Book Review: Getting Organized in the Google Era by Douglas C Merrill

The subtitle is “How to Stay Efficient, Productive (and Sane) in an Information-Saturated World” and is written by the former CIO of Google, “whose corporate mission is to organize the world’s information.” That is a tall task as each of us knows intimately the burden of information overload in our lives.  As we are inundated with information and data continuously through traditional and non-traditional media, including tv, radio, newspapers, blogs, Twitter, Facebook status posts, etc., how do we make sense of it all?

Douglas’s solution is stress reliving.  He wants us to understand that we can’t make sense of it ALL and that in fact, we don’t have to.  We need to use our skills for filtering information so we don’t overfill our heads with information that we can easily look up elsewhere.  And here is his key – “search is king.”

Douglas outlines a process that when we are confronted with information we need to make a choice – do we need to ignore it , do we store it somewhere for future retrieval, or do we encode it – remember it and put it in our long term memory?  The answer depends on the content and context of the information – what do we need it for? – and that answer comes from what is our goal, what are we trying to achieve?

So all that information that we can look-up needs to be put in a system that makes it easy for us to retrieve.  Douglas uses a Google arsenal of tools, not because he worked there, “but because they fit his work style.”  Tools like Gmail®, Google Calendar®, and Google Docs®.  But he also recognizes that other tools, not produced by Google can work almost as well – Dropbox, for one. And don’t forget bookmarks! He seems to be a die-hard MAC user and touts the benefits of iPad®, but he also owns a Kindle®.

Douglas dedicates a chapter to how to search and offers a breakdown of search terms that reminded me of SQL (structured query language) from my days as a network administrator.  The Boolean operators (and, or, +, -) make an appearance as well as some lesser known options but I like the “site” term that allows me to use Google to search a specific site without having to go there first.  And who knew that Google allows searches by text (466453) and also has a toll-free directory assistance line (800-466-4411). OK, maybe you did, but I didn’t until I read this book.

There are many nuggets of gold throughout the book, but I think the core message is that we need to accept that our work life and personal life are integrated through these social tools and that’s ok.  We don’t need to work 9-5 to get our work done (and we usually don’t). We can work 2 – 11.  Depends on our clients and our work.  We can dedicate a few moments on the weekend for work tasks in exchange for a few moments on personal items during the workday, so we don’t feel stressed or resentful.

There is much more in here as Douglas uses personal tragedy to showcase the limitations of our minds under stress.  He talks about being prepared and how the Cloud will help us have information when and where we need it so that we are prepared.

This book is a good read for the tidbits it offers but also for the perspective of how digital and social tools are changing our work and world and how we can navigate the information overload better.

How do you stay organized in this digital world – or it disorganization the new black? Is “search” the king for you as it is for Douglas? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

For more information on Douglas go to:

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