Yesterday I was reading a blog post on HBR.org by Alexandra Samuel about the five unsolved problems of social media. Here is a quote describing one these problems:
Information overload: RSS started as a way to aggregate all the streams of content we found online, but today we’re more likely to be drowned in a river of feeds — not to mention e-mail, texts, updates, voicemail transcriptions….need I go on? We’ve got great tools for creating, finding, organizing and viewing content, but very little to help us thin out and manage the volume of information that now flows online. The challenge of information overload and attention management isn’t just a technical problem, but some better tools would sure help.
As far as I see it, there is no tool which will make priorities for you. We can have an endless amount of tools to help us organize, filter and present information, but I personally don’t see a tool that will replace human judgment and ability, but more importantly, need, to prioritize. One blog post after that, I read another HBR.org blog post, this time by Ron Ashkenas called, The Problem with Priorities:
Despite the realization that they had too much on their plates (and too many cards on the wall), this leadership team still struggled with narrowing their focus. Many felt that everything was important and nothing could be dropped without serious consequences. But if everything is called a priority, then nothing is. In fact, what’s worse is that people at lower levels, faced with the impossible task of trying to respond to everything, end up deciding what is important based on their more limited sense of the company’s strategy and their ability to get things done. By not clarifying the few key priorities, leadership teams unintentionally delegate priority-setting to their people. And then they wonder why everyone isn’t on the same page.
Here is what I wrote a while back:
Every time I gave that workshop there was a least one person who would come up to me and tell me: “Look, I am swamped. I just have too many things to do and not enough time”. I always gave those people the same response: “You don’t have a time problem, you have a priorities problem”.
Because time-management is about choosing your priorities, being consistent with them over time and accepting that this process will inherently include some tradeoffs. There will be things you will not be able to do. But until you get your priorities straight you will face problems.
Yes, we have more information than we ever had. Yes, our workloads are bigger. Yes, due to the recession we are doing a job that two people did before. It does not matter. Time is limited. We can only spend it every day on certain things. The question is, do we want to make an impact on a few things or create mediocrity in a lot of things.
Priorities are a risk. There is a chance that our choice will be the wrong one. We think that if we do a little of everything, we will mitigate that risk. But as the risk of a making a bad choice goes down, the risk of being unfocused goes up. Guess which one is more important?
And if you are a manager of people I ask you – where are your people in your priorities? What are you trading off in order to be a great manager for them? Because you cannot be that great manager without putting time and effort into the process. No online digital tool will ever take away that piece of judgment from you.