Part of the problem is that the process of acquiring new information isn’t free, but we want it to be. We pay a cost of time and focus every time we stop what we’re doing to look at an incoming email, notification, text message, Slack ping, etc. The false promise of (basically all) productivity systems is the idea that there’s a “way” we can follow, that will magically cause all the ‘signal’ from these disparate places to fall into a bucket. And the ‘noise’ will evaporate at no cost to us.
Short of hiring an assistant — Human or AI, although the algorithms aren’t good enough… yet — we’re never going to have that luxury: we have to read the Slack channel to parse useful content, we have to read each email (or subject line) to understand what’s relevant, we have to page through those notifications that scroll through our phone or smartwatch to see the important ones.
Processing incoming information is a legitimate task in its own right, worthy of taking time out of the day for. A lot of consternation over productivity systems is the tension created when we think we shouldn’t be spending any time on the real work of extracting useful information from our various input sources.
But the simple fact is, it does take time to do this properly, and it’s time we need to spend. The other simple fact is that it’s just not possible to process all information from all sources. The people that “get stuff done” usually do so because they focus on a few meaningful tasks and push them forward. If you’re drowning in so much information that you can’t even see the meaningful tasks, then you may simply be overworked, or at least, overextended.