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Happy Information Overload Day!

Doug Gross
More filters and less e-mail are needed to stem information overload, experts say.
More filters and less e-mail are needed to stem information overload, experts say.
  • Wednesday is "Information Overload Awareness Day"
  • Experts say sending 10 percent less e-mail each day would have a $180 billion impact worldwide
  • Setting up more filters is a way to cut down on info clutter, which won't go away

(CNN) -- Put the BlackBerry on mute. Don't check your e-mail every time the pop-up box appears on your computer screen.

And -- crazy concept, we know -- pick up the phone if you need something done quickly.

Today is Information Overload Awareness Day. And technology and efficiency experts are urging people to take stock of how an increasing flood of digital data is slowing down their personal and professional lives.

"What we are finding is that we have an attention deficit going on," Shelly Palmer, a tech blogger and host of the daily MediaBytes webcast, told CNN's Ali Velshi. Video "There's only a finite amount of time you have each day to spend doing anything, and you just run out of time."

October 20 was declared Information Overload Awareness Day by a group of companies and academics focused on workplace productivity and emerging technology.

The average "knowledge worker" -- basically, anyone who works on a computer -- gets about 93 e-mails a day, according to Basex, one of the companies promoting the non-holiday.

If they all sent 10 percent fewer e-mails, Basex says, it would have a $180 billion annual impact worldwide in the workplace.

Add text messages, social-networking sites like Facebook and good old-fashioned Web surfing, and the amount of information at the fingertips of today's worker can be overwhelming.

"What's happening is a blessing and a curse," said Marsha Egan, a professional efficiency coach. "What's happening is this fabulous technology that enables us to send instant messages and instant emails all over the globe in milliseconds.

"But anything used to excess can become a liability. Because people can be connected 24/7, many of them are."

Egan recommends that clients check their e-mail five times a day.

Responding instantly to every note that hits the inbox sucks more time than people might realize, she said.

"Every interruption has what they call a recovery time," she said. "If someone walks by the office and says, 'What did you think about the Rangers game last night?' ... It takes you 20 seconds to answer. But then you have to remember where you were. Then you think, 'Maybe I'll go get a cup of coffee, or I'll check my eBay listing.' "

She also advises bosses not to send "toxic e-mails," meaning messages that require immediate attention.

"Everyone just learns that they have to have it dinging and flashing and open just in case the boss e-mails," she said. "The best gift any group can give each other is to never use e-mail urgently. If you need it within three hours, pick up the phone."

Palmer also stresses what he calls information filters. With a constant stream of Twitter tweets, Facebook updates and RSS feed items to distract us, we need to turn to fewer, not more, places to get our information.

"[For example] CNN does a nice job of filtering the news. ... That's a filter," he said. "We all put all kinds of filters on the news we consume or the information we consume. And that gives it a context, and it makes it valuable to use."

In 2008, technology writer and New York University instructor Clay Shirky gave a presentation at the Web 2.0 conference in New York titled "It's Not Information Overload; It's Filter Failure."

"For 15 years, we've been reading the same story about information overload," he said. "Thinking about information overload isn't actually describing the problem. Thinking about filter failure is."

Other tips from Egan:

• Ignore less important e-mails, which make up the vast majority of your inbox, until you've dealt with the handful of actually important ones.

• Save social-networking sites and Web browsing (if they're allowed on your job) for pre-set break times, and set yourself a time limit for them.

• Turn off work gadgets, like BlackBerrys, when you get home. If someone needs you urgently, they can call.


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