Handling Information Overload

By Lain Ehmann

Being more productive at work isn’t just a matter of time management, says consultant and speaker Laura Stack, author of Leave the Office Earlier (Random House, 2004). “Time management is so myopic. Productivity involves a lot of different things,” she says, including how well you concentrate, how well you handle interruptions, your overall wellness, and your stress level. “I want people to pull back and take a look at all the factors that affect how much they can get done during the day.”

Stack says one of salespeople’s major challenges to becoming more productive is dealing with information, particularly on paper. Even in our electronic society, she says, salespeople are inundated with paper: business cards, sales brochures, data sheets, notes and more. Stack offers clients her 6-D information management system. “Each piece of paper, each idea in your head, each email, each voice mail and each fax is simply a piece of information, and there are only six things that you can do with any piece of information.” Here are those six things Stack says you can do.

Discard. Dispose of it. Stack reminds packrats that almost everything is replaceable, and with a pile-based filing process you probably wouldn’t be able to find it even if you did save it.

Delegate. Pass the item off to the appropriate person as quickly as possible.

Do. If you can handle the item right away, do so and then get it on its way out the door. Stack offers this rule of thumb: If the item takes less than five minutes to complete, take care of it immediately.

Date. If you don’t have time to handle the action right away, date it and put it in your tickler file.

Drawer. File project information or reference items you can’t toss, delegate or act on, recommends Stack.

Delete. The best way to handle unneeded information is to block it before it reaches you. Remove yourself from extraneous bulk email distribution lists, and cut down on junk mail, catalogues and magazines that aren’t of interest.

While you might not be able to take these steps immediately when on the road or traveling to and from appointments, Stack still has a solution. Instead of letting papers, pamphlets and receipts pile up in your car, she says, make it a habit to take everything out of your car everyday. Use a Pendaflex file or other receptacle to sort and transport all the detritus from the car to your house. “Download your day,” she says. “The trick is to do it consistently.”

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