“It’s only a teaspoonful,” I overheard the six-year old girl say in all seriousness as she explained to a boy in her class the nature of the contribution the male of the species makes to procreation. The look of horror on the boy’s face was positively comical as he reacted viscerally with the expression “TMI! TMI!”

For those of you who haven’t heard it before, TMI is the acronym for “too much information.” It’s often used when people disclose private details that one would really rather not know about in the ordinary course.  I found myself saying “TMI” when I first read a terrific set of posts by Jim McGee, John Tropea and Jack Vinson regarding the benefits of information transparency among knowledge workers and the importance of making knowledge work more visible. Granted, I was “catastrophizing” as I imagined a workplace where every thought was expressed in writing before it could be edited for appropriateness or sense. I imagined my daily e-mail deluge multiplied many times over once I moved from messages directed at me to a stream messages directed to the entire firm.  I imagined a tsunami of triviality swamping me daily as I struggled to be productive. I imagined having to hide myself in a technology free cave in order to get any work done.

I will confess that I love Twitter and use it daily.  In learning to love it, I’ve come to understand that I cannot and should not try to read everything.   Rather, I dip my toe in and out of the stream when I can.  An important part of this behavior is learning to let go of the need to read it all, and trust instead that the important things will rise to the surface repeatedly and capture my attention in due course.  That’s easier to do in your leisure life than at the office, where I (at least) feel obliged to read everything that my colleagues send me.  What happens when I start receiving a general flow of information rather than the current more limited (albeit sometimes overwhelming) targeted flow of e-mail information?  How do I protect myself from missing the important stuff while suffocating under the irrelevant?

What’s your experience with activity streams work at work?  If you’re using them at your workplace, what can you tell us about how they improve or clog the arteries along which your information flows?  How do you find the important amongst the trivial?

[Photo Credit: Fredshome]

17 thoughts on “TMI

  1. Agree, Mary. We can't try to consume the entire information/activity stream that is rushing past us. Your questions highlight the need for precise filters that can help us extract the information we need from the stream, rather than hoping we find something useful whenever we have a chance to actively wade in. I would be interested in knowing what specific filtering parameters others think are important to establish.

    1. Larry -Perhaps the answer is a Tweetdeck type tool for the enterprise, where we canchoose specific groups to follow carefully while preserving our access tothe general stream. However, even with such a tool, I can imagine therecould be an enormous amount of information to absorb from the core groupunless you had agreed protocols for disclosure in place coupled with goodfilters.Like you, I'm eager to hear from folks who have been living with this levelof information transparency at work. Presumably their experience has taughtthem how to survive (and even thrive) in the face of all this information.- Mary

  2. Mary,One key in dealing with this TMI problem is to think about generating and consuming data about work activities as separate phenomena. In the “real world” when knowledge work was easily observable, there were far more signals to process than any of us had the capacity to process. What we were all pretty good about was learning what to ignore. In the current environment we don't yet know how to distinguish data points worth observing from those better left ignored. We're very early in learning how to make knowledge work observable and in learning how to filter that down to a manageable and valuable stream of signals that I get value out of monitoring (presumably you will get value out of monitoring different signals in the stream).

    1. Jim -Thanks for putting this in perspective. If I understand you correctly,we're in a transition phase between the old and new modes of working.Consequently, we have yet to learn the new etiquette or best methods ofcoping in the new environment. As we work through this transition, I hopewe all take advantage of social media tools to share lessons learned. I forone am very keen for some education in this area.- Mary

    1. Thanks a million, Brian. It's great to be in conversation again.As you'll see, I've left a comment on your post and will reiterate here whatI said there: please do write more about how you've learned to tame the flowof information in your activity stream at work. I think many of us like theidea of observable work and understand the value of informationtransparency. However, many have a quite reasonable fear of suffocating todeath under all that information. Any guidance you can provide would bemuch appreciated.- Mary

  3. Hmm… I feel that the knowledge is drowning in information these days, and Twitter is teaching people the bad habit of “throwing things out there” without really thinking about it, and also teaching people that most information should just be ignored (“dip your toe in it”).There has been some discussion around being able to filter all the information to avoid information overload, but maybe we have been too focused on filtering the information coming IN, instead of focusing more on filtering the information we send out ?If I get “noise” email from people I know, I tell them clearly that I'm not interested, and try to teach people to at least mark their email-subjects so that it is easier for ME to filter their email if THEY are not willing to do it ([fun], [joke], [important] etc).I believe what we need is LESS information with BETTER quality instead of the other way around (which is how things are now)…

    1. Atle -There's definitely an element of good citizenship about this. Each personhas to be disciplined about what they share. Otherwise the system will beclogged with trivia. That said, one person's trivia may be another person'sinsight so perhaps we shouldn't self-censor too much. The point is tocreate enough ambient awareness to improve efficiency. Finding that balanceis the challenge each group and its members face.- Mary

  4. Nice post, Mary. I posted about this topic – in a more general way – some time ago:…Every now and then the amount of information overwhelms me, but usually I'm OK with it. I just set my filters up and trust them. Most of the time I can. One of the things I'd like to see is to have my work and private streams merged into one stream (or maybe not all but the one's I want to see in one stream). Due to firewalls, authentication, etc. this is not easy or possible…

    1. Thanks, Samuel. You're brave to consider merging your work and privatestreams. That approach could be overwhelming!Can you tell me more about the types of filters you've implemented? Asyou've undoubtedly seen from the comments to this post, several of us areinterested in setting up some filters and would love guidance from others onthis.- Mary

      1. You're welcome, Mary. I write a post about the filters I set up shortly. I've been writing about it on my blog quite a bit, but the posts are scattered. Let's see if I can filter them out and bring them together. A large part of my filter is by applying the 'Gettings things done' workflow to all 'stuff' that comes at me.

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