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Information overload is filter failure

Information everywhere (Image )

Here’s a simple insight: your business or organisation might actually benefit from you NOT reading your emails.

Lack of time is one of the most common objections I encounter from workshop participants and clients when arguing that we should all be taking time out to plan and create marketing content.

In part, this objection is often a signal that the full value of what’s being suggested has not been conveyed yet.

However, I believe what really lies behind the objection is what Clay Shirky calls ‘filter failure’ in this Information Age.

The Information tsunami

As Shirky points out, even as early as the 1500s, Gutenberg’s printing press had made publishing so affordable that citizens could access more books than they could ever have read in a life time. Does that sound familiar to stories you read regularly about information overload?

Fast forward 500 years and in figures published midway through 2012, we learned there are 168 million emails sent worldwide every 60 seconds.

And it becomes more staggering when you realise these emails enter our worlds alongside:

  • data files and documents
  • social media objects
  • notes, queries and questions being gathered by phone, face to face and mobile

This barrage of information signifies a typical day in the life of most business and organisations and can be overwhelming, unless a solid system is put into place to filter and sort the flow.

One simple method I have employed recently is an email blocker.

Multi tasking is a myth, even for women

Humans are not made for multitasking, no matter what pop biology tells us. Yes, that includes females.

In her paper, The Myth Of Multitasking, Christine Rosen leads into her summary of research by quoting Lord Chesterfield:

There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time

Every time we switch from one task to another, due to phone calls, interruptions from colleagues, emails or social media alerts, we waste brain cycles gearing down and gearing back up to continue a previous task.

While there are many methods available for diminishing these distractions, such as closing office doors or turning off Facebook alerts, email proves to be a bit trickier.

The problem is that most of us need access to old emails to complete tasks but many systems trigger distracting alerts immediately after new email arrives in the inbox.

If you use a mail program like Outlook, you can disable the automatic send/receive to control when you are ready to respond to new requests.

However, if you use Google Apps (like I do) or Gmail (which I notice many small business people are), there is no easy way to hide the instant alert notifications for each new email received.

Enter: Inbox Pause

Inbox Pause is a free app from a company called baydin, that can be installed in your Gmail or Google Apps account to discreetly ‘hide’ your new emails until you are ready to respond.

Once installed, you get a calming, blue Pause button in your inbox; your gateway to temporary silence.

As you click it, you are also prompted to set up an instant reply to people, letting them know you are currently pausing email and will respond at a specified time. Personally, I don’t think this is necessary if you are only setting up small zones on no interruption in your day.

The final step is to click the new hold archive item in the left hand window and choose to hide it.

Emails paused, what now?

In the bestselling Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris talks about reducing email checking to once a week. I am not promoting that approach.

Where I find value is in being able to check and respond to email at the beginning, middle and end of the day, with the periods in between left to concentrate clearly on client work.

I believe everybody wins; clients, family and my ability to deliver quality consulting.

These oasis-like periods of clear thought let me get more things done (including writing this blog) and then enable me to respond to your emails with better focus.

What about urgent things?

The beauty of this approach, is that people can still call you when items are urgent and you can decide against turning on the pause if you are expecting an important volley of emails at a certain time.

As an aside, I have a meeting this morning with a business owner in Darwin who knows his weeks are too full on or mayhem-like to craft ‘time for marketing’.

His response has been to set aside his Monday mornings for marketing and social media content creation BEFORE opening his emails.

What I like about his approach is that he has identified a weakness and found a way to work within his constraints and preferences.

His compartmentalisation was actually the inspiration for this article because it was another example of working to one’s strengths for better outcomes and productivity.

So, if you are drowning in emails at the moment, perhaps putting some time aside to catch up on the backlog and THEN implementing this system, might be one thing you can do this week to reclaim your focus.

Of course, I still believe in going the extra mile for your clients and customers, but this technique of marshalling your resources might help you be more valuable to them, personally and through reclaimed availability for creating compelling marketing material.

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