Next week, I’m speaking on a panel at Overloaded 2013 called “Can technology save us?”. We’re going to be discussing some of the ways technology can help to keep us from getting totally overwhelmed by our ever-expanding access to information. In preparing for the conference I’ve come across some interesting perspectives on how today’s abundance of information affects our lives. Here are some examples.
Matt Cutts is an engineer at Google, and he’s been doing a series of 30-day personal experiments. In his latest one, he takes a step back from email, social media, and news. He learned that he was able to get more things done, and still didn’t miss out on important information. He also made the observation that he can make his communications ‘scale’ better by responding to emailed questions in a different medium, such as with a public video or a blog post.
In this post, Lifehacker breaks down several often-repeated ideas related to time management and productivity. Several of them relate to information overload, how do deal with it, and the scary things it may (or may not) be doing to our brains.
The office itself can be one of the biggest sources of information overload, and sometimes the best thing to do is just get away from it. Office environments, even with awesome co-workers, usually mean a fairly steady stream of interruptions. Ducking out to a coffee shop for a few hours a couple times a week can give you some time away from the usual work-related distractions. And it may be just enough of a shake-up to help you bust out of normal work routines, like constantly checking email, and actually get some real focused work done.
It’s no surprise that there are a huge number of services, tools and methodologies for dealing with distractions and staying focused. The amount of information we have to swim through on a daily basis requires us to have some kind of system, right? This article in the Wall Street Journal examines the fact that no productivity system is for everyone and looks at some of the things you should think about when looking to adopt a new approach.
It’s pretty easy to think of information overload as an entirely modern phenomenon. I mean, how overloaded could you possibly get before the internet started shooting you in the face with a never-ending firehose of news, status updates, and pictures of kittens? Turns out, it’s been an issue, in one form or another, for a good long while. Here’s a look at information overload from a historical perspective.
With all the talk about how information overload is this big, complicated problem that needs to be fixed, it’s important to remember that information has opened the door to some pretty amazing things. Each year, Bill Gates publishes an annual letter, where he discusses his thoughts on issues the world should focus on for the coming year. This year, he’s focused on information. He makes a strong case for using measurement tools to make real, lasting, positive changes on many global issues. He provides some great examples of how having more information generally leads to better outcomes. He’s focused on large, world-changing issues, but I think some of the principles he talks about work equally well on a smaller scale, as shown by the QuantifiedSelf movement.