IT Workplace Distractions and Millers’ Index

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Lot of people in my office come at morning 8 AM work for atleast 12-14 hours a day and often complain of poor productivity and low work satisfaction. Their day start with 100+ emails from onsite team, by the time they finish reading these 100 emails, they receive another 100, these 100 emails may contain information ranging from junk to critical. They can’t afford to miss reading any of these emails, if tomorrow there is an issue, people will say “I already sent the mail” :-) . Then at any given time 5-10 people will keep pinging over the Instant messenger, there will be phone calls, people coming to your cube to discuss issues and concerns.

IT Workplace suffers from Information Tsunami and is filled with a lot of distractions, these distractions are primarily due to the Information which keeps coming to us from Phones, smses, emails, chat applications etc. It is this excess Information which at times makes very difficult for us to focus on the important and not so important things, we also tend to forget a lot of things. All these things lead to a loss of focus and hence an unproductive day!!!!

Lot of this has to do with the limitation of the short term Human Memory, George Armitage Miller in his famous paper “The Magic number seven plus or minus two” mentioned that an average human brain is capable of retaining only 5-9 things at any given time in the short term memory. He introduced an important concept of memory chunk. A chunk is the largest meaningful unit in the presented material that the person recognizes – thus, it depends on the knowledge of the person what counts as a chunk. For instance, a word is a single chunk for a speaker of the language but breaks down into as many chunks as the word has letters for someone who is totally unfamiliar with the language. Hence after any presentation or at any given time we can only remember 7 chunks of information.

How to deal with this problem? One practice which i started following since the initial days is to always carry a planner along, carry the things from the short term memory of the brain to the planner, note down important things, action items, follow ups from the emails, chats, phones, as they come. Then prioritize all the tasks, execute them through the day. Then again after close of business, get a stock of what is complete and carry over things to the next day. However, its still not the best solution for our needle in a haystack situation, where we are continuously bombarded with information and need to keep searching the important one for us

Would request the readers to comment on this problem of Information Tsunami and if they have any efficient ways to handle this problem?

*image credits – 100web2.it

3 Responses to IT Workplace Distractions and Millers’ Index

  1. Ravi Prakash says:

    Very true scenario and very well written
    An article in stumble upon showing what actually causes us to forget things and feel so tired…
    http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/5IfKbS/howtogetfocused.com/chapters/8-things-everybody-ought-to-know-about-concentrating/

  2. Not just in IT, this is true for most offices.

    I was infact once asking an experienced colleague of mine that how exactly companies of such large spread (manufacturing, banking, fmcg etc.) used to function without email?

    Looks impossible today, but see Maruti was still making and selling lakhs of cars every year between 1981 -1991.

    I guess, we are victims of circumstances.

  3. Anukool says:

    So my question to you Sir, how do you keep yourself organized and filter the important information from the Information noise?

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