How to manage information overload

How can you manage a steady stream of e-mails, texts, tweets, phone calls and RSS feeds?

I use a combination of Stephen Covey’s First Things First approach, and David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

From First Things First, I always try to set aside at least an hour a day for something that is very important, regardless of its seeming lack of urgency.   What’s important?   Personal well-being (trip to the Doctor).  Parenting (taking one of my kids for Pizza). Financial well-being (balancing my checkbook). Learning (reading a book that will help any of the above, or my career).  Sometimes I am focusing on a specific project that will help me meet my goals.  If I need to do this alone, I go to a quiet place where no one can find me, turn off my cell phone, and get to work.  

Then I use the Getting Things Done “funnel” system.  All of my e-mail accounts (I think I have five) are funneled into two e-mail accounts, work and personal.   I don’t carry a smartphone and I don’t check e-mail continuously throughout the day.

I first go through my voice-mails, then personal e-mails, then my work emails.  As I go through these, I do any task that can be finished in five minutes or less, and anything that can’t wait.  Like everyone, I receive a lot of junk e-mail.  I have set up many rules in my e-mail organizers to keep these out of sight and mind.

Any remaining tasks get funneled to my to-do-list (I use OmniFocus for iPad, the greatest task organizer made).

As I take on new projects, I input the individual tasks required for them into OmniFocus, assigning due dates, etc.

I go through my OmniFocus to-do list each Sunday night or Monday morning in order to plan the tasks I will complete for the coming week.

Two more tricks to managing information overload, which I hope to discuss in future posts:

  1. Don’t do everything.  Some tasks were never meant to be done.
  2. Don’t work all of the time.  Take at least one full day off a week (all gadgets off) and don’t check your Blackberry every time another email buzzes in.

About Mark P. Holtzman

Chair of Accounting Department at Seton Hall University. PhD from The University of Texas at Austin. Worked at Deloitte's New York Office. BSBA from Hofstra University.

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