4 tips to beat info overload

How many emails do you find in your inbox everyday? How often does your BlackBerry or iPhone vibrate with that urgent call? Have you opened that PDF of the latest stats from production yet? Confirmed that friend request on Facebook and the connect requests on LinkedIn?

Nestor Arellano

A recent survey from the Canadian arm of SAS Institute Inc., a business analytics software maker says that the typical Canadian executive is drowning in a sea of information.

While 96 per cent of Canadian executives say that access to information is vital to their business decision process, as much as 47 per cent admit that the amount of information they receive overwhelms them. Furthermore, only 23 per cent of those asked believe that they information they get is useful,  according to Cameron Dow, vice-president for marketing at SAS.

“It’s worth noting,” Dow said “that executives in SMBs and large enterprise are saying a lot of the information they receive is just noise.”

Of course Dow espouses the use of business analytics tools to help business leaders make quick and and smarter decisions.

Business analytics refers to skills, technologies and applications that make extensive use of data, statistical and quantitative analysis and predictive modeling to drive decision making.

These tools do automate the decision process and result in many business benefits for the organization.

However, for purposes of maintaining your own sanity,  Baha Habashy, a partner at Integrity+Consulting an effectiveness management consulting group, has four strategies that could be a lot cheaper.

The Markham, Ont-based efficiency consultant said most Canadian executives are suffering from “information indigestions”.

“Have you noticed that right after a very heavy dinner you feel sluggish or even ill. That’s what happening to our executives who are being assaulted by data from all front,” he said.

Habashy explained that information by itself has no value it needs to be “digested”.

“Once information is thought about or evaluated, it is turned into knowledge. But to obtain real value, people must employ this knowledge to real world situations – then it becomes wisdom,” Habashy said.

One of the key problems for modern decision makers is that they hardly have any time to evaluate the data that comes to them, he said. “Executives are reduced to acting and reacting to information and so they are prone to make hasty decisions and mistakes.”

Habashy has the following advice for harried department heads:

1. Begin to filter information based on your role – Executives should accurately determine their role in the organization and then sift through information and spend time only on those that are relevant to their role.

“Many executives make the mistake of letting their title define their role. They end up with extending their area of responsibility beyond what is necessary,” Habashy said.

2. Do not allow your inbox to define your role – An extension of number 1. Many people think that just because an item enters their inbox it means they have to deal with it. “More than half of your email can probably be deleted without unfortunate repercussions,” Habashy said.

3. Add more “think time” to your day – Set aside time to evaluate what you have on your plate. Map out your day. Avoid rushing from one task to another.

4. Use time blocking –“Batch-process” the information you receive and the time you spend with them, according to Habashy. For example, set aside 15 minutes at the beginning of the day to write down what you intend to do. Block 30 minutes to read emails or answer voice messages. Set aside one hour to process the information (think time) you have. Allocate specific blocks of time for each task you have set.

“This all sound very simple but an executive who came to me for help was able to cut his email by 30 per cent and ended up saving an extra hour each day by following these suggestions,” Habashy said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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