Does Your Head Hurt from Information Overload?
The ability to access information on any subject with just a few clicks on the keyboard makes business so much easier, but we also pay a price for the convenience.
We can source information in seconds that may have taken days or weeks in the past. We have access to information any time of the day or night. We can contact or at least send an e-mail to anyone – anywhere – 24 hours-a-day. We can even subscribe to receive e-mails to stay updated on practically any subject or situation that interests us. We can perform Online transactions with companies from all points around the world; and we can monitor accounts, markets, and everything else from our computer terminals. So what is the problem?
Having access to such an enormous amount of information takes a toll if not managed well. Information overload can be a weighty burden. It is critical to learn how to separate the grain from the chaff – the worthwhile information from the unnecessary and useless information. Keep what you need and be willing to let the rest go.
For most people it is impossible to read every e-mail received, peruse every Website that pertains to your topic of interest for the day, or monitor every market. If you try to do all of that, you will not only drive yourself crazy – you will always be short of time and fall farther and farther behind in doing the things that matter most for your business.
The reality is that you could spend your entire day doing the three things listed in the above paragraph and never really accomplish a thing. Knowing that you are not doing what you need to be doing – taking care of your business priorities – is extremely stressful. You may want to keep your finger on every detail of your business, every change in your stock market status, and be apprised of the latest updates available on many web sites, but you simply CANNOT do it all!
If you try to do it all, you will be stressed from trying and failing. You will also be worried about what is not being done as you struggle to separate the critical information you MUST have from the less critical or even needless information that can be deleted. One of the things that may nag at you is that “something really important may slip through the cracks” – and it may, but the chances are slim if you can learn to quickly identify the pieces of information that you MUST have – in other words the information supports your short- and long-term business goals
There are many facets to this problem, but for our purposes today, I will address one common problem for everyone who relies on their computer for business – email.
Everyone deals with the problem of how to handle the relentless stream of emails. We have already established that you cannot read and answer them all and still have time to do what you MUST do – so what is the answer?
If you are a one man/woman office, below is one process you may want to try on for size:
- Set aside one hour in the morning, plus two 30-minutes periods during the day to check, sort, answer, and file your e-mail – first thing in the morning, sometime around lunch and just before you quit for the evening. (You should adjust the number of minutes per scheduled time based on the number of emails you receive, but you should establish the pattern of only checking email three times a day.)
- As you check the emails, do one of the following:
- Delete (….as many as you can. If it is NOT critical to your current short- and long-term goals, let it go!)
- Respond immediately, if it is urgent (Don’t delay if it is important and you can take care of it in a few seconds or minutes. Get it off your plate.)
- File the important, but less urgent messages to handle at the end of the day. (These should primarily be important messages that will take a little longer for your response, or for which you need additional information.)
- File anything else that seems important and can wait in a separate file to be handled later. This file should be the last thing you check at night before you go home. Go through 5 to 10 messages each night. Take care of anything that must be addressed and delete everything you can. (Often when you look at “delayed” messages, you will realize they are not very important, do not contribute to the accomplishment of your goals and can be deleted.)
NOTE: You will need to set up some kind of filing system on your computer. Most email service providers have a built in filing system – learn to use it!
I know this feels like a never-ending battle and one that you may feel you are losing. But, once you learn to discipline yourself in using the scheduled time slots for checking, sorting, and deleting messages (always keeping your goals in mind), you will get into a rhythm and it will get easier.
If you do not develop an effective system for handling your e-mail, it will deflect your focus and sap your energy. Don’t let that happen.
Absolutely avoid the constant checking of your email – stay focused on what you need to accomplish each day and only go to the e-mail at your scheduled times. Three times a day should be adequate – constantly checking email is a serious time wasting activity.
If you do not learn to discipline yourself and the way you use and respond to email, it can turn from a wonderful convenience to a cloud hovering over you all the time. Obviously, there are times when you need to send messages – so send them – but do not get caught in the trap of checking and responding the messages while you are there.
Of course, there will be the occasional message that pops up and must be answered immediately, but again, take care of it and move on – DON’T allow yourself to get caught and end up wasting valuable time from your already busy day.
Your ability to use email effectively depends on the habits you allow to form. Choose to develop habits that will serve you – and your business. DO NOT CHOOSE behaviors that will end up costing you time, energy and money in the long run.
Begin today replacing bad habits with goods ones. REMEMBER – time is money and every minute you waste will cost you!