Information Overload is a large and growing problem that detrimentally affects individual, group, and organizational performance and productivity.
It is a condition in which there is more information available to review then can be effectively analyzed, or where the rate of information being received is higher than can be efficiently processed.
The increasing pace of Information Overload
Information Overload is not a new problem. In the past century, you could walk into a library or bookstore and be subject to “information overload”, as there was more information available then you could digest in a lifetime. In fact, there are critical articles dating back to the inventions of the printing press, radio, telephone, and television, all of which reference the detrimental impact of each new media source on society.
However, in the past few decades, there have been large leaps in technology making information overload an even greater challenge to individuals and organizations. There has been a vast increase in the sheer amount (volume) of available data, the speed (velocity) of data production, and the consumption of information through entirely new media sources (channels).
Information Processing and Productivity
From a productivity standpoint, a huge amount of time is spent by today’s knowledge workers “living” in their Email systems, “surfing” the Internet, and “conversing” via Social Media. Just processing Email alone accounts for roughly 30% of their day, with up to 50% of their time consumed within an information or communication channel.
Although much of this is legitimate activity for working in today’s virtual business environments, some of it is not. Most concerning is how often work is performed in a highly ineffective and inefficient manner.
Research has repeatedly found that most people do not have the appropriate tools, training, or skills to navigate today’s multitude of technologies and media channels.
The result is poor productivity, missed deadlines, lost opportunities, miscommunication, and stress.
The Three Legged-Stool: Organizational, Behavioral, Technological
Research has found that you need to improve productivity skills across three dimensions:
Organizational, Behavioral, and Technological.
These comprise a “three legged stool” that provides the foundation to better manage information and communication.
Organizational Skills include creating corporate norms, rules, and standards on how to use tools appropriately within a business. This includes when it is “appropriate” to use different types of media channels, such as “Email” “Video”, and “Chats”.
Behavioral Skills include providing individuals with techniques to be more personally productive. Examples include turning-off distracting notifications, checking Emails only at pre-set times, and learning to effectively “process” your Inbox.
Technological Skills include training users to effectively utilize technology. Research has found most business users are not trained in the fundamentals of many routine systems such as Email, and utilize only a fraction of its features and functions.
Technology – Neither the cause nor the solution
Many articles focus only on the impact of technology as the source of Information Overload. The approach is for people to “blame the technology’ as the source of their woes, or in some cases, to even look to it as their “productivity saviors”.
Unfortunately, this approach misses the important behavioral and organizational factors. Those looking to gain information processing and productivity improvements should focus on “all three legs” of the stool.
In the coming years, there are likely to be further developments in information creation and processing. Key areas of growth are already happening in artificial intelligence, bio-integrated devices, and virtual-reality. These and other new technologies are likely to further shape and challenge our information processing capabilities.
Technology can be a great ally to increased productivity.
But it can also be its greatest stumbling-block as well.
It is important that adoption of new technologies is supported by behavioral learnings and organizational paradigm shifts to maximize their value and realize true productivity gains.