Information Overload – Filter the Noise, Increase Productivity

Today’s IT executive is inundated with information. Spreadsheets, research, web articles, newspapers and magazines (yes, we still read the paper versions), emails, voicemail, video, audio and white papers. Most of this information is either restated from original sources or updates to outdated published work. Because we’re all constantly “connected”, this influx of information becomes the background noise in which we live our lives. With the constant flood of information, how can we manage and control it to maintain or increase our personal productivity?

1)      Shut off email, text message and RSS alerts – Most of us read and respond to emails and text messages immediately upon receipt. This breaks concentration and wastes time. Decide on a schedule to read and respond instead,  once every 60 or 90 minutes for example. This allows you to concentrate on the task at hand, and take a needed break every so often to answer the emails and text messages.

2)      Don’t answer the phone unless your job requires you to do so – The same reasoning applies. Schedule two or three times during the day to listen to your voicemail. This gives you a break from your other tasks and allows you the option of returning or not returning a call.

3)      Take breaks from “connectivity” – take time to go for a walk or some other physical activity during the day, without your mobile device. This renews blood flow, clears your head, and invigorates you, getting you ready for the rest of the day.

4)      Minimize distractions – clear your computer desktop of widgets, icons and windows that pull your attention from the task at hand.  Clear your work surface of those things not needed for the current task.

5)      Don’t multitask – studies have shown that “cognitive multitasking” is a myth; the human brain isn’t wired for it. Designate time periods for individual tasks and stay on that particular task until you’ve either completed it or the allotted time is up.

6)      Be flexible, but not too flexible– It has been my personal experience that I’ll come up with a solution to the previous task while I’m working on the next task; the answer just “pops” into my head… it’s OK to go back and get the solution down, odds are you’re not too far into the next task anyway. Then make sure to get back to the current task quickly.

7)      Use instant messaging instead of email when possible – you get faster resolution to an issue, the feedback is immediate and you are not constantly interrupted with having to reply to sporadic emails. Some companies are banning internal email altogether.

8)      Limit your information intake to trusted sources – using too many RSS feeds and news outlets overloads you with redundant information, wasting time having to sift through it. Limit yourself to only the “best” online sources for the information you need.

9)      Talk to experts instead of reading about their work – Real-time interaction with subject matter experts is the best way to get the first hand experiential information. Asking questions as they come up is the fastest and best way to get the actionable information you need. Reading about the work may not frame the issue in the correct context.

Managing the number and timing of information sources, minimizing the noise and distractions, using the optimal methods of communication, and using only high quality information, can greatly reduce information overload, save time, and increase productivity