Managing the Information Flood…

by dave on January 7, 2009


As my brother posted yesterday, part of optimizing workflow is understanding how you relate to the information that you receive.  Depending on your method of information ingestion (the use of eating analogies is on purpose), you’re going to optimize your environment in a specific way. Stu Miniman also kicked off a strong examination on optimizing your computer layout for information processing.  

A few of the things that are especially critical to understand related to your process of learning and cognition.  Rather than lapse into an entire article devoted solely to learning systems, I’ll use my personal story to help you understand learning and cognition.  Let’s kick this off, then…

I was never diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a child.  As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until several years ago that an official, medical diagnosis was handed down.  The threads that compose ADHD were always present (inability to focus, issues with staying on given tasks, etc.) but physiologically, the symptoms were masked by lifestyle.  Moving forward to today, ADHD has become an intricate thread in how I deal with information.  For example, my desk looks like this:

mydesk.jpg

As you can definitely see, I make use of multiple monitors.  The reasoning behind this is quite simple:  based on visual processing (I’m a hyper-visual learner), I tend to like to “see” data layed out in it’s different layers.  

Starting from the left monitor, I use Chrome (Chromium) for Web-based activities and I typically have Meebo and Gmail on separate tabs.  Meebo will notify me via a flashing tab if it’s not in focus, so, I’ve got a visual indicator of activity.  Additionally, I run my Yammer instance on the same screen (using Adobe AIR) which again provides a visual indicator of activity.  At any given point, I may have 5 to 10 tabs open but I understand where each component is.  Of a somewhat peculiar note, I always move the Meebo tab closest to the left side of the screen. Gmail goes second.  

The laptop screen is my primary data entry window.  I’ll type my blog articles here, any additional research work, etc.  Additionally, any media typically will be viewed here as well (podcasts, the occasional iTunes video, et al.)  Any additional work that needs to be done of a more random nature (vCenter configs, scripting, Excel docs, etc.) will hit here as well.  

Directly to the right of the laptop screen is the mother of all screens: my Dell 24″ LCD running @ 1920 x 1200.  This monitor is tied directly to 3 different applications:  Tweetdeck, Xmind Pro, and Visio.  Tweetdeck is one of my favourite personal information management systems although tied to a medium that would frustrate anyone who appreciates cohesive conversations: Twitter.  Because Twitter conversations can be so disjointed at times, Tweetdeck allows me to visually tie an avatar from the poster to the content being posted.  Ever wonder how I process Twitter information?  There’s my secret: by avatar.  Tweetdeck also enables me to limit information coming in by assigning “search groups” and limiting Tweets to just the folks that I choose the follow.  Couple that flexibility with a pretty strong “follow or block” Twitter ethic and I really only get the information I want or need.  Any excess “noise,” consequently, is eliminated.  Xmind Pro forces me to think about subjects in a more organized fashion.  The principle of Xmind is something called “mind mapping,” essentially the 21st century version of what we knew as “brainstorming.”  Xmind allows me to start with a central topic of discussion (like “Cloud Optimized Storage Solutions”) and develop conversation threads and subjects around them.  It also does the work of concurrently putting together a structured outline for any future papers or articles I may be writing.  Finally, we have Visio which extends the concept of visual data representation to my storage architecture designs, etc.

The last screen on the right (that’s not shut off) is my dedicated email window.  Outlook to the rescue, if you believe me.  The data management princicple I apply here is using the “Unread mail” filter as an indicator of all incoming email that I need to review or delete.  By setting this as my primary view, I’m able to act on incoming mail quickly without having to fumble around with folders, etc.  Of note, I also actively use filters to ensure data lands in appropriate categories of storage right away.  In the Unread Mail view, email is all organized under the respective filter category so clean-up is efficient.*

Closing Thoughts

I’ve touched on how I view data.  The storage of data is really much more mundane: hierarchical folders with appropriate naming conventions.  i use an Iomega IX2 “NAS” device with two Maxtor 500Gb USB SATA drives attached to the back to handle approximately 750Gb worth of current data.  Where possible, I use RAID1 for data protection.

Anyhow, any thoughts or comments, let me know! Happy to see and hear how YOU cope with the scale of information out there.

* Special Note: I have started using Socialmedian, Gist, PeopleBrowsr and FriendFeed to aggregate some of the information I read online into a single location.  Will let you know how that one works out.

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  • Hey thats a really interesting blog post.

  • dave_graham

    Thanks, Ben. Definitely a bit of food for thought… 😉

    dave

  • It is interesting to see many people turn to ADD or ADHD to explain how they manage many tasks at once. I once called it “Continuous Parallel Attention”. Forget “Continuous Partial Attention” where you're doing each thing with a fraction of your effort. Instead, see if you can do multiple things – e-mail while on the phone and listening to music with a TV screen of your favorite sports team on the background.

    Then ask yourself. What's the count or down? (Don't look) Did you misspell anything in the email? Is it your turn to talk on the phone? What's the next word of the song? If you can do all these things, you're in good shape.

    Continuous Parallel Attention: My New Reality
    http://louisgray.com/live/2008/05/continuous-pa

  • Pingback: Managing Information Flow - blog.scottlowe.org - The weblog of an IT pro specializing in virtualization, storage, and servers()

  • dave_graham

    Louis,
    Given that my professional training is in clinical counseling (long story, but I've got an MA and some level of history of praxis 😉 ), I've seen the Attention Deficit Disorders used and abused to explain any # of things. I am grateful for how it colours my life experience and it gives me a great level of sensitivity to others who may not understand it or how to manage it (medication or non).

    cheers,

    Dave

  • Nice post. I have ADD myself (no HD), and you are right about the lifestyle masking it pretty well. I come from working in Telecom Network Operations Centers. I now am a VMware/SAN/Linux engineer. Seems to be a well suited profession for the condition.

  • dave

    Kevin,

    funny how that all happens, right? 😉 Thanks for the kind words.

    cheers,

    Dave

  • dave

    Kevin,

    funny how that all happens, right? 😉 Thanks for the kind words.

    cheers,

    Dave

  • Nice post. I have ADD myself (no HD), and you are right about the lifestyle masking it pretty well. I come from working in Telecom Network Operations Centers. I now am a VMware/SAN/Linux engineer. Seems to be a well suited profession for the condition.

  • You're doing fine, you're a hyper-visual learner. It's sounds new to me but very interesting I'll try that someday.

  • You're doing fine, you're a hyper-visual learner. It's sounds new to me but very interesting I'll try that someday.