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10 Tips to Avoid Information Overload at Work

Expert Mod 100+
P: 2,330
Paul Graham wrote an interesting article a few months back about how the internet is leading to information overload for information workers of today.

He is not alone in his thinking. Similarly, In July of 2008 IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Xerox announced that they were joining forces with Information Overload Research Group( to combat one of the greatest productivity challenges of our time, information overload.

In a study done by the group's research arm, Basex:
  • Less than 37% of an average office workers time is spent doing productive work.
  • 15% is spent on information searching
  • 20% is spent in meetings
  • 28% is spent in unnecessary distractions from phone calls, e-mails and instant messages

Another study done by Seattle-based RescueTime concluded that a typical office worker:
  • Accesses their e-mail program more than 50 times a day
  • Uses instant messaging 77 times a day.

According to Basex, these interruptions result in 28 billion hours of lost productivity every year. With an average wage of $21 per hour for knowledge workers, it could end up costing the U.S economy over $588 billion dollars a year.

While it's not possible to avoid all our workplace distractions. There are things we can do to have a more meaningful and productive workday.

Ten Tips to Help Manage Information Overload

1) Define a workspace
Choose a workspace and only do work in that area. Avoid communicating, browsing or searching in that space. Paul Graham uses this method, by using a separate computer workstation for browsing and communication.

2) Centralize communications
Use one means of communication instead of subscribing to multiple communication channels such as IM, Email, Phone, Facebook or twitter. It's easy to manage your distractions from communication when it comes from one place.

3) Avoid Immediate responses
Get rid of instant notifications and avoid responding to IM's and e-mails immediately. Set aside specific time to address these messages during the day and limit the number of times you address them. People will eventually figure out when you are most likely to respond.

4) Spend time with people
Go to lunch with your colleagues that you are working with. Spend 10-15 minutes at the end or beginning of the day to talk to your team. If you set aside some time everyday to catch up with people, you will less likely be interrupted during your work time.

5) Take a break
Your mind needs a break ever once in a while to unwind and realign your focus. Get up, stretch, go for a walk. Though remember not to distract your other workers by interrupting their work.

6) Try disconnecting
Silence the blackberry, turn of the IM and e-mail and kill the internet connection. Some of your work will make it impossible to completely disconnect. If you can't, limit the applications and sites you connect to.

7) Cut the news
While you can't cut off keeping up to date on recent activity related to your life or work, it wouldn't be a bad idea limiting it. Limit the amount of time you spend browsing news and also limit the number of times you do it. Start out by spending only 1hr every 3-4 days and adjust according to your needs. It's more important to get the work done than it is to know about everything around you.

8) Most important tasks first, everyday
Most of us have lots of tasks every day, it's not easy to narrow it down. Though we should prioritize and a good method is to pick 3 important tasks at the begining and get started on them. If you get through them move on to other less important tasks. This way you are finishing the most important stuff first.

9) Why am I doing this?
With all the work we have to do sometimes we forget why we are doing it. Every once in a while step back and ask yourself why are you doing what you're doing? Having a good reason will keep you motivated and inspired. This only works if you spend some time to come up with some good meaningful reasons.

10) Keep a consistent schedule
Keeping a daily schedule that is consistent will help you break some of your distractions. Take a break at a 10am and 2pm. Talk to your coworkers at a 9am and 4pm. Check your emails at 8:30, 11:30 and 3:30. Come in at 8:15am and leave at 5pm. Once you have a set daily schedule those events turn into markers for your day and you can quickly view if you are spending your day effectively.

Being aware of how your time is being spent at work can have great long-term benefits for your career. While these solutions won't work for everyone, using just a few can be a good start towards optimizing your output. The key is to become more aware of what task is beneficial to helping your maximize your output and what tasks take away from that. While you can't avoid doing unncessary tasks, you can minimize their effects by being aware of them.
Sep 9 '08 #1
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11 Replies

P: 1
thre is no more logic
Sep 19 '08 #2

P: 156
We r not a machine,we must have relax by spending time
Sep 23 '08 #3

P: 127
That's great. I guess it would be definitely useful to increase the productivity.

