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Tips for Staying Engaged While Avoiding Information Overload

2015 April 5
by Jason Nairn, CPP, CISSP

Security professionals protect their employers and clients from the acts of Satan and the laws of Murphy, and the news is filled with stories of both.  There is always something in the news that might be interesting to the homeland security professional, and one could spend hours reading news stories, blogs, and journal articles filled with information relevant to our vocation.  Unfortunately, there just isn’t time in most professionals’ lives to gather it all in, analyze it, and add it to our knowledge base.  So how do we stay engaged professionally, without burning out on bad news and overtaxing our processors?

Here are four tips for staying engaged while remaining sane and productive:

  1. Focus on Your Area of ExpertiseWe have pointed out in HLSR that “homeland security” is a rather vague term, and encompasses a broad range of disciplines.  If you monitor everything related to the homeland security enterprise, you will get overloaded in a hurry.  Focus instead on your area of expertise. Most professionals operate within a discipline or a focus area.  We should pay the most attention to the stories, articles and blogs that serve our niche.  As for the rest – let it go.  Prioritize your thought resources.
  2. Cache the Good Stuff for Later – If you find a good story or article that is right in your wheelhouse, consider developing a database of good stuff and caching the pdf or link for later, when you have some downtime.  This will allow you the time to analyze the piece as you read, and to develop a thorough understanding of its content.  At the same time you will be developing a database of research relevant to your area of expertise that will serve you well in other ways.
  3. Monitor Trends, Not Individual Events – This is self-explanatory, but here is an example.  Over the past few months there have been almost daily stories of the dastardly deeds of groups like ISIS or ISIL and Boko Haram.  All of these stories provide accounts, often in excruciating detail, of the brutality of these terrorists.  Unless you are an ISIS expert (see #1) you can likely do without the gory details.  Focus your attention on trends, like radicalization, the growth of these groups and the general geography affected, and spare yourself the details and the emotional stress.
  4. Be Intentional About Engagement Time – Pick a time of day or a day of the week where you review the news and articles.  This will cause the engagement to be intentional, and will avoid the pitfalls of reviewing news bits during times when other productive work should be done.  Disconnecting from outside distractions is more important than ever in our connected workplace.  Scheduling engagement time will improve overall productivity.



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