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7 tips for managing digital information overload

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff | March 28, 2014
Email, social media, texts. Today's business and project managers have more electronic distractions than ever. So how can busy managers successfully navigate the electronic jungle? Organization and productivity experts share their top tips for beating information overload.

In today's high-speed digital world it is not unusual for business and project managers to have multiple email, social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook) and text messaging accounts — for work and for personal use. The problem is how to manage all of these accounts and inputs so that they do not distract managers — and impair them from completing projects on time or properly.

"There is a growing body of evidence that frequent checking emails, texts, social media, etc. significantly hampers productivity, so people need to break this habit," says Leigh Steere, cofounder, Managing People Better.

So what steps can you take to tame the electronic jungle? Dozens of organization and productivity experts, as well as project managers, share their top seven tips for managing information overload from email, social media, texts and more.

1. Establish a schedule for checking your email."Block your calendar for emails and dedicate specific times for social media and news," says Hussein Yahfoufi, vice president of Technology at OneRoof Energy. "I block 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. for emails. Most emails can wait a few hours and often times get resolved in that time," he say. If it's an emergency, people will find you, he adds."

2. Categorize emails immediately. "When you do check your emails, develop a category system that prioritizes them based on urgency and relevance," says Evan McCutchen, CIO, TechnologyAdvice. "For those that are not urgent and require immediate replies, label them accordingly to identify when they need to be addressed (if at all)."

"Deal with every [email] message by either deleting it or moving it out of your inbox," says Maura Thomas, founder of and author of Personal Productivity Secrets. "First, halt new messages from downloading by setting your client so that messages only come in when you press the send/receive button," she says. Then "try to process your inbox to zero before hitting the send/receive button to download new messages. This should be done at least once per week."

"When you check your email, look at the subject line," says Robert C. Pozen, the author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. "You can tell by the subject line if it is not worth your time to read this email — from a political candidate, a survey or an email to 500 people" — and then immediately delete it.

3. Have team members make a list of questions and reserve a set time daily to answer them. "Ask [project members] to make a running list of questions they have for you and send that running list once a day," says Steere. Appoint one person to be in charge of the list of questions, and that the questions are prioritized in terms of importance. "Having a prioritized list works better than 75 emails throughout the day."


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