I once read that we are exposed to more information in a day than an 18th century man was exposed to in his entire lifetime. This factoid was published in the pre-Google era, so I'm confident that this is now a gross understatement. The point remains, however, that we are bombarded with information from innumerable directions.
Besides feeling perpetually stressed and behind on the information you should be consuming, you might face stronger consequences from the mistakes that come with information overload. Mistakes may arise from the incorrect use of information – or from the use of incorrect information. An employee might disclose specifications that have not received final approval, effectively misinforming a client. A project manager might have bad information about the status of an activity and incorrectly authorize a purchase order. Mistakes can be costly and time-consuming to correct -- further exacerbating the overloaded feeling.
And then there is the problem of incomplete information. Often there is no way to avoid decision-making with partial information. But there are times when key information is available -- but you don't know that you know it (as an organization). For example, a new professional on staff is working on a project that's remarkably similar to another undertaken five years earlier by a long-timer. The problem is, neither knows about what the other is working on (you may note a hint of personal experience on this one!). The result is unnecessary work and a lost opportunity to learn from experience.
The Answer is To Be Intentional To Know What You Know.
On an organizational level, being intentional about what you know is important to protect your intellectual capital and is often referred to as "knowledge management." Knowledge management initiatives can range widely in formality and structure. Capturing key learnings and making them accessible to other employees in a spirit of continuous improvement is the common denominator. Conducting project post-mortems is one of my favorite starting points. A good post-mortem avoids blame and considers the following:
What went better than we thought it would?
What was more difficult than we anticipated?
If we had it to do over, would we do anything differently?
Were there key learnings gained or capabilities developed along the way?
Unfortunately, organizations, teams, workgroups, often move on to the next project and don't take the time to evaluate their past performance.
On a individual level, being intentional means being deliberate about the information sources you monitor for each of your life roles. Limit the ones that you enjoy as a guilty pleasure, be it TV, social media, or...? Think about what information sources have the most value? Check out www.informationdiet.com/for an excellent set of guidelines and encouragement to help you be more intentional.