Information Overload – Part 2 – A cure for “a poverty of attention”

“Time without attention is worthless, so value attention over time.” Tim Ferris

873928_junk_mail_2.jpgIn Part 1 I talked about how our old paradigm of consuming information is at the root of our information overload problems. Today I present some practical ideas you can use to experiment with changing your paradigm.

I suggest starting with your personal experience with the new paradigm because until you have tried it and seen the results for yourself it will be difficult for you to think about how it applies to building products and services for your customers.

As I’ve written earlier I think the foundation survival skill in the age of infinite input is HOMING. This is the ability to search efficiently and have a nose for what is meaningful in what you find during that search.

What we need to do is couple homing with what Tim Ferris in his book The 4-Hour Workweek calls “a low information diet.”

“Ignorance may be bliss, but it is also practical. It is imperative that you learn to ignore or redirect all information and interruptions that are irrelevant, unimportant, or unactionable. Most are all three.

The first step is to develop and maintain a low-information diet. Just as modern man consumes both too many calories and calories of no nutritional value, information workers eat data both in excess and from the wrong sources.” p 83

Change your paradigm and you can change your behavior and go a long way towards solving the problem.

Now Go Try It

What does this look like? Here are some suggestions if you want to develop the habit of mind of seeking out information when it is actionable rather than endlessly scanning and hoarding.

Some of these ideas are going to look pretty weird because your paradigm has been constructed around the old paradigm. Try them for a week or two and see what the consequences are. Does anything happen where you can’t get information you need? Do you have more time for your family or other interests? Does your stress level come down?

Learn to use the advanced search features of Google (or the search engine of your choice). Knowing how to make a haystack into a molehill is the best way to free yourself. It will build the confidence that you can find what you need exactly when you need it. Without this confidence you will never be comfortable dropping scanning and hoarding.

{Update} Build your network. Access to experts when you need them is another part of the puzzle. Call your friends, email old colleagues, attend industry events. Also, invest a little time in LinkedIn and Facebook and see which works best for you. I use LinkedIn for professional connections and Facebook for personal.

801108_crossword.jpgStop reading the newspaper. Or just read one with an emphasis on sports, comics, and puzzles. This may seem extreme but most of the information in the paper is “ irrelevant, unimportant, or unactionable” as Ferris noted. Don’t convert this to going to the New York Times website or CNN either – you want to stop the news habit altogether because you are going to be in the business of making your own news.

Cancel half your magazines – then all of them. Almost all magazines have on-line versions that are easier to access, have live links to deeper information if you are interested, and are easily found with a quick search when the topic will make a difference in your day.

Look at your files and toss 50% of them. Keep the financial stuff you need – everything else can go to recycling. The same goes for your hard drive. Then be ruthless about what you do file – only keep the stuff that isn’t time sensitive or easily found on-line. David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” is an enormous help with this.

Learn how to use rules to automatically sort your email. Keep it simple, but do things to pull clutter from your inbox. This allows you to quickly focus on what is important. See one example of what you can do in the next idea.

Automatically file email newsletters in a separate folder. Most of these are just BACN (spam you want to receive). So either unsubscribe or create a mail rule that puts them all into a folder you can scan once a week or month. If you get more than a month behind – just toss it all. Odds are the information in them is available on the organization’s website and easily found if you need it. You would be amazed at how this simple change cleans up your inbox.

Check your email once or twice a day – and never first thing in the morning. As I’ve written elsewhere email overload is mostly a behavioral problem not a technical one. Very few people have jobs where they have to be available for consultation every minute of the day. We do it because it feels productive but it isn’t. Get a couple of critical tasks done before you allow yourself to be interrupted.

Only surf the web during work hours for directly relevant information. No cul-de-sacs of “oh this looks interesting” or mindless link chains. There is a place for curiously seeking out new sites, ideas and information, but it usually isn’t during work hours.

Severely limit your use of RSS. RSS is really automated scanning – and automating an inefficient process just makes it more inefficient. I suggest restricting your feeds to 10 or fewer – try for 5-7. Focus your blog reading on analysis and insight not on news.

I’m sure you can come up with ideas of your own as well – try them. Also be sure to visit Ferris’ site for more ideas and testimonials from people who have tried this.

I leave you with this quote which was cited in Ferris’ book:

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it” Herbert Simon Nobel Laureate in Economics

Next in the series – what does information overload mean for instructional materials?

Information Overload Series

Part 1 – It’s all in your head – really

Part 2 – A cure for “a poverty of attention”

Part 3 – 10 Ways to Build Instructional Products For 21st Century Skills

Part 4 – 10 Ideas to For Marketing & Selling In An Age of Infinite Input

Summary – Closing Thoughts and Resources>

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One response to “Information Overload – Part 2 – A cure for “a poverty of attention””

  1. Really enjoying this series of posts and thanks for sharing these ideas. Now I understand how you keep your productivity level in high gear.