My 10 Simple Ways To Prevent Information Overload
The following is a simple list of the best ways I have found to manage the wealth of new information that passes through the various information-input channels I have setup.
- Create Focused Time. Set chunks of time aside for specific tasks, and refuse to do anything but those tasks. This requires huge amounts of self-discipline, but its the number one way of getting things done amid the information-noise. Try to start with small chunks of time, say 20 minutes and scale-up as needed.
- Create Non-Focused Time. To help do the things that are a bit less structured (things like reviewing yesterdays tweets, RSS, emails and such), have some dedicated flexible, more information-friendly time. Personally I do this early in the morning (as have many overnight inputs), so new information can be used during the day and helps me ease into the day (compared to starting immediately with the nasty job).
- Block The Interruptions. During the Focused Time (or whenever), simply don’t read new emails, look at pings, and let non-urgent phone calls go to voice-mail. Most channels should be closed, turned off, or at least hidden from view (and inaudible). Ask people to set-up a meeting later if they ask for your time.
- Schedule Your Day. Use a very simple tool to help you schedule your day better. This helps create the focus/non-focus time, but can also be a good reminder of what needs doing. Break the day into hour chunks and allocate time sensibly. Most importantly – try to stick to it. Use it for not just meetings, but schedule your own work (which has the added bonus of preventing others booking meetings in the slots that you plan to do important tasks). I also include key deadlines ahead, to help keep me reminded/focused.
- Fewer Meetings. Don’t setup meetings when things could be actioned right now with a short chat. If you are free get a feel for the situation and what is needed from you. Usually it doesn’t require an hour meeting, and these usually bring more information, ideas and general baggage into your world that you don’t need.
- Archive, But Don’t Over-Index Anymore. Most people love to use filters and folders to put information in places and whilst this made sense for some time, the modern tools have much better searching capabilities that mean less manual categorization is needed. Three times a day, I put all email I think I might need to keep into one folder, delete the rest, and keep my inbox empty. I know where everything is, and can search very easily (on time, sender, recipient, subject etc). I don’t waste any time moving stuff about and navigating to try and find stuff. Its also nice to see everything in one place (or subsets of it), and not have stuff hidden in a maze of folders in folders in folders.
- Process Stuff Quickly. There are some simple techniques that can be used to quickly work out if something is interesting and how relevant it is (i.e. worth the time to read). Good examples are within the popular Getting Things Done (GTD). Also, if something is causing progress problems, don’t just continue – try to address it immediately so things can be speeded-up as soon as possible. People will change if you clearly explain the negative effect things are having on you. Don’t just moan, do something about it!
- Just Say No. Sometimes you shouldn’t take on more work, as something more important will suffer. It might be hard to say no, but sneaky ways to help as to give very long completion dates (I’ll try to get to it next week), to make it easier for someone else to do it (e.g. ask lots of silly questions).
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. If its actually small and not important, don’t waste time on it. Accept some stuff gets dropped/missed to make room for more important stuff. Don’t get blinded by seemingly urgent work that is simply not important – learn to filter the noise and properly prioritize your ToDo lists (I use one daily and one weekly ToDo lists, numbered by priority, to help keep focused).
- Just Do It. Don’t waste too much time thinking – start doing. Its much more effective to think-whilst-doing, than to sit there and guess what might be important/related. The ‘doing’ might be drafting a proposal or a plan, but putting the thinking into some kind of action really helps get better results. It’s also great to do a little work towards longer term goals every day. It might only be 10minutes but its better than nothing and the results do mount up eventually. It is also good for the soul to know you made some progress, and inspires further effort.
I hope these tools help you as much as they did for me (I got an order of magnitude more productive). They come from about 1yr reading about productivity, and represent the more practical and simple to use methods I found (but are by no means all of them!). Good Luck.
Incidentally my current channels are: 5 Main RSS feeds, 2 Email accounts (personal + work), 1 Twitter account (see sidebar), 1 Blog (this), 1 Facebook account , 1 Flickr account, 1 Instant Messaging Account, and 2 work-related facebook/twitter-type accounts (other tools that have similar features).