Drowning in a sea of Data?

Published December 3rd, 2008 in Blog, Strategies and Hints

Have you heard the term, “Unprocessed Data?” Even if the term isn’t familiar, I’m betting you are personally experiencing or living with unprocessed data. This is when information is coming more quickly than we can recognize, reflect, organize, reject, respond to, learn from, adapt to, take advantage of or interpret. Some examples of unprocessed data may be spam, newsletters or memos. We just can’t keep up with the wave of information bearing down on us daily and as much as I hate to say it, behind this wave is an ocean full of the stuff.

The impact of unprocessed data runs from generalized anxiety to a feeling of being completely overwhelmed. If we allow it to distract  us, we become unfocused and reactive. That is when the information begins to manage us.

What can you do to “process the data” and manage information more effectively?

1: Clarify your goals. There is a great deal of information out there; that doesn’t mean that it’s relevant to you. When your vision and goals are crystal clear, the “sea of information” will part and you will find it easier to focus on what has real impact.

2: Ask better questions. It’s been said, “To some degree the quality of our lives will be determined by the questions we ask.” I have personally found truth in that. When organizations ask better questions, they create opportunities for honest feedback. They are also more prepared for challenges and opportunities.  When individuals have the courage to ask better questions, they are more prepared and become more valuable.

The most amazing thing happens when you begin to ask better questions. Answers appear. (There’s no coincidence here. We will always find what we are looking for, just as we are constantly moving towards what we think about.)

What are the “better questions?” There are no right or wrong answers here, but I can offer a few suggestions.

a. Where are my skills becoming outdated?

b. What am I learning and how am I applying it to my life and my work?

c. Where do I need to broaden my knowledge so I can be more effective?

d. How is my job or industry changing? What will I need to know and understand the future?

e. Where is my next opportunity? How am I making myself more available for it?

f. What are my current challenges (also known as problems and frustrations) inviting me to learn?

3: Do the postmortem. In corporate terms, that means take a moment (and a breath) at the completion of a project. Think about what worked, what didn’t, what you learned, and what you would do differently. Postmortems must be “blame-free” zones. This is not about rationalizing or justifying anything. It is a wide-eyed objective look at how things turned out. On an individual scale, the postmortem is personal debrief. It is maximizing your experience by drawing wisdom out of it. You can manage the onslaught of information by becoming more reflective.

4: Make technology work for you. Use web feeds and RSS alerts . Manage information by opting in (and out) of the flow. Is there a topic you are interested in or need to know more about? Set up a news alert or an RSS feed on your internet search engine.  When news happens around that subject, links are pushed to you in a summary format. At the same time, opting out is also important. If you are receiving information that is not relevant, get off the list! (That includes the weekly report you have been receiving at work for the past five years. You know the one you get but don’t read or need?) Initially it takes a little time and effort to opt out of some of these lists, but in the long run, you win.

5: Trust yourself. Be decisive about what you need and what you don’t. Go through your email inbox and delete the messages that have been sitting there for 9 months gathering electronic dust. Delete old information. (Honestly, the shelf life of information these days is about a nanosecond.)  This is a good time of the year to let it go! Sometimes we collect and hold onto information because somehow we think it will make us better. We need it to feel secure. We don’t use or look at it, we just collect it. I promise, if you’ve been getting along this long without it, you don’t need it. Be decisive with paper too. Read it, respond to it, refer it, file it or throw it away. Think of it this way: Paper (even electronic paper) has a destiny; your job is to move that transaction forward.

With steps like these, you are still sailing on a sea of information, but you have firmly taken the wheel and you will be in charge of the direction it takes you.
Have a great week!