Thank you!
Nov 4 '08 #4

P: 2
Multitasking usually means being interrupted from the task at hand. Yes, I can pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time but, my job also requires things that require more thought to be accomplish successfully. My pet peeve is someone who sends me a email and then shows up at my cube to ask if I got/read their email yet. Another peeve is when you manager feels everyone needs to be "in the loop" for specific issues so everyone is CC'ed. But, to really be in the loop would require me to abandon any thoughts of accomplishing my own goals for the day.
Dec 27 '08 #5

P: 2
Amazingly your totals reach 100% which means that every single nano second you spend at work is a TOTAL waste of time.

Something tells me that your figures aren't entirely accurate because anyone and everyone with a job would be guaranteed to get nothing done and the economy would grind to a halt.

As far as your daily schedule goes if this is advise on how to be more productive it's pretty easy to see why the world is in crisis. You have calculated almost no time at all to get any work done!

8:30 read emails
9:00 chat to co-workers
10:00 take a break
11:30 check email
1:00 go to lunch
2:00 take another break
3:30 check email again
4:00 talk to co-'workers'
5:00 go home

Are you having a laugh??

Feb 19 '09 #6

freelance programmer
P: 11
In this slowdown time , many companies are laying of 2 people and asking one person to take over their jobs and ensure that the project does not slip a day and customer is happy, can we get some article on how to cope with 3 people's work and meet project deadlines ?
Feb 23 '09 #7

P: 22
Great List,

I've seen this items before in different versions. The list itself is a good answer to Freelance's question. Once you realize you are only doing the work of 38% of a person, then it's easier to understand that you can do the work that you used to do, along with that of the laid off coworker.

Feb 24 '09 #8

P: 68
Good tips. We could expect the tips specific for programmers who do the real coding. Must be little but basically different from that of designers, project managers or QA. Isn't it logical?
Mar 16 '09 #9

P: 1
You did a good job of showing how much time an average worker spends on distractions, but you made some mistakes in your analysis.

First, distractions at work are not all non-work work related. In fact, most if not all of the chat sessions I have at work are about work. People asking a question, asking me to do something, etc. Plus, I initiate plenty of these distractions myself with other works to get work done. So, I am doing my work to by working with them and they are doing their work by working with me. They could have called me on the phone or come over to my desk, but they were still going to have to contact me. Since IM is faster than any other method, this is the preferred method. I don't see how this is wasted time. It is time saved.

Second, you showed the costs in terms of time lost to "distractions", but you failed to recognize the benefits of the IMs and other "distractions" that you initiated. It saves me time to send someone an IM to ask them a question or send them some information. Other benefits include that some technologies, such as texting and email, keep a record. You can use that when a pen and paper is not handy.

Its as simple as this: if so many people chose to use these technologies, there must be a good reason for that. The reason is that they save time and offer other benefits.

So, what about all the distractions?

I believe it is possible to use these new technologies to great advantage, while avoiding the pitfalls of excessive distractions. When you need to be be free from distractions, forward your phone to voicemail, put your status as "not available", etc., so you cannot be contacted other than in person. Many systems let you customize your status, so you could set it to "busy now, send email" or "leave message on 518-555-1111". So, this is easily managed.
May 30 '09 #10

P: 3
I really enjoyed ur tips , but we can all agree that it is impossible to manage ur work time cuz of all the unpredictable things that happens in ur day .
and I agree that as a programmer my day is way more stressfull than a designer or a project manager .
I think the best timing is to work @ the first hours of the day and directly after lunch that way ur not that tired and all the rest of the day can be less tiring and u can afford to waste some time
Jun 30 '09 #11

P: 115
We are human beings not some appliance which can be operated at whims and fancies of the owner. You cab never be prepared for the circumstances life may put you through and you have to respond to them accordingly. We all need to take breaks while on work. Every broker on Wall Street has at least two fantasy football teams.
Jul 23 '10 #12

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