Brought To You By Emily Parks
Productivity Consultant at Organize For Success, LLC...
Helping You Make Every Minute Matter!



Monday, October 6, 2014

Surviving The Information Avalanche

 The majority of us are on information overload. We are constantly inundated with emails, news, texts, articles, feeds, tweets, blogs, calls, reminders and much more, not only in our professional lives but our personal lives as well. Digital storage space is much less expensive than ever before. Regular folks, in addition to companies, are contributing online content, which has multiplied the amount of content being generated. Our tech tools do much more than ever before, and mobile professionals are “on call” for working 24/7. It can be extremely overwhelming!

To take control, it is important that we address these 5 different challenges:
  •        We must capture and cull together all the relevant bits of information.
  •        We must organize those contents, grouping like with like and, hopefully, indexing the details for later searching.
  •        We must make sure we have enough space to adequately store and manage the contents being retained, not worrying if we’ll go over imposed limits.
  •        We must address privacy concerns by verifying what we keep is stored safe from theft, loss or damage.
  •        We must plan for quickly locating what’s needed later so we see the contents in an understandable way, being able to share what’s needed.

In addressing the immense challenges of surviving today’s info avalanche, there are action items we can implement immediately. For busy professionals to wade through all the information with which we’re bombarded, the first step is to turn off all the pings and dings of our various notifications; this empowers us to be in control of when we handle information, not whoever is sending that information out in our direction. Then, it’s important for us to be very clear about our personal and professional goals so we’ll know upfront how we’d like to use whatever useful information we receive, which will allow for a much clearer focus in on what information is applicable, thereby blocking out what is really not needed. Such tweaks to how we address the info avalanche can make an immediate and noticeable difference in how we survive.

When evaluating the info avalanche and how we can best handle it, email is a place where we can get overwhelmed until it’s all a blur; however, there are tons of great techniques for clearing the clutter in our email. First, send fewer emails to get fewer emails back. Obviously, if you need something documented, you’ll need to stick with sending an email, and, if you need to send the information to multiple people at once, email is the best option; however, if a phone call will suffice, give that a try. Next, unsubscribe from eNewsletters you are not reading. While it only takes a second to hit the delete key, those seconds add up if you are continuing to delete the same eNewsletter regularly; instead, take a little extra time upfront to unsubscribe so you save the accumulating time of deleting with each receipt. On the other hand, consider culling those subscriptions you do want to keep receiving into a “roll-up” by using Unroll.me’s website or The Swizzle’s email tool. Third, master the art of creating reference folders within your email management tool. You can more quickly locate a message for later reference when you have enough folders that everything to be kept can have a home while you limit the number of fodders so nothing could be appropriate for more than one of those existing. Within your reference folders, utilize automated rules to sort emails into their appropriate homes, whether to highlight what needs time-sensitive attention or to cull items for reading when convenient for you. Finally and probably most importantly, shift your mentality related to email from “checking” your email to “processing” it so your Inbox is no longer a holding zone, you don’t repeat time and effort of reading any original message and what you’ll reply doesn’t weigh on you continually between receipt and finally responding. Tasks that take less than 5 minutes should be completed with the message asking for them to be done is initially received. Any task that will take longer than 5 minutes to do needs to be added to your running tasks list. Appointments should be moved to your calendar, retention items should be moved to your personal folders and anything not needed should be moved directly to Trash.

When processing and maintaining your email account, please remember the “delete” key can be your friend. There’s no need to hold onto whatever is no longer accurate, applicable, useful or bringing you joy. Likewise, there is a big difference between junk that you should never bring into your space to begin with and trash that you can delete after reviewing. Most importantly, though, when determining what to save, ignore or delete, consider what can be easily located online later. There’s no need to clutter your space with what you don’t need or can just as easily get online.

Further, even though much of the daily overwhelm comes from electronic, paper can be a problem, too. To clear the clutter with regards to paper, we must first acknowledge that it’s easier to find what’s needed in electronic form; therefore, convert what paper you can to electronic files. There are such powerful scanning options from Doxie, Fujitsu and Neat, but many folks simply take a photo of the paper to be converted to electronic using their phones so it’s important to keep in mind how many options can turn paper to electronic. Beyond that, as with email, consolidate what paper comes into your space via an Inbox, empowering you to address what’s most important when convenient for you. Create naming conventions to mirror between paper and electronic and, then, schedule time regularly to edit the contents of your retention files. When any piece of paper is no longer accurate, applicable, useful or bringing you joy, get it out of your space, whether via recycling or shredding. Finally, utilize a fireproof safe for those most important papers, especially what needs to be accessed quickly in the event you die or are incapacitated.

