Created by the Information Overload Research Group, Information Overload Awareness Day is actually something we here at e2b teknologies firmly believe in. ERP and business intelligence systems produce massive amounts of information. Consuming too much information leaves us with no clear direction on how to act or react to the data. Further, we can bury ourselves digging too deep into the information where we waste time and simply lose sight of our goals.
I’ve struggled for years to figure out the best ways to organize my tasks. I’ve used software like Basecamp, I’ve used Excel, I wrote things down in my 7 Habits worksheets, I’ve used Outlook tasks, but nothing worked. But finally I figured out a system that works for me by logging everything as a task in our CRM software and combining this with what I’ve learned from Stephen Covey along with the 4 D’s of time management that I will preach until the day I die (or at least until someone shows me a better way).
I’ve come up with 25 ways that you can reduce information overload. Hopefully this helps.
• Purposefully try to send less email. One way to do this is to create a draft of the email first, save it, and then wait at least 10 minutes before sending it. This gives you time to decide if it’s critical.
• If you find yourself on an email thread that goes back and forth more than 3 times – consider picking up the phone and having a phone conversation or scheduling a meeting.
• Identify top-level key performance indicators (KPIs) to help keep you focused on your overall goals. Don’t have too many metrics and always evaluate data and reports in light of your KPIs. Business intelligence software is a great way to manage KPIs and critical reports to help unclutter your business life.
• Manage by exception. Don’t worry about weekly sales or management reports. Instead, use an alerts system to notify you only if something requires your attention and is outside the norm. After all, do you really care to see sales reports unless you’ve had a slow period or an above-average period?
• Automate report creation using a business intelligence system. Manually creating reports is time consuming, extremely prone to error, and inevitably results in multiple versions of reports. Instead, create only those reports that you truly need and have them automated for delivery to you or to a central location where you can access them as needed.
• Getting organized can also help you reduce information overload because it unclutters your life and allows you more time to focus. Getting organized takes time and dedication.
• Stop checking email or text messages every five minutes. Turn off your inbox notifications and phone alerts. Instead, check email and phone messages on a scheduled basis – no more than once each hour and preferably only a few times each day. A funny thing will happen when you do this – you’ll find yourself sending fewer emails and message because you can more easily identify priorities when looking at multiple messages at one time and some of the messages will go away altogether (you know, when someone emails you back and says forget it – I figured it out myself).
• Set daily goals or tasks that you want to accomplish. Write them down and then focus on getting them done. In marketing, we do this by defining an editorial calendar of what we want to write about for the day. We then focus on getting these articles written and fill in the rest of our day planning.
• Set time limits for tasks that are prone to take longer than they should. For example, I personally find myself getting lost in hyperlinks when researching a topic. I could dig deeper and deeper into the topic and spend (waste) an entire day on research. Instead, I allocate an hour for each blog article I write – I then do my research and stop when the time is done. If I’m not done researching – I move on to something else and I come back later to finish it. The same can be true for just about any task we find ourselves working on.
• Stop when it’s not your turn. What I mean by this is when you are waiting on someone else for something that impacts your ability to complete a task then stop. Move on to something else and wait for them to get back to you. You may need to remind them several times but if you know that they have the information you need then it’s probably going to take less time than trying to figure it out on your own.
• Focus on one thing and the most important things first. Multitasking is not good when you’re too busy. Instead, priortize your task list and work on one thing at a time. I personally love Stephen Covey’s four quadrant strategy and have implemented it with our marketing team where we define the priority of each task we could or should be working on. We can then filter the task list to look at tasks that are 1. Important and Urgent and then 2. Important and Non-Urgent, then 3. Not Important but Urgent, and finally 4. Not Important and Not Urgent.
• Go on an information diet and purposefully avoid computers, email, phone, and television if at all possible for at least one day a week (or minimize your reliance on it). Our brains need time to rest. Go for a walk or a bicycle ride or make a meal with your family and turn your phone off when you do.
