This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Do we really waste 20% of our time searching for stuff?

ask a librarian, telephony style

I've been involved in knowledge management for nearly 20 years. And over most of that time, one of the most familiar ideas is that we spend 20% of their time searching for stuff. Typically this statement comes up with the latest tool or service that promised to recover that 20%. It's an intriguing claim. But I wonder. Is this 20% of time truly wasted?

Usually, the claim is made about finding things we have already seen, used, or saved ... somewhere. It's just that we can't seem to recall exactly what or where it was easily. Sometimes we even have to re-create it, based on other materials. The claim in most of these conversations is that we could be more effective if we didn't lose time hunting around. 

The claim appears to be sensible. It would be awesome to have things immediately at my fingertips when I need them. This assumes that there is actually a specific thing that will come back from the search. The other trouble is that the thing I'm looking for is often wrapped up in the context of the time that I was using it last. That is the time, people, scenario, etc in which I was working. And these days, that could have been on my phone, my tablet, my laptop, or even the more ephemeral conversations I have with people. On top of that my recall isn't perfect - today I might think of something as "collaboration" that I thought of as "coordination" a few weeks ago. The things I do and read and talk about all change how I think about even the same topics.  My context and understanding changes all the time. 

When I am doing wider searches for materials that is wrapped up in research, it is not so much that I am looking for "the thing" that will answer my question. I'm actually in the process of thinking and trying to clarify my question. I may turn up other ideas and thoughts about the topic that help me widen - or narrow - what I mean by the topic. I learn as I hunt. This sounds like I need a reference librarian in my pocket. They are skilled at asking questions and clarifying requests to understand context. Maybe the next few years will see better and better intelligent assistants that can understand more of what I'm really asking for.

Or maybe I should just step away from the computer and talk to people. They are often the best source of jogging my own memory and thoughts.

Respect for people - where does it fit?

Network is in the flow of words