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Organization

Managing Information Overload

You are sitting in a vendor selection meeting and you have not had time to thoroughly review the written materials, let alone review the web-sites. The next day you are with a client. The information that will help you make a wise choice is in a series of journals you should have read. Your current reading stack is aging faster than you are. Computers have simply added to the stacks of paper. Do you feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that you feel you should keep up on? Does a Google search immerse you in fascinating tidbits and interesting tangents? Is there never enough time to concentrate, absorb and think? You may be suffering from information overload. Here are some of the symptoms. You may notice CRS, Administrativia and the Imposter Phenomena becoming more frequent.

CRS stands for "Can't Remember Stuff." No, it is not only caused by age. Constant bombardment will have the same effect. Memory dysfunction occurs when you overload yourself and it will often cause other previously remembered items to be dumped. For example, the meeting you just attended ran overtime with no conclusions reached. Once outside the building you now cannot remember a thing the presenter said or where you parked the car. That also accounts for your getting up from your chair for the express purpose of getting a client file from the next office and once there having no idea why you dropped by.

Administrativia can also be a function of information anxiety. This is where paper inhibits your ability to perform a task. You have probably worked with someone who keeps revising a written document when it does not matter. Five or six drafts are not uncommon. The memo does not get any better, it just becomes different. Another version is when a person misses the big picture. A form is returned to you because you wrote "zero" instead of "none" in the column. The fact that in this context they meant the same did not matter. The form being filled out properly was more important to the recipient.

The Imposter Syndrome kicks in when our anxiety level is over the top. It is when we routinely say "uh huh" and nod our heads when we really have no clue about what the speaker really means. Or worse yet pretending we understand the implications after reading a one paragraph summary of the most recent best selling management book carried in USA Today.

When you experience anxiety and stress because you do not have enough time in the foreseeable future to catch up be aware that reading everything is not the solution. According to Richard Saul Wurman, author of the book Information Anxiety, worry about all this information floating around is really the fear that the world is passing us by. Information Anxiety "is produced by the ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. It happens when information doesn't tell us what we want to know."

Getting all the reading done will not eliminate anxiety because raw data, or unorganized bits of information, is meaningless. What we read must have meaning, we must understand it, and it needs to have immediate application. Without thorough understanding, information alone is of no value. There is however, hope. Here are some strategies to help you survive information tidal wave.

Getting all the reading done will not eliminate anxiety because raw data, or unorganized bits of information, is meaningless. What we read must have meaning, we must understand it, and it needs to have immediate application. Without thorough understanding, information alone is of no value. There is however, hope. Here are some strategies to help you survive the information tidal wave.

  1. Realize your limitations. Decide what kind of information is essential to what you do and the way you live. Do not try to absorb everything.
  2. Be ruthless about deciding what to read. Just because an item is interesting is not good enough. Will you use it again in the next 3 months? If not, pass it by.
  3. Focus on information that helps you see the big picture. How does this help you do your job better? How does this fit in with your new marketing efforts?
  4. Immediately relate new ideas or concepts to something else you already know. Find a connection to anchor the information to the real world. Think of adding onto a house. The foundation is what you know now. Attach each new idea to some part of the building you are constructing.
  5. Reduce your "to read" pile. Toss or recycle anything 6 months old or older.

Finally, be fair to yourself. Even quitting your job and reading full time would not keep you up to date. Give yourself permission to let go of all the stuff you could possibly know or that it would be nice to know. Screen everything, looking for relevant information. Concentrate on truly understanding that which you read and anchoring it to events, concepts and tasks that you face regularly. And the next time someone asks whether you have read the latest management book and you start to hyperventilate, just ask yourself, is he or she as busy as you are? If so, they probably have not read it either.



Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: odette@SmartWaysToWork.com. Visit us at: www.smartwaystowork.com call: 1-800-599-8463.

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