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Conquer information overload

Digest what you read in an orderly way

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in Office Management

Futurist Alvin Toffler coined the term “information overload” in 1970. He got that one right.

In the last 31 years, we’ve been set adrift in data. Perhaps you’ve graduated from information overload to what author Richard Saul Wurman calls “information anxiety,” an even more unsettling feeling that there’s just too much to absorb in too little time.

To control the flow of information, rather than vice versa, take these steps:

Think long term. When you approach a new subject or a source of information, ask yourself, “Six months from now, will I need to know this?” Use this question to direct you to material that merits your attention.

Standardize incoming e-mails. Instruct peers and employees to put their requests in the subject line of e-mails they send to you. That’ll save you from sifting through the message to determine what others want you to do. If they have a deadline, ask them to include it, too. Sample subject lines: “Review memo by Friday” or “Reply to customer Jones.”

Read and write. When you sit down with a pile of reading matter, have a pen and pad handy to jot to-do notes, brainstorms and questions related to the text. That way, you can instantaneously apply what you read and reinforce key points.

Find your peak time to process new information. Just as you’re most productive or energetic at certain times of the day, you’ll retain more of what you read when your mind’s operating on all cylinders. Experiment to learn when you digest information most effectively: Read for 15 minutes on different days during the morning, lunch hour, afternoon and early evening—and track your alertness each time.

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