I enjoyed reading John Palfrey and Urs Gasser’s take on information overload in their book Born Digital. Often times I think our experiences and environment make or break our life-long habits and coping skills (i.e. poor parental guidance, growing up in a large city, one’s lacking or desire to be a life-long learner, etc.). This is not to say we cannot change as adults, but that it may take further time, practice and adjustment to adapt to our new environment as it changes.
Palfrey and Gasser note, “An individual’s ability to make adequate decisions heavily depends on the amount of information that person is exposed to. Life experience suggests that more information increases the overall quality of decisions” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010). As a Net Gener myself, I have made incredible leaps and bounds the more knowledgeable I’ve become and experiences I have acquired. I don’t necessarily feel growing up in the digital era has made my life corrupt, but then again I don’t know any different. I feel strongly we can become proficient at any task, whether it’s multi-tasking or managing information overload, given we practice with determination to improve our current skillset. According to Palfrey and Gasser, “human and technical filtering of information is a…technique for fighting information overload, and it’s one that everyone uses to some extent” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010). To streamline this process, we must practice good filtering to be successful in avoiding overload.
In my primary and secondary educational years I did not feel like an efficient learner. The Internet wasn’t as prevalent in my earlier schooling years, yet I still felt overloaded going into libraries or even opening up a textbook. As I look back and dissect my dilemma, lack of efficiency as a learner, I did not possess the skills I needed specific to my learning style. I was being overloaded too easily. My mind was busy and I could not focus on doing a superior job on tasks which required more than 30 minutes of my time. It wasn’t until the latter part of my undergraduate degree when I finally started fine tuning my learning style and discovering what made me successful. Palfrey and Gasser emphasize that “parents and teachers must work with kids to teach them the skills they will need to manage all the information that can enrich their lives in a digital era” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010). My parents primarily taught me management skills, but I feel I would have had a greater edge if my teachers put more of an importance in the classroom on these same issues.
I think it is okay to experiment with finding techniques which work best for any one particular learning style. However, there is a time and a place to focus and get work done. Craig Jarrow, author of Time Management Ninja, offered “8 Ways to Stop Multitasking and Get Work Done”:
- Do One Thing at a Time – Contrary to the multi-tasker’s creed, you’ll actually get more tasks done by doing them individually. As well, you’ll do it quicker and with fewer mistakes and less rework.
- Be Present – Be present with your work and with those you are working with. Stay on your current todo and don’t let your focus float to other tasks. This means not checking email while you are meeting with someone. And it means not working during that meeting on your laptop.
- Finish Before You Start – Make sure you finish tasks to closure before starting the next one. There is great productivity momentum in finishing things to done before taking on the next task.
- Don’t Let Small Tasks Interrupt Big Ones – Resist letting small items interrupt big ones. Don’t pick up that 2 minute task just because it’s easy. Don’t answer that email just because you saw it drop into your inbox.
- Put Down the Tech – Technology has allowed us to work anywhere. That doesn’t mean you should. Close your email, turn off the phone, and put down the unneeded tech while you are working.
- Clean Your Workspace – A cluttered desk is a multi-tasker’s dream. Lots of random things to pick up and work on instead of your work. Clear your desk of everything but the task you intend to work on.
- Make An Appointment With Your Work – I am a big advocate of scheduling appointments with your toughest tasks. Designate time to work on one task or project. Go to a meeting room or work location if it helps concentrate on the task at hand.
- Eliminate Interruptions – Interruptions are multi-tasking in disguise. Prevent them by turning off the ringers/beeps, the email notifications, and yes, close your door if you must.
Although Jarrow’s tips might target businessmen and women, I think they are universal and relevant to teachers and students. I support many of his tips and often practice them myself when I’m crunched for time and need to demonstrate good productivity. It’s beneficial our students develop coping skills to manage the sea of information in which they tread on a daily basis. Don Tapscott points out near the end of chapter four, “we shouldn’t blame technology” (Tapscott, 2008). I like that he made this point. Why blame anybody or anything for certain aspects of our life we cannot control to a certain extent. Instead, one shouldchannel productive energy into overcoming things that otherwise seem challenging by developing the necessary survival skills to be successful.
Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2010). Born Digital : Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Tapscott, D. (2008). Grown up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Jarrow, C. (2013). Time Management Ninja. Retrieved from http://timemanagementninja.com/2013/09/8-ways-to-stop-multitasking-and-get-work-done/ on May 26, 2014.