Thursday, October 25, 2012

Information Overload Is Part of Your Job

Here are some recent statistics about information overload in our lives (and these figures are probably already out of date):

  • The average American sends 600 text messages a month.
  • 60 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  • A typical user's iTunes library has 3,000 songs.
  • Searching the Internet for things they have seen but can't find costs U.K. businesses more than £1,200 pounds per employee per year.
  • More than 90% of of U.S. workers admitted to throwing away work information without reading it.

There's bad news and good news about information overload. The bad news is (of course) it isn't going away anytime soon, and if anything is only going to get worse.
The good news is that information overload is part of our job. As experts, our clients and audiences are looking for us to sift through information and convert it into insights, wisdom and practical ideas for them and their organisations.
They don't want to search Google, ask questions on LinkedIn or tweet their questions. Sure, they can do that, but they either get too much (because there's so much information available) or too little (because they aren't connected to the right networks). Instead, they want you to have done the research, discarded what's irrelevant, taken the rest and translated it into something they can use immediately.
That's why information overload is a good thing! Sure, you can always improve your processes, but don't fight information overload. Embrace it. It's part of your job.
The key is to manage flow.
The biggest problem with information overload is that we tend to hoard and save information, thinking it will be useful "some day". This might be true, but all that information piles up - in your e-mail in-box, hard disk, backup CDs and other places - and that adds to your stress and frustration.
A better way to handle it is to let it flow through your system. Even if you have to save it for the future, do everything you can to share it as well, so it's performing a useful service in the meantime.
For example:

  • When you read an interesting blog post, tweet it to your Twitter followers.
  • When you watch an interesting YouTube video, add it to your Favorites and set up YouTube so that automatically posts it to Twitter and Facebook as well.
  • When you reply to a client e-mail with an answer that might be useful to other clients, copy that response as a blog post.

By allowing the information to flow through your system, you're allowing it to serve others, while at the same time getting it out of your system.

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