It’s a daily struggle for most of us. We try to stay focused at work, but we’re constantly being distracted. We’re always inundated with information competing for our time and attention: email, news alerts, social media, memos. There’s never a break, and some of the information isn’t useful — or accurate — at all.
How do we focus? How can we sift through the noise to find the best, most useful information? And how is this related to security?
The key is information literacy — knowing how to filter out the noise and focus on quality information, rather than misinformation or irrelevant notifications.
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5 best practices for information literacy
- Know you’re not the only person dealing with information overload. We’re all in the super-information age together, even if we experience it differently. The younger generations are digital natives — they grew up with smartphones and are used to a deluge of information. For some of us, the constant flow of information is both new and overwhelming. We’re being overloaded with email, notifications, news stories and social media. All of us, however, need to sort through the noise to find the information we need to be productive and not distracted. The good news is that, at the end of the day, you can still sort through all the information, using the basic skills of organizing and filtering information. So relax, we’re all in this together.
- Prioritize. Of all the tasks you need to accomplish every day, what’s the least enjoyable one? The one you dread most – the one you may be avoiding, should be the first thing you tackle, when you have the drive and mental energy to handle it. Get it done and out of the way first. You can also take a look at what you didn’t finish yesterday. By prioritizing, you can make your list less overwhelming.
- Filter. If you give every piece of information equal weight and importance, you’re not going to be able to function. This is important at work and when reading the news and social media. You’ve got to be able to quickly identify useful information quickly. Is this piece of information fact, or opinion? Have an awareness of your own confirmation bias when you’re scrolling — we tend to believe information that supports our existing opinions. If you don’t understand you have confirmation bias, you won’t be able to filter your information.
- Limit social media. This applies to both business and personal social media. While social media is a tool that helps us communicate with business and personal contacts, it can also be dangerous. You rarely get the whole story on social media; your news feed changes depending on where you live and what you like, which means you’re missing entire viewpoints. The social media companies are motivated to keep you clicking, not to inform you. (To better understand the motivations of social media platforms, I recommend watching The Social Dilemma on Netflix.)
- Know what you’ve accomplished. Just as you start your day with a list of priorities, you should take stock of what you’ve done at the end of the day. After a day of work, list your accomplishments. What got done? What competed for your time? How did you do — did you complete the tasks you set out to accomplish? By listing your achievements and seeing where you successfully tuned out the noise of information overload, you can set yourself up for success in the future.
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Why is information literacy important for the security industry?
The nature of security work means you have to be savvy when it comes to knowing what information is important.
Security is often informed by intelligence, and it’s important to know which data is accurate and relevant. Where are you getting your information? Are you vetting your sources and checking the origin of the data you’re using? If you’re not information literate, you won’t be able to plan or respond well to incidents.
Knowing which information is credible and worth your time is also important for practical reasons. Because security can be reactive, you never know what you’ll be doing during the day, or when you’ll be pulled away from your planned work to respond to an incident. If you’re not organized, and disciplined about your tasks and the information you’re paying attention to, you’ll constantly be putting out fires rather than planning proactively for your organization's security.
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