Info Overload

I enjoyed viewing the Librarian in Black’s presentation slides from her talk about information overload at  Internet Librarian 2009.  In her blog post about the talk, she alludes to the fact that some people seem to think information overload is a myth.  I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s a myth, but it does puzzle me when people refer to it like it’s something completely out of their control, as though they had no agency or free will when it comes to deciding how to allocate their attention.  It’s true that there are some “inputs” that we have to pay attention to whether we want to or not – such as our work e-mail.  But we do have choices as to how we decide to handle that e-mail, and other things, and fortunately that is what Sarah’s presentation is all about.

A few items that particularly resonated with me:

  • Schedule yourself (including unscheduled work and tasks) AB: I find it so helpful to block time on my calendar if I need to work on a particular project. It serves as a reminder to me as well as (usually) preventing people from scheduling meetings when I thought I had free time to Get Things Done. Committee work is work, but projects are work too, and they deserve recognition as such on my calendar.
  • Weed, weed, and weed again AB: In my blog reading, in my wardrobe, and in my personal library, my approach is, “will I miss it if it’s gone?”  Sometimes this means unsubscribing or sending something to Salvation Army, and sometimes it means putting it in a “holding area,” where I can retrieve an item if I think of it and need/want it. I tend to be more brutal with feeds since they are still out there to pick up again if I want them or my interests change.
  • Check when you want to [re. phone, texting, IM, twitter] AB: turning off my email notifier is one of the best things I’ve done to be more efficient. Yes, sometimes I still check it every five minutes, and that’s usually an indicator that I’m not into what I’m doing and should do something else if possible. There’s almost always something waiting, so why bother with the notifier? It simply interrupts, usually more important work.  If there is a true emergency, it won’t be long before someone reaches me another way!
  • Let it ring [re. phone] AB: It is a pet peeve of mine when people don’t do this in a meeting, President Obama excepted. I’m in a meeting with you. If we were having this meeting elsewhere, you wouldn’t be here to answer the phone! Your answering the phone signals that our meeting is not really that important, which might be true, but it’s still rude. Of course, there are also times you might not be in a meeting and still choose to skip picking up.
  • Filter your messages [re. email] AB: This is another valuable tool for my email management.  I filter well over 50% of my mail into folders other than my inbox. I even filter some automated system messages that I don’t need into my trash. If you’re on a number of lists – internal or external – filters can really be a lifesaver.  My webmail client doesn’t support filtering and I always cringe when I login at home.  It’s so much harder to pick out what’s most important with one long list of unread messages.

There are many, many more useful tips in LiB’s complete presentation – check it out!