Repetitive information injury

Wednesday 2 November 2005

Rands in Repose zeros in on a problem I definitely have: Repetitive Information Injury. It’s the nervous habit of circling around your information feeds, pressing the lever hoping to get another pellet. I don’t know if Rands has any advice about it, I got halfway through and then had to go check my email.

Just kidding.

He recommends admitting you have a problem, then focusing on positive forward-moving information gathering. Sounds good. I think I get into click-for-a-pellet mode when I am faced with a job I don’t want to do, or when I am stuck and want something easy. It’s the couch potato in me that scans Bloglines for something entertaining. Sometimes I feel like there are too many distractions around me, I know I will be interrupted, so I go ahead and interrupt myself before someone else gets a chance. Rather than dig into a meaty problem and face the frustration of not making progress on it, I’ll punt and click around instead.

A worse problem is when I have two tasks before me: one I want to do, and one I have to do. I’m not supposed to be working on the want-to-do, but I can’t quite get up the hill of the have-to-do. So instead I waste time surfing around. My internal taskmaster dictates that it’s ethically wrong to work on the want-to-do, but surfing doesn’t incur negative karma points. I know, it doesn’t make any sense. Maybe I feel like if I give into the want-to-do, I’ll never get back to the have-to-do. Like Rands said, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Comments

[gravatar]
andrew 10:28 AM on 2 Nov 2005

It is hard for me to comment on this because I am reading blogs instead of localizing a feature. Blech.

[gravatar]
rands 10:29 AM on 2 Nov 2005

"click-for-a-pellet" mode.... darnit. I was hovering around that image for a hour as I wrote the article and could not put my finger on it.

darnit. well done.

[gravatar]
roger 11:17 AM on 2 Nov 2005

Yep, this pretty much describes how I get when I've got more than one thing to do. Rather than start any of them, I just hit the 'Update Feeds' button in my RSS reader.

[gravatar]
Bill Mill 12:06 PM on 2 Nov 2005

I have the exact same gap between the want-to-do and the have-to-do which gets filled by reading blogs, espn, populicio.us, whatever I can find. It frustrates me, but I've been getting better since recognition of it.

Basically, I'm starting to treat it like TV - no surfing, but allowing myself to read/watch when there's time and something really interesting going on.

I still break down every so often (ie I'm reading your blog right now) but it's not as bad as it used to be.

[gravatar]
Jens-Christian Fischer 12:20 PM on 2 Nov 2005

That pretty much describes my condition as well. To really get things done, I need to be in a place without net access (I was in a customers lab the last two days working only with setup that my application needs to run on. Two days of sheer productivity)

When I have net access, I try to get 2 hour stretches of uninterrupted working. That's when I really can be productive. Setting the mail reload delay to one hour and the NetNewsWire (RSS) reload delay to 4 hours really helps too ;-)

[gravatar]
val 1:56 PM on 2 Nov 2005

ack, that descrbes me, too! Oh, well, at least I'm in good company!

[gravatar]
Bob 4:40 AM on 3 Nov 2005

Years ago I bought a book on dealing with procrastinarion. Was it any good? Dunno. I never got around to reading it...

[gravatar]
Andrew Magerman 6:14 AM on 3 Nov 2005

Oh wow, that happens to me all the time. Excellently put. I notice that when I am looking in my mailfiles (I have four - different clients) every five minutes or so, or interrupt my work when i see that new mail has arrived, it generally means that I have to do a horrible task.

To refine your idea, there is also the dilemna between the important things and the urgent things. For instance, one of my roles in my company is determining standards, so that we do not reinvent the wheel x times. So I am often confronted by a dilemna between the important thing (we should really define a standard keyword form for all our databases) and the urgent things (the client is complaining because his database does not work). One thing I learnt is that you have to force yourself to do the important things first, or else you never have time and you stay stuck in the "I can't repair the hole in the chicken hut because I must catch all these chicken".

One solution which I have found is a simple text file (I use Action Outline) where I write down all I want to do during the day, sorted by order of importance). This works, with a little bit of discipline.

Also, when I see that I need a break, I take it. Perhaps just a little walk outside. Productivity shoots up like that!

Another point to mention is that, for me at least, there are moments in the day when I know I am creative, and those where I know I am not. So I try to adapt the tasks to the mood I am in. (for instance, revamping complex code I can do in the afternoon, but not right after lunch, and in the mornings I am not really awake so I do things like invoices, offers, etc.

Andrew 8-)

[gravatar]
Ken Pespisa 11:01 AM on 7 Nov 2005

I can relate to this post. But I truly think many times you should go with the flow and work on the want-to-do, at least for a little while. How many times have you spent hours frustrated by a problem until you are forced to step away from it for a while? When you come back to it, perhaps the next day, very often you solve it quickly. I think working on the want-to-do gives your mind the same beneficial break. I often find when I take that approach, and work on the want-to-do for a few hours, I feel happier and in a groove. I gain some momentum that can then make it easier to work on the have-to-do-but-don't-want-to-do stuff.

On another note, Andrew you just described a key message from the Seven Habits of Highly Successful people, by Stephen Covey. Important But Not Urgent tasks are often ignored but are the key to giving you more free time and less emergencies.

Add a comment:

Ignore this:
Leave this empty:
Name is required. Either email or web are required. Email won't be displayed and I won't spam you. Your web site won't be indexed by search engines.
Don't put anything here:
Leave this empty:
URLs auto-link and some tags are allowed: <a><b><i><p><br><pre>.