How to Deter Data Deluge

January 30, 2011

Isn’t it ironic that I’ve been meaning to blog about information overload since last Wednesday and that I haven’t been able to get to it because of, well, information overload?! The sheer amount of call-to-action emails I received last week alone would make any IT department head’s spin.

Prioritization is indeed an important skill. Even as things are swirling about us, we need to be able to say, “I will get to this on Monday.” Expectation management, prioritization’s close cousin, reminds us (and those around us) that there truly are limits to what we are capable of doing at any given moment.

According to Peter Drucker’s 1967 classic, The Effective Executive, “most of the tasks of the executive require, for minimum effectiveness, a fairly large quantum of time.” We all need time to process, think and consider our next action steps. Yet so often we are in reaction to our environment (phones ringing, emails pinging, Skype singing) that we barely have a moment to tend to the higher thinking required in our jobs.

I was recently advised by colleagues to become more strategic in my thinking. Looking at the Big Picture can save baby steps that lead us down the wrong path. I agree. And the greatest challenge is finding the time to be in proactive, not reactive, mode.

We have to train ourselves not to pick up the phone, to let it go to voicemail or to respond only to those immediate matters that are of utmost importance. We risk disappointing people who expect you to jump when they want you (Oddly, I have easily taught my children that their ‘now’ is not always mine. Defining the when of things is key). 

I pondered the ‘always on’ syndrome as I finished up some mindless administrative work that merely required concentration and an uninterrupted ninety minutes on Saturday. Yes, Saturday! I weighed my options. Was this urgent? (It was). Was it important? (It was). Would I suffer more by delaying the task until Monday? (Most definitely).

The McKinsey Quarterly ran a great article entitled “Recovering from Information Overload” that points to our collective split-screen dilemma of attention fragmentation and overlapping commitments. As things unfold in real-time and people expect you to follow their string of emails like the crawl on the bottom of a TV screen, we are literally information-saturated.

The article requires a free registration so in the event you need the lowdown on your info-saturation recuperation in thirty seconds or less, here it is:

  • Multitasking kills productivity. Pruning your email inbox may feel like you’re doing something, but interrupting yourself from one thing to the next slows you down.
  • It hampers creativity, makes you anxious and has addictive qualities. The next time you’re tempted to answer emails while on a Skype call, know the other people can hear you thumping on your keyboard while you pretend to listen.
  • Focus, filter, forget. To deal with your data deluge, unplug, delegate and engage in physical excursion. Some executives in the McKinsey article claimed some of their most brilliant ideas came in the midst of a headstand in their yoga class.

The bottom line? “Multitasking isn’t heroic; it’s counterproductive.”

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I ask you: what’s not to love? Animals go at their innate pace. Why don’t we?

“Life’s too short for bad baked goods.”

That is, indeed, my motto.

Rob Hopkins, author of The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, gave an interesting talk about relocalizing the economy during the first session of the Healthy Money Summit yesterday.  He talked about ‘intentional localization’, which involves food and energy production and local building materials. He underscored the importance of story telling and a community’s self-understanding. We can’t have environmental change until the culture transitions to support the thinking behind it. You can listen to Rob Hopkins’ 30-minute talk here, if you’d like.

But truly, the best part of his talk? About putting bakeries back into the community.

I’m all for good bakeries and would be willing to pay more for a better bun. How about you?

HuffPost’s Russell Bishop embraces the slow in his new book, Workarounds that Work. Baseline magazine did a nifty slide show (I just love their slide shows!) to illustrate the points below.

1.       Tangible results come from setting clearly defined goals.

2.       Prioritize. Ask yourself: Will this task make for my team or organization?

3.       Examine how much time you spend working around things versus accomplishing them. Eliminate any beating around the bush.

4.       Fix it, then move on. Complaining is a top time waster!

5.       Those who seek to please are a time drain because they value everyone’s happiness over action. Avoid consensus seekers.

6.       Don’t procrastinate. Approach undesirable tasks as you would a great workout. Remember how good you’ll feel when it’s over!

7.       Only have meetings with those directly involved. Eliminate external voices that only add white noise to the conversation.

8.       Focus during meetings ~ gadget-free!

9.       Close your inbox. Email shouldn’t disrupt, but inform.

10.   Read the latest email thread while eliminating the ‘repeats. Email begets email so don’t respond when no response is needed.

A man after my own slow heart!

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The slow movement has its roots in the Slow Food movement. Born on the Spanish Steps of Rome, the Slow Food movement started out as one man’s reaction to a global fast food chain that wanted to open its doors near the famous Roman landmark. Carlo Petrini despised the notion of junk food being sold anywhere near his beloved Spanish Steps. Thanks to him, the concept of slow seeped its way into our global consciousness.

Tying food production back to local farming is a smart, and sustainable, thing to do. In an age of dioxin scandals and mass animal slaughtering, we have clinicalized the very thing that keeps us alive: food. We treat food as a cog in the massive economic system. It has to play a role like water and oil or any other natural resource you can think of. Produce massive amounts at the cheapest price, no matter the real cost (environmental or otherwise) behind it.

Slow money is a concept that promotes investments in local farming and the health of our local economies. This group has set a goal of mobilizing 1 million people to invest in their local food production before 2020. It is a noble cause and one I highly recommend you explore.

According to, the principles of slow money include:

I. We must bring money back down to earth.

II. There is such a thing as money that is too fast, companies that are too big, finance that is too complex. Therefore, we must slow our money down — not all of it, of course, but enough to matter.

III. The 20th Century was the era of Buy Low/Sell High and Wealth Now/Philanthropy Later—what one venture capitalist called “the largest legal accumulation of wealth in history.” The 21st Century will be the era of nurture capital, built around principles of carrying capacity, care of the commons, sense of place and non-violence.

IV. We must learn to invest as if food, farms and fertility mattered. We must connect investors to the places where they live, creating vital relationships and new sources of capital for small food enterprises.

V. Let us celebrate the new generation of entrepreneurs, consumers and investors who are showing the way from Making A Killing to Making a Living.

VI. Paul Newman said, “I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out.” Recognizing the wisdom of these words, let us begin rebuilding our economy from the ground up, asking:

* What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?

* What if there were a new generation of companies that gave away 50% of their profits?

* What if there were 50% more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now?

I ask you: what if we left this Earth in better shape than we found it? Give back to the soil that feeds you. Today.

Other resources:

Inquires into the Nature of Slow Money

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Slow motion is cool because it helps you see everything. Viva the Power of Slow!

Boundaries ~ the line in the sand that ushers children into adulthood. When my daughter asked why she couldn’t have a mother who said ‘yes’ to everything, I said, “Because you deserve a mother who loves you.”

Blank stare. Non-comprehending stance. Arms parked in a crossed position. Furrowed brow. Then a sliver of light beaming at the bridge of her nose.


We benefit from signals radiating from our surroundings that say ‘No, not now.’ Sometimes, even as adults, we ignore those signs, plowing forward as if we were invincible.

Today I went to the gym for the first time in two weeks. After having had the flu last week, I was astounded at how weak I still was. I thought about sticking it out to the end of the class, then left half-way through (I’ve only ever done that once before when the step class I was in was clearly over my head!).

I battled with that part of myself that says “You should be able to do this,” even though I was in no shape to do so. I wrangled with myself, wishing it weren’t so that I had overstepped my own limitations.

“Not now,” the power of slow part of myself gently guided me out the door. It is our higher selves, much like the mother who does not always say ‘yes’, that cares the most. It resides in the heart and speaks with a whisper.

Will you listen to your inner voice today?