More Notes from the Information Overload Awareness Day Inaugural Event

Last week’s Information Overload Awareness Day Inaugural Event was a great success going by the overwhelming feedback we received from speakers and attendees.

Maggie Jackson, one of the first journalists to interview Basex on the topic of information overload, writes for the Boston Globe on the topic of work-life balance, and last year came out with a book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age.

Jackson discussed the erosion of attention to work, attention to information, even attention to eating and leisure activities.  If we continue to squander how we use attention, we may descend into an era where emptiness rather than fulfillment rules, where one never goes sufficiently in depth in any one area because a virtual clock is ticking guaranteeing that something will intrude three minutes hence.

Christina Randle, CEO of the Effective Edge, discussed the problem of information-induced stress.  Work days are marathons, not sprints, and information overload “zaps” our energy, causing us to complete less in the course of a day.  Thanks to information overload we are in a fog and some of the decisions we make reflect that.  We are constantly performing a juggling act that always results in a few dropped balls.  To solve this, we need to look at our own behavior and be willing to make changes.

Ed Stern from OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor) talked about Information Overload in government – and his pioneering work deploying expert systems to help people (individuals as well as government employees) sort through mountains of information including government regulations.  What Ed has been doing at OSHA may very well be one of the great – and unheralded – fights against Information Overload in government.

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.  Hurst is an advocate of the empty or zero inbox.  While I believe this sounds great in concept, the time involved in filing and managing the inbox versus using an e-mail client with good search tools may just not be worth the effort.

Ken Sickles, Solutions Strategy Director at Dow Jones, brought his background as a knowledge worker from a large, information-intensive organization into the discussion.  One slide, “Information Overload & Me,” was telling.  For Ken and Dow Jones, the effects of Information Overload are myriad, including difficulty in making correct decisions due to a lack of accurate and timely information, a lack of expertise, difficulty in networking with colleagues, and an impact on forward thinking.  In other words, the impact of Information Overload goes to the very core of business performance.

Seth Earley, an expert on taxonomies and CEO of Earley & Associates, talked about, well, taxonomies as well as search disambiguation and faceted search.  As he pointed out, mere search is not enough.  Information needs context and that is the role of the taxonomy.
Paul Silverman, CEO of Integra Workshops talked about Zen and Information Overload.  Talking at the end of the event, he brought a Zen-like calm to the room focusing on how to create a life that helps evolve the mind and body.  His prescription: do one thing at a time and do it until it’s done.

Mike Song, author of the Hamster Revolution, talked about the relationship between meetings and Information Overload.  He pointed out that even the process of setting up a meeting wastes significant time and that most meetings fail to have clear objectives and agendas.  Addressing this issues will reduce the amount of time millions of knowledge workers waste each day in meetings that seem to come out of a Dilbert cartoon (my words, not Mike’s).

That’s all for now – I hope I haven’t overloaded you.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

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