Interruption Management
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Interruption Management

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Using Your Brain in Complex Times - Interruption Management

How to Think: Managing Brain Resources in an Age of Complexity by Ed Boyden in Technology Review is brilliant article, excerpted here:

"When I applied for my faculty job at the MIT Media Lab, I had to write a teaching statement. One of the things I proposed was to teach a class called "How to Think," which would focus on how to be creative, thoughtful, and powerful in a world where problems are extremely complex, targets are continuously moving, and our brains often seem like nodes of enormous networks that constantly reconfigure. In the process of thinking about this, I composed 10 rules...

1. Synthesize new ideas constantly. Never read passively. Annotate, model, think, and synthesize while you read...

2. Learn how to learn, rapidly... Be able to rapidly prototype ideas. Know how your brain works.

3. Work backward from your goal. Or else you may never get there...

4. Always have a long-term plan. Even if you change it every day...

5. Make contingency maps. Draw all the things you need to do on a big piece of paper, and find out which things depend on other things...

6. Collaborate.

7. Make your mistakes quickly... Document what led to the error so that you learn what to recognize, and then move on...

8. As you develop skills, write up best-practices protocols... Instinct-ualize conscious control.

9. Document everything obsessively. If you don't record it, it may never have an impact on the world..

10. Keep it simple... If you can spend two days thinking of ways to make it 10 times simpler,
do it...

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Trials of Piles are Distracting - Interruption Management

Into every career and life some rain must fall and, apparently, some piles will accumulate be they stacks of mail, reports, survey forms, seminar announcements, catalogs, etc.  Confront your piles head-on with a take-no-prisoners attitude!

If you haven't noticed already, such piles can accumulate in a hurry. A couple of file folders, issues of a magazine, some office memos, something you clipped from the newspaper, a single day's worth of mail, some fliers left by your door, and POOF, you've got a pile!

Piles, by their nature, tend to represent complexity and unfinished business. Each pile in your visual field, i.e., that you encounter in any given day, registers in your brain, if only for a pico second at a time, as more stuff that you haven't really dealt with. Fortunately, there are ways to handle the ad hoc piles materializing a little too frequently in your life:

* Dismantle piles with relative grace. Have available a pen, some file folders, paper clips, rubber bands and a stapler. Now you're ready to collect everything on your desk or table or elsewhere that needs, or you suspect may need, attention. Stack all of it in front of you in a temporary pile. If the pile is high, your incentive to do so may be that much greater. In 30 minutes or less, you're going to dismantle and reallocate this simplicity-threatening pile. Allocate each item to one of four locations – an important pile, an urgent pile, an interesting pile, or the recycling bin, where most items will go.

* Allocate to the best of your knowledge. If an item is urgent and important, place it in the important pile near the top. If it's simply urgent, place it in the appropriate pile. If you are unsure of any particular item, place it at the bottom of the large stack, but only do so once for each item. On the second encounter, you have to classify it. In thirty minutes or less, the voluminous pile should be gone, and you're left with three semi-neat tiny piles. Rank the items and then re-arrange them in each pile. Downgrade or toss anything you can. You're left with three smaller, more precisely arranged piles, important, urgent, and interesting.

* Get meaner and leaner.  What else can you chuck? What can be combined, ignored, delayed, delegated, done in multiples, armed-out, automated, systemized, or used for kindling? The more items you can downgrade to interesting, the farther ahead you'll be because you can deal with these items when you feel like it.

* With what's left, tackle items one by one. After you've identified the most important project or task at the top of the important folder, begin working on it. If you can't complete it, proceed with it as far as you can go. Then place it back in the folder, either on top or where you determine it now belongs. Similarly, begin on the next most important item and proceed
as far as you can go.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Too Many Decisions? - Interruption Management

"Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?" in the New York Times is well worth reading.

An excerpt:
"Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways."

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Disruption of Over-Information - Interruption Management

Information can only become knowledge when it's applied. Before you can absorb and apply yesterday's intake, however, the explosion of new information floods your receptive capacity.
Such constant exposure to the daily information and media shower leaves each of us incapable of ingesting, synthesizing, or applying the data before tomorrow's shower.

The eruption of information renders us over-stimulated. The more information you try to ingest, the faster the "clock races," and your sense of breathing space is strained.

As yet, few people are wise information consumers. Curiously, there is only one party who controls the volume, rate, and frequency of information that you're exposed to. That person is you. The notion of "keeping up" is illusory, self-defeating, frustrating and harmful. The sooner you give it up the better you'll feel.

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Friday, October 03, 2014

A Nation of Druggies - Interruption Management

As a society, our default response to interruptions and distractions apparently is ingesting psychopharmaceuticals. Patrick Di Justo, writing in Wired magazine observed, "Antidepressants are the most commonly popped pills in the country, accounting for 227 million prescriptions filled last year alone. Of course, Prozac and its descendants aren’t the only popular psychiatric meds: Remedies for seizure disorders — often used to treat bipolar disease, as well as epilepsy — and for anxiety are among the 10 most-prescribed drugs in the nation."

"But even as our hunger for pills has grown, basic innovation has slowed. Many “new” medications are actually reformulations of previously approved drugs, not novel molecules. As a result, some of the most widely taken treatments have been around for years."

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rules that Impede Progress - Interruption Management

Once a rule gets in place it's very difficult to eliminate it even though the original reasons for its generation are long gone, according to author Roger von Oech. His prime example:

In the 1870s the leading manufacturer of typewriters at the time received complaints that too many of the typewriter keys were sticking together if the operator went too fast. In response to this, the company produced the QWERTY type keyboard -- a configuration standard on all keyboards -- to slow down operators so that the keys wouldn't jam together.

Today, technology permits us to produce typewriter keyboards that can operate much faster than any human could possibly type but the QWERTY configuration still dominates and likely will for the foreseeable future.

The nugget for us all: introduce new rules, new regulations, and new procedures carefully, and monitor their long term effectiveness.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Distraction and Lost Opportunities - Interruption Management

"For all the hand-wringing about Generation M, technology is not really the problem... It's not so much that the video is going to rot your brain, it's what you are not doing that's going to rot your life."
              -- David Levy, Ph.D., University of Washington, Information School

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Jeff Davidson - Expert at Managing Interruption Overload

contact author Jeff Davidson
Jeff Davidson: Bio

Managing Interruption Overload

Is the constant crushing burden of information and communication overload dragging you down, pulling you off course, and impeding your effectiveness? By the end of your workday, do you feel overworked, overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted? Would you like to be more focused, productive, and competitive, while remaining balanced and in control?

If you're continually facing too many interruptions and too many demands, you need Breathing Space.

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