There are excellent tools currently available for our mobile devices to aid in easily storing what information we will need later without it turning into another form of clutter. Using MorningCoffee for Android or Firefox, Morning for iOS or Flipboard that works across the various platforms, you can determine which communication or news channels cross into your space. Then, you can more easily save what will be needed later into a “Read It Later” app, like Pocket, Instapaper and Readability. Likewise, for any blog or website that posts content in a stream, you can pull its RSS feed into an RSS Reader, like Feedly, FeedReader, NewsBlur, and RSSOwl. While Pinterest has been pigeon-holed into being just for planning DIY projects, pulling fashion ideas or planning your home renovation, Pinterest can be a great tool for storing the information facing us daily, allowing you to create an image board for any project or client. Alternatively, Twitter can be a great tool for storing the information onslaught we get with sweet Tweets, making them easier to locate again later. Lastly, lest we not forget my all-time favorite tool for storing information that we’ll need later without creating another form of clutter, I recommend a self-made database in Evernote, to which you can send emails so each is better retained for later. See which best meets your needs and enhances your toolbox.

Meanwhile, although there are tons of useful apps to boost your productivity and enable sharing information with your team, you don’t have to log into each individually each day; many of these tools talk to one another so you can get information from several of these tools by logging into just one app. You can cull together documents from various online file repositories with CloudCube on Android and Citrix ShareFile QuickEdit on iOS. Quip Business lets a team combine shared documents with messaging about related projects, all in one place. Further, both Catch App and Hojoki App merge data from multiple different apps for quicker response and easier understanding of all that’s happening. As your team grows and evolves, always be thinking about how tech tools can help you be more efficient.

Streamlining can be vital in clearing the clutter, and there are two other tools I’d like to bring to your attention to aid in your attempts at streamlining the info avalanche. First, although it’s important to have the right message in front of the right audience at the right time to grow your business, you can’t be everywhere at once, which makes a social media manager very valuable. Options include Buffer, Hootsuite, Postling, SocialOomph and Sprout, but find the one that best meets your unique needs and test it before committing. Second, since our brains are meant for thinking, not remembering, a Customer Relationship Manager helps remember the details of previous interactions as well as when each contact needs follow-up. I recommend looking at Infusionsoft, Insightly, NetVibes, Nimble and Zoho.

As many people claim that one is a lonely number, I’ve found it to be very powerful for boosting folks’ productivity. In my work with individuals and corporate teams, I’m continually reminded that each of us is just one person, not a work person and home person. With that in mind, these are 5 tools I’ve found to be most helpful when you use just one for all segments of your life:
  •        One calendar for both work and personal items encourages you to not double-book yourself and leads to fewer items falling through the cracks.
  •        One running tasks list that funnels into one daily to-do list for each day means you more easily know what needs to be done at each moment and allows you to better focus on the 3 to 5 action items most important for your current day.
  •        One “data dump” that enables your brain to think, rather than remember details, allows you to search just one location for all your notes, research and references.
  •        One address book for both work and personal contacts empowers you to better maintain contacts’ most current information.
  •        One weekly strategy session that is supported with one wrap-up each day allows you to have a game plan for attacking what absolutely must be done each week as well as those important items that are not urgent.

On a related note, though I do believe work / life integration is replacing the impractical concept of work / life balance, I also feel it is vital for busy professionals to set limits on our availability to customers, vendors and other team members. There’s no right or wrong answer about how accessible you should be, but it’s important to set guidelines based on what works best for you and the unique needs of your business. Tools and software can mesh with the way you need to communicate day to day, but it’s also smart to step away for a while from time to time. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it’s important to incorporate downtime into your routine and to disengage from electronic communications by building some much-needed quiet into your day. This can be for reflection, for progressing towards goals, for re-energizing or whatever meets your needs, but its value is beyond measure.

Even though it might seem impossible, you can certainly survive the information avalanche in today’s society, but you must be focused in your efforts and fully utilize the available tools to help you. Click here to view a recent interview of me addressing this topic with Julie Coraccio of Reawaken Your Brilliance, and think about how these tools and techniques can apply to your specific needs. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and keep evolving as the available tech tools continue to develop around you do.

What tools and techniques do you employ in surviving the info avalanche?


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