Arment Dietrich

Five Tips (and Some Tools) to Manage Information Overload

By: Arment Dietrich | February 27, 2013 | 
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Today’s guest post is by Allen Mireles.

How do you manage information overload?

We’ve all been there and some of us are are still there.

You know, that point in time where you realize you are staring blankly at the computer screen and simply not taking in what you’re reading or watching.

Or that moment, in the middle of the night, when you find yourself trying to process everything you’ve ingested during the past few days.

Let’s face it. The volume of information we are exposed to on a daily basis is staggering.

The data we have to review, the posts and articles we need to read to stay abreast of changes in our industries, the updates on social media, the emails clogging our inboxes.

It’s out of control. And it’s not likely to slow down.  The Cisco Visual Networking Index, predicts by 2015, there will be three billion Internet users transmitting 245 terabytes of data per second.

The Enemy Within

According to InformationManagement.com, a Basex report called “We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us,” states on a daily basis some 300 billion emails are sent, two million+ blog posts are written, and 532 million status updates are posted on Facebook.

And that’s just a fraction of the data being generated and consumed daily.

Information overload has become a major concern for companies, costing untold dollars in lower productivity, hampered innovation, and possibly even lowering worker comprehension levels. As the Basex report states, “Defining the problem…isn’t that simple either. It’s not just a case of too much e-mail, too many interruptions, too many projects, or too many instant message sessions. It’s how these things all mesh together–sometimes like an orchestra without a conductor.”

Monitor and Measure

Companies such as Morgan Stanley recognize the problem and have been monitoring and measuring employee outcomes for the past four years as a means of understanding how to create systems to better manage information. Their management realizes the costs of information overload are real and can be expensive.

However, most businesses simply assume managing information is part of the job and leave it to the individual to deal with as best they can.

Which brings it back to you.

In the end, managing information overload comes back to practicality and self-discipline, as so many things do.

Following are some tips to help you better manage the volume of information you deal with every day.

  1. Make time to focus.
    Identify when you are most productive. Some of us are sharpest first thing in the morning, filled with energy and zeal to jump in and get the job done. Others of us are night owls and work better when left to function in the wee hours of the night. Whatever it is for you, use that time to focus on what you need to do and create your plan and task list.
  2. Prioritize.
    Take your plan and task list and prioritize the things that simply must get done during your work day. Stay true to the plan you have created (to the best of your ability) and reward yourself later for a job well done.
  3. Schedule uninterrupted work time.
    Multi-tasking doesn’t always get the job done. Most of us have some amount of work that requires periods of uninterrupted time for concentration. Identify which of your responsibilities fall into that category and schedule the time you need to work without interruption. A short, but concentrated burst of work can generate powerful results.
  4. Stop checking email, Twitter, and Facebook updates every few minutes.
    This one may hurt. We’ve become so accustomed to checking and responding to email and updating our Twitter feed and Facebook profiles, we almost don’t see it happening. Yet each of those pull you away from the task at hand and provide powerful distractions. Schedule breaks to check back into your social networks and save emails in online folders for response at regular points during the day.
  5. Escape.
    Finally, take time away from the digital world and escape. Give your mind a rest. Read a novel. Play with your kids. Paint a picture. Refinish the den. Visit your friends.

Do any and all of the things that pull you away from your computer, from email, blogs, social updates, videos, forums, and texting. Give it a rest. It will all be there when you come back (and will have multiplied like the single socks under the bed). But you’ll be able to cope better after your escape.

Some Practical Tools that May Help

There are also some really handy and practical tools available to help you manage information overload.

Following are a few of my favorites.

  • Dropbox. The easiest way I have found to share online files. Truly.
  • Evernote. I’m a digital hoarder. Evernote enables me. It lets me quickly and easily clip and save articles, posts, images, documents–you name it. All there for me to pore back over when I need them or make time. I never worry losing something that seemed important at the time (and may well have been).
  • Mailstrom. Who ever thought emptying your email inbox could be fun? With this cool tool it almost is. You can quickly wade right through those email and delete, archive, and unsubscribe to your heart’s content. I love it. (Thanks for the intro, Jason).
  • BusyCal. I work on a Mac so this calendar and task organizer is a godsend for me. It has true functionality and I can even color code events and tasks to my heart’s delight. I also have the iPad app so I can sync my task list to my iPad and plot and plan when I’m not on the computer.

So, how do you handle information overload. What advice would you offer us? Please tell. We all need help!

Allen Mireles is vice president at Arment Dietrich and is based outside of Toledo. She has diverse expertise in healthcare IT, manufacturing, and education. You can follow her on Twitter at allenmirelesadd her to your circles on G+, link to her on LinkedIn, or friend her on Facebook.

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