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How to Handle Information Overload

10 July 2009

Information Overload

Do you sometimes feel overloaded with all the information coming at you? Is your sales performance suffering as a result of managing email, filling out KPI tracker tools and keeping sales forecasts up-to-date? If so, you need to pay this attention now, otherwise, it’s too easy to become overwhelmed and stressed out.

I had dinner with a friend this week who’s a National Sales Manager for a well known corporate in the UK.  He told me how he’d spent the afternoon working through a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) with one of the guys in his team, someone who’d been under-performing against target since the start of the year and was now on track for a written warning.  What he couldn’t understand was how this guy, who’d been with the company for many years and had always performed well, seemed so busy (he was almost late for the PIP meeting), yet hadn’t done his numbers for almost six months.

After some probing on my part, it turns out that there had been a lot of change at the company recently, following its acquisition by a much larger organisation last year.  Mergers and Acquisitions, and the subsequent tools rolled-out for optimising processes and tracking performance, can result in a huge increase in information flow across the workforce – on top of today’s already information-rich working environments.  This affects everyone in the company, especially salespeople, because TIME is MONEY and unless dealt with effectively, it can be the source of much stress and overwhelm.

Having worked for a global professional services company in the past, with analysts working on my client’s projects all over the world, I used to get a huge amount of information come my way.  I’d also need to attend conference calls first thing in the morning with Asia (especially India and China, who are 5-8 hours ahead of the UK) and last thing at night with North America (5-8 hours behind the UK).  I therefore needed to learn some things about how to handle information overload, so here are some top tips that worked for me:

  1. Keep focused (every day) on what result you want i.e. your target.
  2. Remind yourself why you want it i.e. the commission £££ and the kudos it brings.
  3. Be effective not just efficient. Work on those things that move you towards your result (this is usually around 20% of the things on your list).
  4. Set a time for activities like email and stick to it.  If you plan to spend half a day clearing your inbox from all those unread messages, you’ll spend half a day; if you plan to blast them in an hour, you will.
  5. Be mindful of, and therefore limit, the activities we all use for distraction (a natural coping mechanism for avoiding what needs to get done), these include: reading, watching and listening to the  news; checking social networking sites during the day; and reading long and irrelevant emails i.e. brain fart, from people who have nothing better to do with their time.
  6. Learn to become selectively ignorant with information i.e. take what’s useful and relevant, swerve or bin the rest.
  7. Never start a work-day without a clear set of mini results you want to achieve (focus on your top 3).
  8. Minimise interruptions when working on important tasks: turn phone to silent, close email app, turn IM off.
  9. Don’t suffer fools gladly…otherwise you’ll become one.
  10. Learn the art of priority, focus and leverage (delegation).

This is a great book by David Allen (top seller) for anyone wanting to learn how to achieve stress-free productivity (if you can find the time to read it of course:)

‘Alack of time is often a lack of priorities’

‘Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing – and far more unpleasant!’

‘Dedication is often meaningless work in disguise’

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6 Comments »

  • Giles Clayton said:

    Salespeople by their very nature can ‘multi-task’, just pause, take a deep breath and evaluate what you’ve got to do….

  • Mike said:

    top tip from my first boss was to try not to do the same thing twice.

    when you get sent an email, read it once then decide:
    – action now
    – file for future reference
    – bin

    most stuff falls into one of these 3. Sometimes you need to ‘action later’ but I try and keep my inbox below 30 – everything else has been actioned (and filed), filed for reference or just deleted. There’s no point keeping emails in your inbox which could be actioned in seconds but you cant be bothered to deal with – it adds to the feeling of ‘overload’

  • Sid said:

    This is powerful stuff, thanks!
    I’d only add that the ‘plan’ for each day include a sketch of how you will accomplish those objectives, if these are multi-step tasks.

  • Erin said:

    Time management is often our first reaction to increase productivity, yet in a recent HR study appreciation was cited as the 1st change necessary to manage information and workload effectively. Enthusiasm gives you the energy to filter information appropriately and focus on what really matters.

    Manage your energy, not time.

    Top tips:
    • Adding to #4: Respond to emails and calls at designated times each day. People will get to know when best to reach you.

    • Get your inbox to zero: often psychologically we feel the weight of 1000’s of messages sitting there. Clear clutter, spring clean your information often so you can make room for more.

    What we think about we bring about! Simply change language from ‘overload’ to ‘information flow’ and let it do just that.

  • Sherbs said:

    I was told a fantastic tip for managing mail. As above if you have to file to action then file it into your calender. Give it a time slot and stick to it.
    Make sure outlook opens at your calender first and definitely allocate a time slot a day to check mail and stick to it.

    Use the phone.. email makes a task twice as long because if you you thought it was worth sending you’ll need to follow it up. More on your task list. Use the phone you’ll get it done quicker and you’ll enjoy the conversation.

    I’ve found it very hard to not let myself get caught up the distracting stuff so from here on I’m definitely going to have a 10/15 min morning think and every day review what I’d got done.

    Also in my diary I’m going to allocate 1 hr to review what my key targets/projects are and where I am with them.

    Another good tip… learn how to meditate. This is the quickest way of focusing your mind and removing unproductive emotion from your life. Itunes has some great free meditation Pod casts.

  • chris said:

    EMAIL IS THE TIME/SALES KILLER!!!

    All good sales people are skilled in communicating ideas and ultimately steering opinions and making up peoples minds for them…. Yup, lets face it, Jedi Mind Tricks are where its at! However, i’ll bet most of you can only do this face to face in real time, with eye contact, body language, humour, pressure and a good squeeze of the hand as you close the deal!

    This is what we are good at… writers of fiction, narrative and sub-plot we are not. Don’t waste time pitching, telling or selling on email.

    Remember your ABC (Always Be Closing)… i NEVER closed a deal on email in 8 years of corporate sales.

    As for all the internal crap that gets banded about either bin it or reply ‘this is a great idea, call me for some feedback’ and get on with your day.

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