Monday, January 2, 2012

Information Overload

As I face a major turning point in my life, I again look at the variety of subjects that I am in the pursuit of learning. Tomorrow is the start of the first job of my career in Information Technology at Architectural Testing.

I chose IT as a career because it is not only a personal interest, but also because of how much of the world relies on IT. As I study these many subjects on the side, knowledge of computers and software will aid me in both learning efficiency and practical application.

So, in order to organize the many facets of my life for the new year, I began to list the projects I'm currently working on. It is always dangerous for me to step into the subject of 'everything', because there is so much to do and so much that I could do, that it can quickly become overwhelming.

And that brings me to the topic of the post: dealing with information overload. What is information overload? It's basically self explanatory, but just in case, it's when there is so much information available to a person at one instant, that the person becomes completely overwhelmed and unable to function. If you've ever worked in fast food you might have experienced this. Airplane pilots must be aware of the possibility of information overload, as they are constantly bombarded by the intricacies of information available to them in the cockpit.

With an office like this one, and a whiteboard full with a list of projects, information overload becomes a real possibility. Not surprisingly, the subject does not get much attention, and few people consider it a very important subject. There is however some research done about it by many different fields of study.

The first thing to understand is that the only way you can have information overload is if you have decided to take in too many pieces of information at the same time. To make this a little clearer, imagine you are not an air traffic controller and you walk into a control room full of radars and radios. You won't experience information overload because nothing around you makes enough sense for you to begin processing all the pieces of data that are actually available.

If you were to become an air traffic controller and then walk into the same room, you could have information overload because you would have the ability to understand ALL the information that is available. It's only when you TRY to understand everything at the same time that it becomes overwhelming. In other words, it only happens when you let it happen. Air traffic controllers, much more than the average person, must understand how to handle many different pieces of information at the same time.

From a psychological standpoint, it is actually a form of anxiety. The solution is our approach and our attitude to the information we are given. This is something I was never very good at to be honest. It all comes down to being able to decipher what we actually need to know and what exactly to do with that information. By completing tasks, we eliminate one by one the information that we need to process and can then move on. When faced with many different pieces of information, break it down by priority and begin to eliminate as much as you can as quickly as you can.

On the other side of the coin, preventing information overload is just as important. By selecting smaller groups of information to start with, we can make it much easier to handle.

There really isn't as much on my plate this year as there have been other years. Between photography, web design, my studies, church, health, Moss Effects, the groups in Central PA that I'm involved in and Hot Air Balloons, I still should have plenty of free time. How? Let's say I take 4 pictures a week. 4 good pictures that is. It should take me 4 or 5 short photoshoots to get those 4 pictures. If a typical photoshoot takes between 15 and 30 minutes, it should only take an hour or two a week to get all 4 pictures, but the amount of learning and experience will be immense!

Applying this philosophy to every area outside of work has already proven to make so many more things possible that I had ever imagined. This year, my goals are all achievable, and as long as I stay focused, so are the goals I set on this blog a few years ago.

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