One of my New Year’s resolutions is to reduce distractions. It’s about curating your network but allowing time for strategic serendipity. I’ll be writing about that topic in the weeks and months to come.
I’ve discovered some wonderful discussion threads about one of my favorite topics: Information Overload and Strategies for Coping. As George Siemens points out the issue of information overload is not new. His definition of the problem is that it gets in the way of sustained mindfulness in order to get something meaningful done. What is the solution? Is it human (habits and skills) or machine (technology/software) or a combination of both?
RSS readers worked for us in the early phases of social media, but as more people are connected through social networks and sharing and publishing information, there is more and more information out there. Our simple methods for curation may no longer be effective. There are also new and more sophisticated tools that we can add to our toolbox to deal with the resulting information overload.
Robert Scoble outlines different categories of filtering tools that can help you swim through the ocean of noise to find the good stuff. Robin Good has a more comprehensive taxonomy of these tools.
Paginator: These tools organize your social sources and streams into neat and organized pages. Tools: Flipboard, Paper.li, and Instapaper.
Algorithmic: These tools find sources and people to follow or of interest based on your past choices and use a mathematical formula. Examples: My6Sense and Genieo.
Filtering: These tools let you filter and sift through social streams based on keyword searches and allow your sort based on different criteria. Examples: DataSift and Research.ly
Curation: These are curated sources by communities and networks of people. Examples include: Pearltrees, Curated.by, and Storify
Aggregation: These tools aggregate sources/content on a central site. Examples include: Techmeme, Google News, and Huffington Post.
Human Approaches: Skills and Habits Are Key
My personal feeling is that tools can help, but you need to develop the right habits and skills or else the tools might create more information overload. Scott Berkun suggests that good information coping habits are a must and that tools like Rescue Time are useful because they inform you about your habits so you can improve them. What exactly are those skills and habits?
Mindful Choices: Be very selective about your content and the people you follow. Design your system to achieve your goals – whether they are scanning or to produce a specific product. Remember, you don’t have to read every word.
Time Box: Setting time limits is important, especially for scanning time. Time boxing – putting tasks or activities into discrete time chunks can help minimize unproductive “bouncing.” This is important if connectedness is giving ADDolas (“Add oh look there’s a squirrel!). So, time box your social network time into short discrete chunks and also allow enough time for projects that require deeper concentration and immersion. It is a balancing act in your calendar and to do list.
People Filters: You don’t know need to know everything or be an expert on everything. Identify those people are immersed in a topic or subject matter area and follow them. That way you don’t have to wade through so much useless information to get to the good stuff, unless it is your job. We work in nonprofits and time is our most valuable asset. While Robert Scoble can spend the day scanning the new technology landscape, most of us who work in nonprofits can’t do that. So, why not just follow Scoble or other experts and use that saved time on a mission-driven task? Harold Jarche breaks this down further in his post about Networked Learning.
Slow Down: If you are not leaving time to process information because you’re onto the next link or click, then slow down. Pick something to focus on and go deep. It’s better to get it right than go too fast.
Take Breaks: There’s nothing like shutting off the damn computer or mobile phone and going for a walk. Okay, even if you don’t shut down and walk around your desk or leave your mobile phone in another room. Another strategy is to take a technology break for a couple of days. It really helps. And when you come back, don’t forget that the delete button can your best friend. This is especially true for non-mission critical items.
Alain De Botton says it better:
The need to diet, which we know so well in relation to food, and which runs so contrary to our natural impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting.
Balancing Connectedness With Solitude
This is brief talk by Ben Fullterton talks about Finding Balance: Designing for Solitude is not a technophobe’s rant against social media and digital technology. It’s a thoughtful reflection from a designer about how our current “always-on” state impacts our behavior. One issue is that finding solitude – the ability to switch off and contemplate – is becoming more difficult.
How do you balance connectedness with solitude? What combination of software tools or habits do you use to achieve that balance?
Update: Seth Godin has published a terrific post “Lost in a Digital World” suggests the villain is not distraction, but procrastination. “The danger is not distraction, the danger is the ability to hide.” He asks what happens to your productivity when your turn off the digital world? I’m finding that I’m a lot more productive, what about you?