Information overload.

Note: I originally wrote this entry at 6 AM Tuesday morning but Community Server upgrade issues prevented my posting until now.

Last week I traveled with Jenny to Tahoe, NV to snowboard (well, she skis) Heavenly with her family. The snowboarding was great (landed far more jumps than ever before) but I was surprised to find just how disconnected from the electronic world I ended up. Between familial obligations and lack of easy internet access meant I had only my smart phone to keep up with my regular communication channels.

I’m sure a lot of people would say that is exactly what a vacation is for: to unplug and just enjoy yourself untethered from the real world. However, sometimes I like to keep up with what is going on in the "unreal world" even if I’m not participating wholly. Other times I try to stay in contact simply to ease reentry when the holiday is over.

The latter is exactly what I was trying to do while not riding the snow covered California/Nevada state line. Ease the information overload I was certain that would be awaiting me after nine days incommunicado. Which brings me to my point.

Even though I deleted approximately 500 email messages using my smart phone, I returned to work yesterday with over 1,500 email messages. I certainly don’t have to respond to all 1,500 but I do need to absorb the data in at least 80% of them. That means I only need to mentally process 1,200 messages and respond to some subset of that.

I have been using bits and pieces of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) for about six months but I haven’t quite figured out how to get the system to scale up to handle the amount of input I get today. I skimmed through Take Back Your Life (which attempts to implement GTD using Outlook) and found the section where the author talks about handling lots of email. She suggested that a single individual really process more than 100 to 150 email messages (or maybe it was 200) a day. She then suggested a few things to reduce your email traffic like unsubscribe from nonessential mailing lists and always respond with complete email messages to reduce the chances of further questions.

I nearly threw the book (which I had borrowed from the library) across the room. I easily get twice the "recommended daily allowance" of email by simply listening on essential mailing lists. It only gets noisier (hopefully with a decent signal ratio) if I respond.

So begins Day 2. I haven’t processed much of the backlogged email yet but I didn’t fall much further behind either. Yesterday, I spent four hours in meetings, struggled with some systems that had been updated (the new use instructions had been sent in email) and actually took care of eight or so bugs (which is my primary task right now).

But as I was telling people yesterday, if you’re waiting on an email from me then I’d suggest swinging by my office instead. It might be a while before I get back through all of my email.

Comments (3)

  1. Imagine a blog entry where I identify with Kathy Sierra’s "Death by risk aversion" blog entry.

  2. Erv Walter says:

    I tried the GTD addin but never found it efficient enough (too many clicks and too inflexible) to deal with a high volume of work either.

    For a while, I have been using ClearContext (another Outlook addin) that isn’t strickly GTD, but allows similar approaches (and I think people have acutally implemented the GTD principles using ClearContext). I found it to be a bit quicker to organize my email and followups using it.

  3. Might not be applicable, but sometimes I have found that e-mail communication is used within a team where is would be better off using some sort of collaborative (?) info store like a wiki.