Information Overload – Is there a silver bullet?

A little help please...

There is really one key driver of all of the costs of Information Overload and that’s the phenomenon I discovered early on in my research and which I named Recovery Time.

Recovery Time is the time it takes you to get back to where you were prior to an interruption. I’ve calculated it as being 10-20 times the duration of the interruption so, if you interrupt me for 30 seconds, the recovery time is likely to be 5 minutes or longer.

Take a typical knowledge worker who is interrupted five times in the course of a day. With each interruption lasting on average one minute (some were shorter and some were longer), this knowledge worker will lose an hour at the very least and, more likely, an hour and forty minutes. This translates into as much as $43. Per person. Per day.

Now take the typical 5,000-person division or company and multiply $43 by 5,000. That ($215,000) is the cost of Recovery Time each and every workday at that company.

Recovery Time is the key contributor to the large cost of Information Overload ($997 billion p.a. to the U.S. economy in 2010 according to Basex). Understanding it may very well be the silver bullet we have all been looking for.

Of course, there is some good news in this: every interruption we eliminate has the potential of saving significant amounts of time and money.

For example, for every 100 people we unnecessarily cc on an e-mail, we lose eight manhours as they deal with it in their inbox. Even when spread out over only 100 knowledge workers, the total time is still the same as an entire workday.

All we have to do is start to eliminate a few interruptions each day and we will quickly see positive results.

You might wonder what kind of interruptions I am talking about. They run the gamut from self-interruption (an uncontrollable urge to look at an eBay auction or check whether any new e-mail messages have arrived) to someone knocking at your door or, if you are at home, ringing the bell (with apologies to Paul McCartney and Wings), or someone sending you an e-mail (interruption nr. 1) and two minutes later calling to see if you had received it.

Much of our newfound impatience comes from a society that, in the past three decades, has become increasingly accustomed to instant gratification and therefore cannot wait more than a few minutes to get a reply. In addition, newer workers enter the workforce with a sense of entitlement that is somewhat oversized, in large part due to new parenting and child-rearing techniques that have always put the child first.

We’ll look at that next time.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

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