You’ve been doing fine so far. The information storm will rain down around you regardless of whether or not you are aware of it A lot of the information on the web verges on recycled rubbish anyway - no one will die because you haven’t read everything ever written. Nevertheless, effective handling of the raging torrent of information - enable to meet your knowledge needs - improve your effectiveness as a clinician.
Knowing your knowledge needs is a key step in dealing with information overload.There is so much information out there – on every subject imaginable – it is easy to get distracted from your core needs. Define your needs and only use information sources that contribute to meeting them. Don’t be afraid to cull an information source that is low yield – whether that be someone you follow on Twitter, a blog, a podcast, a journal, or some other information source. This might mean that you will miss an occasional useful bit of information. Don’t worry, relax (Tip #1). So long as you remember to ‘be social’ (Tip #5) and ‘follow the leaders’ (Tip #6) then although you may miss the primary information source, the important gaps will be filled by secondary sources.
By learning to search effectively you can increase your search ‘hit rate’ so that you’re not left wading through a sea of worthless information slime. Time and effort spent learning how to search properly will reap you massive rewards in the long run. Effective searching is essential to “pull” information to meet your knowledge needs.
Do you fill your email inbox with journal table of contents updates that you resent having to file? Do you find that you hardly ever get to read these anyway because they turn up at an inconvenient time and you forget to go back to them later? Do you waste time repeatedly visiting your 101 favourite websites to see if anything new has been published since the last time you checked?If you answered yes to any of these questions you need to start using a feed aggregator (aka reader). An aggregator means that you don’t have to constantly “pull” information, it is “pushed” to you instead. Best of all, use a web-based aggregator so that you can access it anywhere – on computers at work or at home, or on your ’smart’ phone so that you can ‘go mobile’ (Tip #9). Once you have chosen an aggregator, you need to subscribe to the feeds of your favourite websites, whether they be blogs, journals, podcasts, Pubmed searches, or any other continuously updated webpage. The aggregator then collects the incoming stream of information that is automatically pushed to you, storing and categorizing it for you to read at your convenience.
Having a robust social network of highly intelligent people with similar interests means that high yield information is ‘pushed’ to you effortlessly. The key is to build a network of people that will help you meet your knowledge needs. This is why I am so enthusiastic about encouraging our physiotherapy colleagues to embrace Web 2.0 tools – the more physiotherapists that start tweeting, social bookmarking, blogging, and podcasting the greater the flow of information
Let the ebb and flow of the information tide wash over you. You don’t need to read everything that is tweeted or is fed to your feed reader. Just read what catches your eye – whatever looks like meeting one of your knowledge needs (Tip #2). Remember, that really important information tends to get repeated – whether syndicated by multiple blogs, retweeted by multiple tweeters.
More and more people are getting ‘smart’ phones, such as the iphone, and other mobile devices such as the ipad. If you are one of these people, I strongly encourage you to start integrating your ’smart’ phone or device with web 2.0 tools.Transfer pdfs of articles to your ’smart’ phone or device so you can read them sitting on the train, get the ‘Google’ app so you can skim through Google Reader while you languish in the queue for your coffee, and listen to podcasts so that going to the supermarket becomes an enlightening experience… ‘Going mobile’ lets you fill in the wasted moments of the day so that you can dance effortlessly through the information minefield.
Multi-tasking is a myth. Constant interruptions hinder the assessment of the validity of information as well as its absorption. “Firewall” your attention. Prioritize your tasks and work from the top, one by one. If you are dealing with a high-priority information task then turn off the phone, your Twitter application updates, and any other technology they may distract you. Set yourself deadlines for tasks and give yourself a time limit for the minimum time for constant absorption in the task at hand before you are allowed to check email, Twitter or your feed aggregator.
The Web is a public archived platform, so it’s worth remembering that our use of it will become part of our ‘permanent record’. As such it is very important to act professionally at all times when on-line.Confidentiality: Confidentiality is equally important on-line as it is off-line.Respect: Show respect for people and their opinions, an on-line argument is never pretty to watch.Language: Don’t use jargon or language that may be seen by society at large as unprofessional.File sharing: Don’t share files, pictures or videos that may be seen by society at large as unprofessional.Advice: Be aware of the advice that you provide on -line, unless professionally monitored it is best not to provide advice on-line.Discuss: Don’t use sites to discuss sensitive work-related issues on-line.Privacy settings: Set your privacy settings to ensure that only known and invited real-life friends can access your sites.Relationships with Patients: Don’t use sites to enter into any personal relationships with patients. Don’t respond to requests from patients to befriend you, simply tick the ‘decline’ option giving no reason.Align: Before you get onto social media sites to promote yourself, determine who your ideal follower is, and therefore aim for your posts to align with what they would like to hear.Engage: Work with those in your profession or industry to get more evidence based positive health messages out there.Share: Help to develop the profession, share your knowledge and expertise with colleagues. But don’t share personal information this can protect you from unwanted advances from people and will also prevent identity fraud.