What Was I Working on Again?

Last week’s Information Overload conference no doubt pushed attendees above and beyond the bounds of overload.  As a public service here (as Tom Lehrer would say), I’ll review highlights.

The keynote address (mine, actually) presented an overview of the problem, including costs, problem areas, and a few things we can do about the problem right now.

Just to review:

  • The cost of unnecessary interruptions plus recovery time (time spent getting back to where you were, if indeed you do get back there) to the U.S. economy is $650 billion as of 2007.
  • Most interruptions are neither urgent nor important (but we think they are as we go and interrupt people anyway).
  • The above represents 28% of the knowledge worker’s day.
  • A mere 12% of the knowledge worker’s day is spent in thought or reflection.
  • We spend 15% of the day searching for things and 20% in meetings.

Food for thought:

  • We send too much e-mail.  When “cc” meant carbon copy, we could send three or four.  Now we think nothing of sending 300.  Let’s rethink that.
  • Our need for instant gratification (perhaps fueled by the founding of Fedex, which introduced overnight delivery in 1973), causes us to interrupt others when we don’t get an immediate answer; our (mistaken) belief that everything we are doing is both urgent and important lends a false sense of importance to our mission and that too causes us to interrupt others too much.
  • E-mail is like Tetris.  As soon as you line up the boxes, more come down.
  • Think before clicking reply-to-all, or even sending a reply of “Great. Thanks.” acknowledging someone’s e-mail.

CIO Panel
David Goldes, Basex’ president, presented Max Christoff from Morgan Stanley, Shari Pfleeger Lawrence from the Rand Corporation, and Nathan Zeldes from Intel, talking about the problems their organizations face with respect to information overload.

To review;

  • An Intel employee receives 350 e-mail messages per week on average (but executives receive an average of 300 per day).
  • At Morgan Stanley, the average employee receives 625 e-mail messages per week (but the average executive over 500 per day).
  • Intel employees spend, on average, 20 hours per week managing e-mail.

Key insight:
According to Christoff, the competitive advantage we gained from getting more information faster is starting to disappear.  Companies need to focus on how to provide more relevant information where it’s needed.

Visionary Vendor Panel
Borrowed conceptually from Basex’ Strategic Thinkers conferences, the Visionary Vendor Panel was a forum for thought leaders and visionaries. Companies were selected because they are both innovative and offer solutions that could lessen the impact of Information Overload.

ActionBase (Eyal Maor, CEO) – ActionBase cuts down on e-mail by introducing structure to workflow that gets action items to the right people, at the right time.
ClearContext (Deva Hazarika, CEO) – ClearComments provides a tool for Outlook that helps knowledge workers identify and contextually relate important information.
Quick Comments (Greg Petras, CEO) – Quick Comments is a tool that enables users to quickly extract relevant information from feedback and comments on a product, content, or expertise without sifting through pages of written comments.
RescueTime (Tony Wright, CEO) – RescueTime is a tool that keeps track of how much time is spent using various applications, such as e-mail, word processing, Web browsing, etc.
Seriosity (Leighton Read, Chairman) – Seriosity allows e-mail senders to compensate recipients with “Serios”, a form of online currency developed specifically for e-mail, creating an economic incentive to deal with more valuable information first.
Siemens (Ross Sedgewick) – Siemens OpenScape allows knowledge workers to find colleagues faster, cutting down on wasted time and phone and voicemail tag.

Bit Literacy
Mark Hurst, founder of Creative Good, spoke about the virtues of an empty inbox and the three “D’s”: Delete, Defer, and avoiD.  Computer literacy, according to Hurst is not sufficient.  Knowledge workers need to develop a far greater fluency and literacy in the use of e-mail, file management, managing images, and managing tasks.  E-mail overload, according to Hurst, is caused by “the lack of to-do management.”  Tools such as gootodo.com go a long way in reducing e-mail overload.

Before we completely overload you, we’ll pause here and continue next week.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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