Turn on the filters, turn down the noise

Are you overwhelmed with 'stuff'? Andy Tattersall shares his Top Ten 'filters for the workplace' tips and tools.

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There is no getting away from it; many of us are drowning in information and data on a personal and professional level.

We are bombarded by text messages, emails, Social Media updates, instant messages, videos, presentations, and that is before we get onto newspapers, marketing, television, phone calls and good old fashioned meetings to name but a few.

For academics and students this could have serious implications as, by their very nature, they need to be focused to achieve high standards of output. Academics usually become good at what they do by being able to spend protected amounts of time reading, writing and thinking about one problem or topic. They become experts by retaining that focus and building their knowledge up over periods of concentrated time. There are always exceptions to those rules with some gifted individuals able to attain high standards in many different fields with diverse skills as writers, teachers, technicians, thinkers and orators. Nevertheless given the incredible pressures placed on academics and student’s time and the ever louder intrusions on their concentration and space it is increasingly likely that more and more will have fractured work-lives.

If you are not sold on this idea, I want you to consider this. Only 20 years ago it was easier for people to leave work behind.  We had no mobile phones interrupting us and no emails to check and reply to. Fast forward to the turn of this century we now had the Web and mobile phones. It became easier to work on the go and be contactable, we could check our emails at home and anywhere that had an Internet connect, regardless of how slow it was compared to today’s standards. Fast forward a decade and we got our first smartphones, broadband became widespread, (I’m not going to go as far and say ubiquitous) and tablets had started appearing, all of which afforded us greater connectivity. This is not a rallying cry to say all of these developments are bad.  Anyone who knows me knows I am a strong advocate for information technology. But, like chocolate and alcohol, too much of it can have detrimental effect on our health.

The expansion of technology and the ease of availability via networks mean it is increasingly hard to switch off. In the past we would go home to get away from the outside world, or go to spas and retreats, but for many that barrier has gone as people on holiday and in retreats post photos and social updates to show their latest move. I have fallen into the trap of replying to work emails whilst on holiday as have several of my colleagues, only to find their stress levels creep up as they try and solve problems from hundreds of miles away. To maintain balance I am not suggesting you shut off work outside of the office - it comes down to personal choices and prerogatives - but there needs to be greater awareness and balance for those on the slippery slope to losing control of their concentration and protected time.

Fractured roles

For many involved in the library and information profession it is already a big problem. We have fractured roles that often require multiple modes of delivery and communication. The profession embraces social media, use of video and the very nature of information and library work requires delving deep in to multiple pots of data and information. So far I have written with no solutions and have not as yet used the term 'information overload' -  there you go, I’ve mentioned it, we can all move on. For some it does not exist, as Clay Shirky once said; "It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure." He might well be right; nevertheless for most people I come into contact with it feels like an overload, a deluge of data and content we struggle to maintain and in time will increasingly fail to cope with.

So to try and redress the balance of 'information overload' (cough) and the fragmentation of working lives a little here are ten suggestions to help you filter out the noise and help focus a bit better.

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