Original cartoon from Rob Cottiingham Social Signal
Yesterday, in preparation for a session I'm doing at BlogHer Boston, I created a quiz for folks to self-assess how much information overload was a factor. I got some great feedback and was able to revise the quiz - thanks.
One of the questions was to identify whether or not you are spending too much time online. The question "Is the only time you're offline when you're sleeping or going to the bathroom?" Well, it seems that some people Twitter from the toilet with their cell phones and others, if the Internet connection is good, take their laptops with them too. So, that question was revised!
Laura Whitehead scored a reasonable 9 on the quiz (which means she has some good and bad habits). She wrote up a brilliant reflection on how she is changing some of her online work habits. Jack Vinson, who scored an admirable 5, noted it isn't about the too much information, it's more about behavior. And, Gavin Clabaugh went a few steps further and deconstructed my quiz into the components that lead to the symptoms of information overload.
Now that we've acknowledged the problem or a desire to do better, what are the best surefire tips?
Here's what I came up with - what am I missing?
You'll never be "caught up" and that's okay
Do not feel bad about not reading the digital avalanche of email, blog posts, or web content. Get what you can get in an reasonable amount of time, don't worry about the rest. The important information will rise to the top. Don't feel guilty about mark all read or the delete button. It can be your best friend.
You don't have read every word - word for word
Scanning and pattern recognition is a really important skill to have been you need to look at a lot of information. Don't feel that you have to read every blog post of the blogs you're tracking. It helps if you identify what you need to know before drinking from the fire hydrant.
Don't live at the post office, on Twitter, or your blog software
Set a frequency for answering blog comments via email, doing outreach, reading blogs, writing posts and other tasks. Set the time of day to check-in and a time limit - this is called time boxing. Stick to it; ignore your blog, email, or twitter until those magic times.
The only time you're offline should NOT be when your are sleeping or in the bathroom. Although some people admit to twittering from the bathroom on their mobile phones and I'm sure there are others who have taken their laptops into the bathroom if the Internet reception is good. The idea is that you don't have to check your email or respond to Twitter or blog posts in real time. No one is going to die if you don't respond within 3 minutes. Remember to sort and prioritize what is urgent and what is not.
Know when to turn the damn computer off and take a walk
It is important to carve out patches of time to allow yourself for understanding and processing the information you have consumed. This might mean disconnecting electronically on purpose. A scary thought to some but yes, power down, log off and turn off the phone and go for a walk.
If you feel you have lost your concentration and productivity, it may be the stress that you give yourself by staring a monitor for too long. It is a good idea to stretch every 15-20 minutes. Even better to get up and take a walk. Drinking lots of water will not only help force you to get up from your desk, but also keep you hydrated. And, when you take a break, don't take your Iphone with you!
What other types would you recommend?