The Heart of the Problem
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One of the prime culprits behind information overload is also one of the most basic technologies around: e-mail. Reducing the amount of it, extracting useful information from it and finding more efficient ways to manage it may sound like dry engineering topics, but people get emotional about them. "I've occasionally been thanked for work I've done over the years, but I've only been hugged by a group of people once--when we put in spam filtering," says White.
Energen instituted a policy that may sound counter-intuitive: It requires that every e-mail message sent and delivered be archived for seven years. That way, the company does not have to depend on an individual's discretion to figure out whether or not a particular message should be saved. Instead, workers can delete messages, knowing they can always retrieve them. "People and enterprise software are expensive, but everything else is pretty cheap," says White, who thinks storage and retrieval costs are worth the investment.
At Angel.com, Aparicio uses wikis and social media tools to track his projects, as well as projects for various teams, and to see who owes him what and by when. Information on deliverables creates a trail of documentation. With the wiki, information is posted and shared by default, and Aparicio can check it as part of his regular workflow. The software also allows him to use instant messaging for informal conversations and for persistent topics like operations, which run live all day.
Even with the e-mail abated, the amount of information Aparicio accesses has, if anything, increased. "The possibility of missing important information that you must respond to is part of what creates the overload," he says. That stress is ameliorated, as the wiki is a less intrusive way of being copied.
The software allows Aparicio to create different filters through which he can view information--from a project perspective, say, or that of an individual. "Reducing the amount of information is something that's outside my control," he says. "What's effective is creating filters that match my priorities."