Photo by Will Lion
An interesting article in today's New York Times called "Lost in E=Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast." The article describes how some technology firms, including Microsoft, Intel, Google and I.B.M., are banding together to fight information email overload - by doing research on information coping skills - one of my favorite topics for the past ten years. The article describes a new nonprofit organization called "Information Overload Research Group."
Yes, there is a huge flow of email and other digital distractions - but if you avoid living at the post office (apologies to Eudora Welty) - you'll get more done! Eight years ago when I wrote this curriculum, I think my suggestions might still hold true:
Just say no to email
#2: Don’t live at the post office
#3: Delete or save and file aggressively
#4: Your inbox is not a “to do” list
#5: Sweep E-clutter away
#6: Stay in control
#7: Don't reply in an instant
I also created an information overload assessment that helps you figure out the degree and problem areas and offers some reflection questions that can help you begin to change your habit.
The Times articles covers one technique - e-mail bankruptcy,” or getting so far behind in responding to e-mail messages that it becomes necessary to delete them all and start over. Here's the original article from Wired that appeared in 2004!
While not mentioned in the article, there are some other ways to address email overload and perhaps form good habits. There's In-Box Zero and GTD - both described here along with several other good tips. And, of course, there's Stuart Jones Fritz and Sauce Method. And, of course, there is how Gary Vaynerchuck from WineLibraryTV deals with his overload in a unique way (hat tip Rohit)
The Times article also points out the problem is not just individual skills or technological - but also cultural. That people forward pointless jokes in email or hit the reply all when they shouldn't or reply to emails with "thanks!" or other polite customs that end up having the opposite effect. You have to be your own filter and teach people to give a hoot and not email pollute.
And, if you're addicted - or rather if you have set up a habit of constantly checking your email and you use gmail - there's hope. A new E-Mail Addict feature in Gmail can help you. Clicking the “Take a break” link turns the screen gray, and a message reads: “Take a walk, get some real work done, or have a snack. We’ll be back in 15 minutes!”
What are you are best tips for dealing with information overload? What are you best tips for processing email fast and efficiently? Any of the ideas presented above work or not?