Today was spent trying to sift through four distinct piles of paper, a backlog of email messages, and managing my calendar. My goal was first to get rid of documents and articles that are too old or irrelevant to “deal with.” The remainder I intended to catalog in my database, file in the appropriate electronic folder, or place in a new pile as a “to-do list.” This final pile plus my email “In Box” would then be systematically assigned to a spot in my calendar for the next six weeks. I did have deadlines to meet, but they depended on other people sending me content, which never came. So I kept sifting and organizing. As you can guess, the day that began with lofty intentions of getting to the bottom of the piles so that I could prioritize my real work is ending, instead, with this blog entry. It is not the one I began for this week four days ago.
First, the most ironic moment of the day came from the last pile in which I turned over an article that must have made an impression in 1997, from Newsweek it was entitled Drowning in Data. I knew I shouldn’t digress, again, but reading it confirmed what I already knew. We all have been “drowning in data” since at least 1997 and for all the same reasons we were back then, Internet publishing, email, voice mail, and faxes (well not so much anymore). It has the same effect as it did ten years ago on “info-stressed” professionals; it makes us all want to go slower so we can think about what is being thrown at us. Yes, that is why I was isolated trying to bring order to the info-glut on my desks. The article mentioned that “the average worker in a large corporation sent and received an astounding 177 messages a day…”
That is the perfect segue to my next observation. In the course of the day, while looking for emails needed to meet deadlines, I emptied over 300 messages from my Junk Mailbox, over 400 from my Deleted Mailbox, and that left me with just 76 in my In Mailbox, which I will begin acting on when I finish this blog entry. (Well, may-be after dinner.) What happened today that caused six different search vendors to send invitations to Webinars or analyst briefings? Oh well, when I finally get around to filling out my calendar for the next six weeks I will probably find out that some, if not all, conflict with appointments I already have. So, may-be I should finish the calendar before responding to the emails.
In the opening of this story I mentioned four distinct piles; I lied. As one document was replaced by another, I discovered that there was no unifying theme for any one pile. So much for categorization, but I did find some important papers that required immediate action, which I took.
Finally, I uncovered an article from http://techweb.cmp.com/iw in 1996. The Information Week archives don’t go back that far but the title was Library on an Intranet. It described a Web-based system for organizing corporate information by Sequent Computer Systems. I know why I saved it; because I had developed and was marketing corporate library systems to run over company networks back in 1980. I did find a reference to the Sequent structured system for organizing and navigating corporate content. You will find it at: http://www.infoloom.com/gcaconfs/WEB/seattle96/lmd.HTM#N136. It is a very interesting read.
What a ride we have had trying to corral this info-glut electronically for over 30 years. From citation searching using command languages in the 1970s, to navigation and structured searching in library systems in the 1980s and 90s, to Web-based navigation coupled with full-text searching in the mid-90s; it never ends. And I am still trying to structure my paper piles into a searchable collection of content.
May-be browsing the piles isn’t such a bad idea after-all. I never would have found those articles using “search” search.
Postscript: This really happened. When I finished this blog entry and went to place the “Drowning…” article on a pile I never got to, there on the top was an article from Information Week, April 9, 2007, entitled “Too Much Information.” I really didn’t need to read the lecturing subtitle: Feeling overwhelmed? You need a comprehensive strategy, not a butterfly net, to deal with data overload. I can assure you, I wasn’t waving butterfly nets all day.