Did you read a novel today? Actually, you did. According to one estimate, each of us encounters 63,000 words of new information everyday, about as many words as are in your average novel.
Yes, the torrential downpour of information is a fact of 21st century life, with substantial costs to our sanity and worklife. As far as sanity goes, just check out this week’s cover story in Newsweek for a report on research showing that the Internet may be making us mentally ill. Other research has shown that 57% of American workers believe that information demands have intensified since the recession, and almost all (91%) have discarded work information without reading. Interruptions caused by work overload cost US companies an estimated $650 billion each year—a number that surely is already out of date.
So how are PR professionals dealing? Do executives have any particular methods for consuming news and staying on top of events and trends? Do they feel it is hard to keep up—especially in a business where an intimate knowledge of media is essential?
Lisa Zone, Senior Vice President at Dix & Eaton, reports that her media consumption has gone increasingly mobile, thanks in large part to her Smart Briefs iPhone app, which she checks every morning, as well as Twitter. At the same time, Zone relies heavily on in-person professional meetings, “since digital communications can’t always replace an in-person conversation and/or learning opportunity… I use those like-minded connections as an added funnel to identify interesting trends or information that can help me be better at my job.”
To help process incoming information, Zone blocks out “at least one afternoon per week on my calendar to put toward “’think time’ for my clients or the firm. While scheduling conflicts certainly come up, I’ve found putting a block of time on my calendar is the only way to ensure I can take time to be creative, think through issues or process ‘what’s next.’ When feasible, I may even pack up and head to a nearby coffee shop to avoid distractions or perhaps be inspired by different surroundings.” Zone credits such “think time” with allowing her to stay on top of the latest trends, especially as relate to social media tools. “Without having a chunk of blocked time to read up on and try emerging social media platforms, it would be hard for me to knowledgeably counsel clients about how those tools might benefit their businesses.”
Edelman Account Executive Deanna Southerling likewise relates that she mainly consumes media “on the fly,” relying on “push notifications” on her iPhone for news from publications like the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, and also checking Twitter lists on a range of topics throughout the day. Twitter “helps me to stay up to speed in what is happening in the public relations industry and the beauty space that I work in. Fellow PR pros are always sharing information about the campaigns they’re working on, the experiences they’ve encountered in the industry, client challenges and work-arounds etc. that provide interesting insights into the industry.”
Like Zone, Southerling carves out time every week to think and process—for Southerling, this is Friday evenings. Southerling makes a point of not structuring this time too much; as she relates, “I think this is important because I feel that in New York, and especially in PR agencies where we bill every hour, everyone is constantly trying to be productive and figure out the most efficient and effective way of doing everything and that creates pressure to always be maximizing your time. I think that having time set aside where you just let yourself BE and think about whatever you’d like to think about, work-related or not, helps you to feel more mentally-prepared for what comes your way in the following days.”
Jeff Mascott, Managing Partner of Adfero Group, has found that he actually spends less time consuming media than he used to, even as a self-professed “media junkie.” Still, he scans key publications like the Wall Street Journal and Politico every morning and also covers publications like McKinsey Quarterly and Harvard Business Review. In addition, he consults his Twitter feed three to five times a day to learn what people in the industry are talking about. Like the other PR professionals we consulted, Jeff sets aside time each week for thinking—in his case, during his daily jogging ritual. “I’ve found running to be a wonderful way to unplug and open my brain up to thinking and processing all the media I consume on a daily basis. I try to run four to six days a week. My runs allow me to digest information, think about trends and get away from the “surround sound” of life in the digital age and really think.”
Tools for optimizing your media consumption:
Evernote: “[A]n excellent app and web-based system that allows you to track your notes across every computer and device you use.”
Twitter Lists: “Following people with the same interest in topics that you are passionate about or that are relevant for your industry is a very easy way to regularly be consuming relevant information….”
Tweetdeck: “Helps me manage my twitter feed by segmenting conversations that are important to me (or my clients).”
As Jeff reports, it’s critical these days to consume media deliberately; otherwise, you wind up losing a sense of perspective. “I work very hard at not getting bogged down by all the media that’s available to us. Skimming daily and weekly publications like I do, I know I am keeping up with the industry and also the world at large. I’m not looking for more time to understand what’s going on day-to-day. In fact, I think there’s a danger in following media so closely that you lose the forest for the trees. It’s why I try to focus on broader, long-term trends and big picture subjects, rather than daily developments that can just get you trapped in the weeds.”
So there you have it: Three media professionals, three individuals very much immersed in media, three very different ways of managing it. What’s your technique? And are there any tools you would recommend to help other professionals tune in without feeling overwhelmed? Please let us know in the comments section!