Step Away from the PDA and Reengage

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Twenty years ago 'information overload' was all the rage.

''Oh my God,'' everyone said, ''how are we possibly going to process all of the information that we're creating day after day? We're buried in information coming out of copiers, reports and memoranda.''

Well, here we are a couple of decades later and we're not only buried in information, we're paralyzed by it -- document management applications notwithstanding. And it's not just technology professionals. CNN's Wolf Blitzer's new Situation Room has no fewer than eight screens flashing and refreshing behind him as he randomly switches from story to story. All kinds of information is pouring out as you try to track moving images on eight ever-changing monitors.

How can anyone focus meaningfully on anything? Is this a plot by the makers of adult ADD drugs?

The best example of this came at a meeting I recently attended. I watched all of the middle-aged guys pull out their weapons of choice: cell phones, crackberries, laptops, pagers and what are now considered old-fashioned PDAs. Each one of them laid their devices in front of them like they were trying to create some kind of cockpit.

''Mine is smaller than yours,'' I heard one of them say, as another challenged everyone to a digital race. ''I bet I can download more and faster than anyone here.''

These people are idiots.

When the meeting began, everyone scattered -- not from the room but from the subject at hand. The poor guy who was leading the meeting might as well have been herding cats. Some of the 'participants' were checking email, text mail and video mail. Others were poking at their PDAs with little sticks as their heads bobbed up and down. Others rudely forgot to silence their cockpits which lit up, groaned and vibrated throughout the meeting.

What the hell was I doing at this meeting? Everyone was about half-checked out, servicing the devices that keep them connected with other half-checked in colleagues scattered throughout the world.

No one can drink from a fire hose.

The inefficiency, frustration and stress built into our personal information processing (PIP) systems is staggering. Yet we keep our little darlings on all the time, afraid to miss some important comment made by half-witted professionals pecking and bobbing at meetings all over the world.

Here are some suggestions for managing the PIP process:

  • Turn off the damned devices when you enter a meeting -- unless you're deliberately trying to disrespect the meeting's organizers and participants.
  • Stop answering email quickly. All this does is accelerate the addiction. Let senders wait a few days before you respond. After they realize you are still alive, they will get the message.
  • Try to squeeze everything you do into one device. I am tired of looking at people with three or four devices -- all with different shapes and sounds -- hanging onto their belts. Who do these people think they are? Someone needs to tell them that really important people don't wear tool belts to work.
  • Discipline yourself and your colleagues to think and analyze rather than react (as quickly as possible) to the constant stream of mostly irrelevant information. Once you start ignoring stupid messages, people will respect you more.
  • Disable the ''reply all'' capability in your email client. Most of the 'all' would rather not be bothered.

    I suspect there's a business here. Certainly the current rage in coaching could focus on these problems. Hell, there might even be an opportunity to develop a patch that would help addictees kick many of their PIP habits.

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