Monday, February 18, 2013

What is Search Costing You?

Looking for information is free, but the time spent looking for information is not free. In fact, if you seriously measured you and your colleagues' search cost, you'll find it's probably one of the largest hidden costs your company has.

If you're a so-called knowledge worker 15-35% of your time is spent looking for information (and most likely it's closer to 35% than 15%). Also, my own studies reveal that once the information is found, only 20% of the time (i.e. on average) is spent actually reading it.

Here's another way to put it: "We spend a large amount of time searching, and once we have it, we almost instantly store and ignore it, link it or postpone digesting it".

Is this effective use of our time and strength? For some this may be OK. For me it's not. What can be done? Here's what I would suggest.

First, view information differently. You can change your paradigm by asking...
  1. Do I know when I'm searching? (RECOGNIZE)
  2. Do I know why I'm searching? (STOP OR FILTER)
Second, apply a new skill set and tools. Ask yourself...
  1. Do I know how to search? (MASTER)
  2. Can I reduce my time searching? (OPTIMIZE)
(1) Recognize the Search
First of all, accept the fact. Know that the stats for "information overload" probably apply to you as much as anyone. Yes, a third of your time may be spent looking for information. Consider each moment of the day, from looking for documents and taking care of email to googling and browsing through web pages.

I encourage you to convert your estimated search time to monetary value by calculating the cost. Then, decide to reduce that cost by replacing old habits with improved and smarter patterns and systems.

(2) Stop the Search
Once you're conscious about when you're searching, you can start dealing with the problem. Before you look up information, always commit to decide: Will I read, link or store it? If you do, you may find that a little less than half of your search queries are not really important. Try it!

(3) Master the Search
An employee's value is highly related to his or her ability to find and make use of relevant information. Just a very few basic principles will make an impactful difference, for instance:
(4) Optimize the Search
Most people think of a search engine when there's talk of looking up information. However, believe it or not, the majority of our time is still related to offline material. Interestingly enough, pictures, documents and even physical paper makes up a large part of the equation. A significant amount of time is spent on getting information from others.

In general, here are some quick bullets with basic advice:
  • Get rid of paper if you can - if you must store paper - oganize it!
  • Never produce content on a local disk or server - store it in the cloud. (Note! A few years ago this was still considered poor counsel.)
  • Scan, tag and digitize your own information. Avoid printing it!
  • Only produce content that's automatically indexed.
  • Know "who knows what" and make sure to have easy access to these individuals. Be available to them and ask them to be available for you. Build strong relationships with key people.
  • In general, for each search problem find a better and faster solution by using existing software and browser tools (e.g. install Google Quick Scroll).
My conclusion has been this: Instead of spending mye strength on finding information, I try to focus my attention on digesting knowledge to seek wisdom.

Attend our training event on "How to Save Time with Google" the 14th of March in Porsgrunn.

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