• Write things down. This will help clear our minds so we don’t have to worry about keeping everything top of mind. We can then put these into our prioritized task lists later.
• Clear the mind by meditating or exercising.
• Follow the two minute rule allotting as little time as possible to the small items on your list. These should be those items that are not important and typically not urgent but pile up if you completely avoid them.
• Do the worst tasks first. Everyone has at least one part of their job they like least but it’s something that must be done. Do that first and get it out of the way. For me this is like eating cauliflower before I get to my chocolate malt milkshake.
• Take breaks – especially when you feel yourself wasting time on things that aren’t important. Go for a walk, use the bathroon, or visit with a coworker.
• Close the door. In many office environments it’s easy to get distracted when the office door is open. If you’re in a cubicle then wear ear phones if allowed and try to work head down focused on the task at hand.
• Get on the same page. I find myself working on items that I feel are high priorities – important and urgent. But sometimes our ownership has a different opinion on what’s important and what’s urgent. I spend a good amount of time making sure that we are all in agreement on priorities so that my efforts are focused where they need to be. And in cases where we don’t agree – it gives me an opportunity to plead my case.
• Learn how to communicate effectively. Everyone communicates differently. You may be one of many people who simply struggle with communication. Spend a few minutes each day and search out tips for how to be a more effective communicator. There are many resources available in blog articles and on video sites like YouTube or on professional sites like Lynda.com.
• Unclutter your life – physically and virtually. If you don’t need it – throw it away or file it away where it can’t be seen. I like to focus on the four D’s – do it, delegate it, defer it, or delete it. This has helped me tremendously. Any item that comes into my inbox I do if it’s urgent and easy. I delegate it to someone else by forwarding it on (and then I delete it), I defer it by adding it to my list which I prioritize later on, or I delete it. I often delete something someone sends me when it appears they really don’t need my input and they are simply copying me to keep me in the loop. Sometimes I’ll reply back saying, “Thanks for letting me know” and then I delete it. This way my reply back is saved in my sent items as a record (just in case) but I don’t have their message staring me in the face in my inbox.
• Use filters to limit information. Spam filters are a God send for keeping some unwanted information out of our lives but we could use other filters to help even more. Setup rules for your inbox to automatically file recurring emails. For example, my spam filter sends me a daily digest of spam items I should review. That simply creates one more task for me daily. Instead, I use Outlook to file those digests away for me and I only look at them once a week. I do the same for several email newsletters I subscribe to that are important but not critical for me to review the minute I get them. I do the same for Google Alerts that I use to stay on top of topics in my industry.
• Unsubscribe daily. We are all guilty of this. Find those spammers who continue to flood our inboxes and unsubscribe from their emails. This will take a lot of time initially but will become much more manageable once it’s under control.
• Create a file system. My boss used to say that there was no need for a file system because there are ways to search for information in every application imaginable. While I respect him greatly, I strongly disagree. Creating a filing system is a quick way to find information that you will likely need again. I tend to store any old information by year (e.g., create an archive folder for email for anything more than 12 months old) – I probably won’t need it anytime soon. I then create folders for open projects and I delete everything that does not require my attention allowing me to stay on top of my inbox. Trust me – this is not easy. I get between 50-100 emails daily and it took me weeks to get my email under control as my inbox was hovering around 15,000 messages (4,000 of which were unread!)
• Don’t allow yourself to be interrupted. People come in to my office all the time to ask me a question. If they talk more than 2 minutes I ask them to setup a meeting for us to discuss it further or I ask them to email me the information and I promise to look at it by the end of the day. It will take time but you will eventually train people to leave you alone unless it’s absolutely urgent.
You don’t have to implement all of these (or any of these tips) but I will ask you for one favor if you’d be so kind – be respectful of your coworkers time. If you schedule a meeting, show up on time, try to minimize interruptions, don’t send too many emails, and respect their personal preferences and requests for getting information.