Information Overload In Your Inbox

Information Overload costs the U.S. economy ca. $997 billion per year and e-mail related issues are a major contributor to this figure.

I have often likened the e-mail inbox to a form of assembly line. A message comes in, the dreaded ding sounds, and the drone (you) quickly opens the e-mail message and takes appropriate action.

It’s important to put this in perspective because interruptive technologies such as e-mail and instant messaging come with a cost beyond what is apparent.  Each time a knowledge worker is interrupted, there is a time penalty associated with the interruption, which I called “recovery time.”  Recovery time is the time it takes you to get back to where you were before the interruption and, based on my research, it’s 10 to 20 times the duration of the interruption.

There are 78.6 million knowledge workers in the U.S. alone and few, if any are exempt from Information Overload.  In the course of doing research for my book, Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization (Wiley, May 2011), I spoke to hundreds of knowledge workers about the issue.

Stanley Hanks, the chief technology officer of Columbia Ventures, spends a “huge” part of his day sifting through “vast” amounts of information looking for “nuggets that might give us an advantage in our pursuits.” Stanley does what I do: “I read, I pursue links, web search tidbits, e-mail for clarification, for hours on end.”

Thought and reflection is not limited to one specific profession. A software test engineer at a medical device company noted that he is paid, in part, “to think about things and critically analyze them.”  Unfortunately, my research shows that the average knowledge worker only spends five percent of their day in thought and reflection.

But, just as I have found, having all of this information at one’s fingertips is both a blessing and a curse. As Stanley also told me, when he’s working under a tight deadline, trying to finish a project or presentation, “it’s an annoyance.” Some of the key findings in my research include:

  • 66 percent of knowledge workers feel they don’t have enough time to get all of their work done.
  • Over 50 percent of knowledge workers feel that the amount of information they are presented on daily basis is detrimental to getting their work done.
  • 94 percent of those surveyed at some point have felt overwhelmed by information to the point of incapacity.

Keep in mind that most knowledge workers are in the same boat as Richard Solomon, CTO of Creative Technology, who told me that his day consists of “unnecessary emails, badly written, long messages, and misleading subject lines.”

To hear more from Jonathan Spira, join us at Inbox Love on February 25th in Mountain View, CA.

Leave a Reply