- Most knowledge workers lose about 28% of their day or 2.1 hours a day to constant interruptions.
- A common result is pseudo ADD, a term coined by two Harvard psychology professors to explain addiction to the bombardment of information.
- We get black and white thinking and we start to lose perspective and shades of gray, and we get constant low level feeling of panic and guilt.
If you read my last article ‘Don’t make email the first thing of the day’, you may have been a tad surprised. (And if you’re one of the small number of people who do need to check email first thing, just ignore that recommendation.)
For the rest of us, email overload is always in the top 5 most common problems workshop participants complain about.
There are two core issues.
- Information overload and what it’s doing to our productivity.
- How long it takes to get refocused when we’re interrupted.
First, information overload. You’ll be interested in who is researching and offering advice – much of it seemingly counter-intuitive to the way many people manage their daily digital load.
- Intel, since 1995.
- Harvard researchers.
- Basex, a New York- based research company. They specialise in information overload.
- Microsoft and Google. They’re members and contribute both financially and with research to the Information Overload Research Group, a non-profit interest group which began in 2008. It’s dedicated to raising awareness, sharing research results and promoting solutions to help people manage information overload.
- Many other time management experts around the world, including Steuart Snooks, an Australian email and information overload expert from Australia.
And interruptions? They come from many sources – face-to-face from colleagues or customers; any form of digital delivery – email, text, phone, SMS; and often we interrupt ourselves – because our focus is distracted for a range of reasons.
I interviewed Steuart Snooks last year for our GettingAGrip Inner Circle membership programme. We went into a lot more detail than I can give in this short article, covering both the key points of his white paper ‘The 8 Critical Impacts of Information and Email Overload’ and some solutions. Below I share a few points and you can download an 8-page summary of the interview at www.gettingagrip.com/steuart-snooks-email-information-overload/
So, ready for the shocking statistics?
Most knowledge workers lose about 28% of their day or 2.1 hours a day to constant interruptions.
It’s not the interruption itself, which might only be very brief, that’s the issue. Nor is it the method of delivery. The problem is the recovery time. It can take an extraordinary amount of time to get back the train of thought we had before the interruption occurred. Typically it will take 10-20 times the length of the interruption before we can refocus (and that’s if we’re not interrupted again!) For example, a 30 second interruption will take 5-10 minutes to recover from. This accumulates quite alarmingly over the period of a day. The information is often very relevant but it’s the timing of its arrival (if we don’t control it) that causes the damage. If we’re already working on a higher priority task when it arrives, it has a strong negative impact.
Steuart Snooks: ‘A common result is pseudo ADD, a term coined by two Harvard psychology professors to explain addiction to the bombardment of information. They noticed that many people are experiencing shortened attention span because of the forms of communications used today. This has a sustained negative neurological effect as well. It isn’t an illness; it’s purely a response to the hyper-kinetic environment in which we live.
‘So when a manager is desperately trying to deal with more than he can possibly handle, the brain and body get locked into a circle where the brain’s frontal lobes lose their sophistication. We get black and white thinking and we start to lose perspective and shades of gray. People with this sort of difficulty struggle to stay organised, to set priorities and to manage their time. They experience a constant low level feeling of panic and guilt.
‘We must be careful that our technology doesn’t drive our behavior and that we actually have a behavior that is right for the technology. Then we make sure we’re the master and it stays as the slave.’
Paul Chin, in his online journal ‘Dealing with information overload’: “Rampant multi-tasking and the deluge of available information has produced a counterproductive culture and created a paradox. The more we try to do the less we get done. And the more inundated we are with information the less time we spend absorbing it.”
Individual situations vary, but for many of us, some things we can’t control but a surprising amount we can – if we change a few simple things.
Robyn Pearce (known as the Time Queen) runs an international time management and productivity business, helping people find more time. She’s based in New Zealand. Get your free report ‘How To Master Time In Only 90 Seconds’ and ongoing time tips at www.gettingagrip.com.
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