This may be random. For once, I am speechless. Or at least wordless. You know me. That doesn’t happen. Ever. I might go quiet, but that is different from not having something to say. Perhaps it is all the different threads in my head?

There are big Redcatco projects in the wings, new blogs to feed, articles to write and a fair collection of other things to be done too. Is it all making sense, or is it random, like stones on a forest floor.

Do you ever get too many things in your head at once? Perhaps it’s just me, although given the popularity of How to Deal with Being Overwhelmed at Work, I’m not so sure.

When we get overloaded things start to look random. All the gaps get filled, and the patterns that gave us a sense of order start to disappear. Randomness is a curious thing. I’m not talking about the mathematical science of it, but rather its effect on the brain.

There’s a nice review of Nassim Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomnesshere, which is a great read on the subject. Essentially we try and predict randomness. Its in our nature. Our brains see patterns everywhere, that’s how they work. The only way we can know if a pattern is valid is from its success in predicting future events. However, we rarely wait that long.

Some things that look random are actually patterns. I was trying to get a close up shot of a bee (in relation to “Do your employees dance“), when I realised that often life is only random until you study it carefully.

Getting the picture was either going to involve waiting at a flower and hoping to luck-out, or knowing where the bee was going to go next, and getting there first. After a quick trial, it was clear the former method was going to involve significantly more time than I had planned to spend. I needed to be able to predict the bee’s movements to get to the flower first. That or hope for a matrix-like moment of speed and dexterity.

After watching the bee a while, I came to the conclusion that they were pretty random critters. So much for my pattern-making brain. But then I got a little closer in, and followed one of the more industrious looking fellows. I was just starting get a feel for what he was up to, then ‘whoosh’, he was gone. Ok, on to the next. As I got closer and started to see the world from a bee’s-eye view (minus ultraviolet sight capabilities), I suddenly spotted the pattern. Click.

This bee progressed around in a very orderly spiral, until the lavender flower was cleaned out, then hopped on to the next. The randomness? Well, the bee could see which flowers had accessible pollen and simply ignored those that didn’t.

Have you ever watched someone and thought ‘why on earth did they do that?’ – it may well have been for a very logical reason, part of a well ordered pattern. Until you understand the motives and assumptions athe person is working with their actions will seem random.

Patterns actually make us productive. At least, productive people seem to follow patterns (as a tangential piece in The Economist indicates: “Every move you make“). It might be cause and effect, or simply a correlation, but patterns do bring a sense of order, and a sense of order helps to get more done.

So, how to get order and efficiency out of business overload? Take a leaf out of the computing book. I was writing up a webcast for BusinessTechFeed on Data Center Efficiency, which included a section on virtualization. A very useful technology for making more efficient use of computing resources. Virtualization lets you move from lots of under-utilized machines to one efficient, highly utilized one. The machine runs separate instances that each behave as a fully fledged computer.

Taking the virtualization concept across to productivity, rather than looking at your life as a whole (which is a good thing to do by the way, so don’t stop!), spend a while dividing it down into chunks. What are your different roles and responsibilities? Are there distinct areas to your life? Try writing down a set of objectives for each area, if that is something you haven’t done before. Now try slicing your time into segments for each of these areas. When you are working in one segment, don’t let the others invade it, unless it really is an emergency.

After a few days the technique should result in a fresh level of clarity and efficiency. When everything is thrown together, it feels random and things are hard to make sense of. Separating out the different things helps you to see patterns and order more clearly, and reconnect with their purpose. Remember those stones on the forrest floor. Let me put a few of them off into a different pile. Does the picture make more sense now?