actually a social problem. Consumer applications like Facebook have conditioned us that there are potential social impacts of “un-following” someone. This consequence generally makes it easy to follow and, awkward at best, to un-follow. This social awkwardness seems to have made the leap into our business lives and actually makes it harder to filter out the noise.

In companies one of the biggest activities is the “project”. Most projects have a start and and end. When a project is over, the work is complete, the team disbands,and in some cases, you may never interact with some of the people ever again, yet we don’t take the time to go and un-follow them and instead try to ignore the alerts, crying “foul” and “information overload”.

We are all responsible for managing our attention. The amount of information we are confronting will continue to increase we have no control over that. We need to educate co-workers that it’s OK to un-follow and that Social Business is not a popularity contest. We need to tell vendors that the tools need to improve and make adjusting information flow quickly, easier. In the end, it is still up to us to be self-disciplined to ensure we are properly managing our attention to avoid information overload.

What are your techniques for managing your attention?

Image courtesy of: TZA

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