At the Australian Financial Review’s (AFR) Leadership Conference in August 2011, one of the speakers referred to ‘information obesity’. It’s a term that has stuck with me since and brings to mind other terms such as overload, over-consumption, never enough.
Much has been written information overload over the years, it’s not a new topic. The topic continues to be of interest because information is so much more readily available, accessible and storable than it was years ago.
Making the right choice
While information is enormously helpful, stimulating and interesting it can also cause a kind of ‘illness’ for some people if not managed well.
People can feel guilty for not keeping up, not meeting other’s expectations. They can feel stressed with overwhelm. Sometimes the ‘illness’ can come from spending too much time with information, when it might be healthier spending time in other ways. Are we consuming the right kind of information? Too much, not enough? Can we to make the right choice for us? This is a question of personal values; what is a valued activity?
“I became increasingly aware that the relentless diet of information I ordinarily consume leaves me feeling the same way I do after eating a couple of slices of pizza or a hot dog and French fries — poorly nourished and still hungry.” Tony Schwartz, April 2013
In the workplace, do we expect others to know everything? Some of my clients who are most effective when they do what they do best, managing relationships, feel ‘little’ and ineffective in organisations where information and knowledge is the most valued badge of honour. If you love information and knowledge, do you expect the same of the people in your team? What pressure does that put on them?
What can be done
- Use your own wisdom: when is enough enough? Take in only what you need.
- Step back, find perspective: take a break from the need to read everything every day.
- Create a healthy information habit: take in just enough every day to fuel your energy
- Be comfortable with and accepting of the choices you make about how much information you choose to consume
- At work, discuss expectations of information consumption and information sharing. Value everyone’s position about their choices.
I once heard someone say suggest that we could imagine the flow of information like a downpour, a rainstorm. Some of those drops of water stick with us. The rest washes away. We don’t need to save all the litres and gallons of water in huge personal reservoirs to access later. The wisdom is knowing that the few drops that stick with us are all we need at that moment.
I’m thinking about this, and trying to put it into practice (it’s hard!). I have an inbox folder titled ‘read later’, containing 190 items dating back to January 2011 with really interesting things I wanted to read, but had no time the day I filed it. The folder is a little larger each week. Oh, and I also have a folder on my hard drive with documents to read, probably much older than 2011 if I dared to peek inside. I’m considering the implications of deleting both folders. It feels kind of frightening, like the sky might fall in.
ABC Radio National, January 2013, Future Tense program: “The Information Bingers”