How to Handle Information Overload?

“640K ought to be enough for anybody” – Bill Gates. Yes, that was Bill Gates – Microsoft Founder during early 1980s on the maximum memory that people will require for their computers. When I’m writing this article using Microsoft Word on my laptop running on Microsoft Windows whose 160 GB hard disk will be almost full once I finish this article – there can’t be a better irony than this. Notwithstanding Bill Gates’ wise prediction the number of transistors on integrated circuits is doubling every two years following the famous Moore’s law. Following graph shows Moore’s law in action.

Moore's Law
In last few years we have seen the introduction of Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad and Quad Core processors. So, in short the memory size and processing capacity of the computers is ever increasing. Now comes the question whether the memory and processing powers of human beings are also following the Moore’s law or not. And my guess is as good as yours. We are living in the information era. But how much information one can consume? It is said that it will take more than the lifetime of a person to consume the amount of information that is added to the World Wide Web every hour.

information-overload
There can be no second opinion about the value of information. But as the volume of information increases it becomes increasingly tougher to separate the useful information from the useless noise. And the access to e-mail, instant messenger and social media only exacerbates the situation. So, what do we do? As a normal response to the problem of information overload – people tend to resort to multitasking. In the rest of the article we will concentrate on this issue of multitasking and see how good it is for you and me.

Consider a typical youth of today – one ear to mobile phone, other listening to iPod, one hand typing SMS, another surfing the net, one eye on laptop screen and other one on – you guess what! And they proudly say – we are multitaskers. It is not the story of some alien youth – it is the story of you and me. How many times in last one week you found yourself eating snacks, talking to a friend over mobile and typing on your instant messenger at the same time! Typically it has been the job of computer processors to do multitasking and parallel processing – both of which essentially means the same – doing multiple acts at the same time. But is that really effective? Till yesterday your guess was as good as mine. But thanks to the researchers at Stanford University – we have the answer with us now.

The study concludes that multitasking essentially reduces efficiency and effectiveness. “Multitaskers were just lousy at everything,” according to Clifford I. Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford and one of the study’s investigators. The researchers started with the hypothesis that multitaskers had special abilities. But found that multitaskers were actually quite ineffective at managing information, maintaining attention, and getting results. Compared to study participants who did things one task at a time, they were mediocre. So, now you have got a clue. But hey, stop for a moment! It does not mean your should resort to single-tasking – that is again inefficient in today’s fast world. So, what is the solution – you ask?

Ron Ashkenas – the author of the latest article “To Multitask Effectively, Focus on Value, Not Volume” published by Harvard Business Publishing seems to have an answer. And this is what he suggests, “the answer is to shift our mindsets from a focus on volume to a focus on value. Instead of checking off all the boxes and trying to get everything done, let’s identify those activities and initiatives that will truly add value. It’s OK not to do certain things, or to do them later. For example, in a recent merger, a team was debating whether to adopt Lotus Notes or Outlook as the standard email system. It’s an interesting discussion, but in the short term it’s not a value-creator for the combined company. We all have choices to make, as individuals and as managers of organizations. What can you do to make sure that those choices are based on value rather than volume?” The author also suggests that this strategy is equally if nor more important for businesses as well. If multitasking reduces effectiveness of an individual – it is anybody’s guess what will happen to organizations which are essentially nothing but group of individuals.

So, here is the final conclusion: do multitasking but focus on what is value add and ignore what is not. In today’s world master of one trade won’t suffice – but that does not mean we try to become master of all trades and in reality become Jack of all trades. Better focus on a few that you can manage and put all your efforts in those. To put it in a better manner – focus on your core competencies. And, while deciding what your core competencies should be you should keep these two things in mind–
1. Do what you are capable of and you never lack confidence!
2. Do what you love to do and you never work for a single day in your life!

So, that’s it! Please leave comments so that we can learn and benefit from your thoughts on the topic. We would love to hear back from you! :D

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About Angshu

This article is authored by Angshu. He is a PhD Scholar in Marketing at a leading B-School. He is interested in marketing, management, psychology, philosophy and technology. Angshu is also a social media addict and an amateur poet. You can contact him by: Gmail | Facebook | LinkedIn

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