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Efficiency

Taming information overload

A public records searcher’s guide to reducing distractions

Should searchers of public records care about a data issue that’s estimated to sap America of 28 billion hours of productivity each year – costing the US economy as much as $997 billion? It’s called information overload, so named by author Jonathan Spira in his book, Information Overload: How Too Much Information is Hazardous to Your Organization.

If you regularly search for information on individuals or businesses, Spira’s definition of information overload will ring true: it’s “an excess of information that results in the loss of ability to make decisions, process information, and prioritize tasks.” Drawing from his research into knowledge workers (that’s you), Spira adds, “94% of those surveyed at some point have felt overwhelmed by information to the point of incapacitation.”

Spira’s presentations at Google and the Information Overload Research Group provide valuable insights on searching for public records. The below perspectives and tips can help make your searches more effective.

Impatience meets entitlement: a cocktail of distractions

Spira says that we’re trapped in what he calls a 24/7 cycle of “The Age of Great Impatience,” where we increasingly know more about less. He adds that his research revealed “a tremendous amount of impatience that grows as you get more information.” It’s not surprising that searchers of public records feel entitled to the instant gratification of immediate answers to their questions, an impatience which can also lead to inaccurate decision-making.

The fastest or easiest option for searching may not yield the right information. Take the time to consider which tools and resources will deliver the best data.

Data can become too much of a good thing

Spira points to Larry Bowden, Vice President of IBM Portal and Digital Experience Software, who said, “Information overload basically slows me down because I’m interacting with information that’s irrelevant and out of context.” Likewise, public records searchers must identify the data sources that have the least amount of irrelevant, out-of-date, or inaccurate data – flotsam that obscures the accurate information you urgently require.

For public records searchers, there’s likely a “right amount” of data for your task – and any more than that could potentially damage your ability to search and find a result effectively.

Data searchers must have a clear view of what qualifies as success and how to define failure

What do knowledge workers do?” asks Spira. “Number one, knowledge workers search – most of the time, we know, they don’t find things. There’s an oft-cited statistic that 50% of all searches fail. But we found that 50% of the searches that people think succeeded actually failed, and they don’t realize it.”

Make sure you have checks and balances to ensure you know you’ve gotten the results you need. This may mean periodic tests of your search tools to verify they’re delivering accurate, useful results.

Interruptions are a records searcher’s worst enemy

Spira claims that as much as 28% of a knowledge worker’s day is consumed by unnecessary interruptions. What’s more, “interruptions don’t occur in isolation,” says Spira. “Interruptions come with a penalty. I named it ‘recovery time.’ Recovery time is the time it takes you to get back to where you were before you had the interruption. The amount of recovery time is significant; it’s 10 to 20 times the amount of the interruption, in general.”

Spira’s formula means it can take five minutes to get back on track after a 30-second interruption. This makes search time sacred. Find ways to eliminate interruptions during these periods.

Distracting interruptions come in every shape and size

Spira notes that information overload isn’t just about the overwhelming nature of text such as emails blind copied to 500 coworkers or endless instant messages. The overload that threatens your efficiency includes visual, aural, and other data of all types, including that of coworkers interrupting your work and digital advertising interrupting your online browsing.

Take stock of the extraneous data that interrupts your workflow. Reducing these intrusions, even slightly, can have a dramatic effect on your efficiency.

There’s no silver bullet for defeating information overload, but it can be tamed. With Spira’s insights and strategies, you can make manageable changes to help you search more effectively and efficiently.

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