From the moment we wake up each morning until the moment we finally retire each electronic device in the evening, we are bombarded with information. Between emails, internet, media outlets, social media, television trending, stock tickers, and more… there is a never-ending stream of bits and pieces to the giant puzzle every business person is trying to solve in order to successfully create a more effective product, winning strategy or better bottom line. Although it is convenient to have everything we need at our fingertips, can this virtual unlimited universe of data be a hindrance?
Information overload can indeed ruin productivity. Therefore is important to recognize time and attention management and develop a strategy to keep productivity on track. According to Derek Dean and Caroline Webb, “For all the benefits of information technology and the communications revolution, it has a dark side: information overload and its close cousin, attention fragmentation. Executives so badly need time to synthesize information from many different sources, reflect on its implications, apply judgments, make trade-offs, and arrive at good decisions.” Dean and Webb write about the three F’s: Filter, Focus and Forget.
In order to tackle the culture of information overload and regain productivity, it is important to develop a filtering strategy. Essentially… we need to differentiate what is relevant from the extraneous. Emails, meetings, internet, media and almost every source of information has a key message or messages surrounded by fillers or fluff. Figure out what is most important to you and your business. Ask specific questions that satisfy the goals of what you are working toward.
Once the information is paired down, focus is the key. Using the relevant information to make decisions and accomplish tasks requires setting aside time without distraction. This means resisting the urge to read every new email that flashes at the bottom of the screen and turning the phone (or phones) on silent for that necessary time period to get down to business.
Another essential piece to this strategy is to forget, or let go of the information and all of its bells and whistles once you have read, applied or used it. Forget the extraneous. This isn’t always easy because the filler material masquerades as an appealing alternative to focusing on your work. Also, don’t constantly revisit a subject, email or project outside of the time you’ve allotted. This distracts from moving on the next relevant information and task you seek to accomplish. If a subject needs to be revisited, allot a separate time to review it and revamp your work if necessary.
These simple steps can help us not only keep our forward momentum in the business world, but begin to change the company culture of constant information absorption into focused productivity with better results.
Dean, Webb: Jan 2011. McKinsey Quarterly, Organization Practice: Recovering from Information Overload.