Earlier this month, over at A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, I wrote an article called 5 Tips for Managing Information Overload. The constant interruptions that project managers face today from emails, phone calls, enterprise project management tools pinging with updates and all the other cyberinterruptions means that managing information overload is a skill we all need to have.
Dr Joanne Cantor presented on this topic at the Pink Elephant ITSM Conference in Las Vegas last month. Here are 5 more of her tips for managing information overload.
1. Don’t multitask
Cantor recommended that we focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking, she said, is a fallacy. All that happens is your brain switches from one thing to another quickly – you can’t actually do two things at the same time. She commented that multitaskers typically spend longer than necessary on a task, and don’t remember what they have done as well as people who concentrate fully on one thing.
Next time you are tempted to multitask during your day, remember that your project will suffer if you do!
2. Manage your emails
Cantor called the deluge of emails a “monsoon”. She recommended setting up automatic rules for messages, making full use of the spam folder, and unsubscribing from email newsletters and mailing lists. She also said that you can set your email client to check for messages less frequently. I’ve done this on my smart phone – it also helps save the battery.
When you have breaks in the day, sort through your messages, dealing with the priority ones first. My personal top tip for email management in Microsoft Outlook is to use the flags. Pick colours that mean something to you. I use red for ‘I’ve dealt with this; now the attachments need saving/message needs filing or deleting.’ This is particularly useful for when I am out of the office and able to flag messages but not file them in archive folders.
3. Take a break
Know when you’ve had enough. Sometimes you can sit in front of the computer dealing with emails and other electronic interruptions and suddenly it’s the end of the day. When your mind starts to feel as if it isn’t making any progress on anything, stop. Ideally, stop before then!
4. Do something different
Taking a break is good, but what’s better is using the break time to do something different. Go for a walk. Take in a gallery, or visit a building with beautiful architecture. Switch your mind on to something else, something very different to what you are doing as your day job. Cantor recommended that these should be “low-information”. In other words, reading a book or listening to a podcast might give you a break from the screen but they are high-information activities and they won’t let your mind recover from the overload.
5. Ditch the detail
This goes without saying, doesn’t it? You need to time to see the big picture on your project, so while you no doubt have some detailed stuff to do, you also need time to bring yourself up out of the list of actions to review the project strategically. Plan time in your week to do this, or set aside a day once a month to look at everything through a big picture lens.