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Dealing with Information Overload

Aug 4, 2008
Today the sources of information seem to be endless. Magazines, journals, memos, emails, web sites and a lot more, provide us with more data than any person is able to handle. Furthermore, information presented to us while taking part at meetings and other events will join the already obtained information from the above mentioned sources. Information overload is a very real concern for today's business people, but also for all others.

We must possess skills that allow us to process huge amounts of data. Consider the following method as one option to bring your information flow under your control.

1. Have a structure for the information you like to store.
Without a structure you will lose overview about which information is stored where. A good solution for the beginning is a structure of your own knowledge and information requirements. For example: Make some folders or directories on your computer. One directory or folder for one knowledge area, such as languages, computer knowledge, knowledge from your working experiences.

You could use your computer to store things you receive by email or internet searches. To store offline items just follow the same tactic. You might create one or more folders as you need to keep your structure work.

2. Learn scanning before reading.
When you encounter information of interest, read the first paragraph or two, scan the body for keywords and read the conclusion. Then decide if you want to keep the article for future "in depth" reading. Store the articles in a folder or directory which states that you like to read this article in full length. Furthermore you could have collecting folders where you put all information, which you couldn't allocate to a specific area of knowledge. Learning to "preview" information before deciding to spend valuable time on it will save you many hours. Time to spend on the things that matter most.

2. Managing Emails
Today it's easy to receive 200 or more emails each day. It's often difficult to determine which are important and which are not. To save time sorting the emails, simply filter the important emails into separate folders. Then once a day look at the rest. Use your email programs filtering capabilities to accomplish this. Just setup some rules to sort received emails into some folders.

Or use a spam filter. However, none of the programs available today work 100% correct. You have to bear in mind, that the spam filter might delete some important messages. Well, my experience is, that if you use a filtering system you will probably clean up your Inbox as good as if you use a spam filtering software. But the advantage is, you won't miss important emails.

What ever system you use, a filter in your email program, or a third-party spam filtering product, controlling unwanted emails is a must. And if even that is not working anymore, setup a new email address and share this one just with the people very important to you. This will reduce the flood of spam mails for a while.

3. Set aside "in depth" reading time.
Asign times for the in depth reading of articles and other information. At these times you could read your articles and do further researches. While reading articles, you could also do the review which is mentioned in the next paragraph.

4. Review stored information regularly
Information has a short life. It is essential to review the information you store regular, to keep the information actual. All old and no more useful information must be deleted or thrown away. If you don't review regular, you will see your folders mess up and your computer harddrive will get very full. No kidding, soon you will have thousands of files. When reviewing remember to review also the bookmark in your favorite web-browser. You may save it for later reference. A review should be made at last every 6 month, at least once a year if the information is for private use. Business owner should review every 3 to 6 month.

It needs a structure and discipline to handle the information overload we all are facing every day. If you don't follow your own rules for Information Management, you will be losing the information game one day.

To win the information game has little to do with time management, it's an issue of self organisation and discipline. While implementing and using the above described solution you will see that things are changing to be more comfortable for you. You might also find out that the life of information is not really that short as most people think. Good Luck.
About the Author
Stephan Szugat is founder of abenetis a web-based service about Business Management Solutions focusing on the core needs of business management. This includes Operational and strategic analysis especially Early-Recognition-Systems, Knowledge-Management and other Services for small and mid-sized businesses. He has approx. 15 years experience in the Finance and Accounting Area from companies of different size and from various industries. http://www.abenetis.com
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