What People Don’t Understand About Information Overload

Since we announced an approximate cost of Information Overload ($900 billion p.a. to the U.S. economy for 2008), there has been a lot of discussion both in the media and the blogosphere about the problem. Some bloggers have written that this is much ado about nothing and mistake what we are saying for an attempt to measure productivity as if knowledge workers should be all work and no play.

That is so far from the reality of the situation that I felt it necessary to address it here.

Information Overload is a problem because it creates a bottleneck that stops us from absorbing all of the information being thrust at us. Clearly, some information is left behind. Some of it might even be useful or important. What’s worse is that we don’t generally know what we don’t know, so we may make decisions based on the information we have available to us, even though we are overlooking some information (that may or may not be critical) simply because we’re unaware of its existence.

Should knowledge workers not stop and take a break, visit a Web site that is not work related, stop and smell the roses, go to the water cooler, play a game? “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” goes the aphorism. My version would read something like “All work and no play makes Jack a burnt out knowledge worker.”

So let’s set the record straight.

Knowledge workers need mental breaks and down time from their work during the course of the day, but they need to be at a time and place of the knowledge workers’ choosing, not when an interruption breaks their concentration.

Reducing Information Overload is about increasing productivity, and the ROI for the organization’s knowledge workers. Understanding the potential impact, i.e. the amount of money that it takes to pay knowledge workers during time that they may not be at their peak efficiency, allows organizations to conceptualize the problem and begin to take action.

If you don’t know how much Information Overload is costing you, you can find out at the Information Overload Calculator. But be prepared.

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

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