Seize Your Time – gaining control over Too Much Information

I have written a number of other postings about time management.  I always start off with the true, but worn, observation that time is the one element of business (life, too) that can not be purchased, borrowed, or inventoried. It is a requirement, before all else, that managers gain control over their time. In practice, I have found, this means being able to allocate useful blocks of time every week to work on their businesses. This means allocating time to work on whatever is important to the future of the business and to which they can bring energy, passion, and expertise, or, perhaps, they are the only one who can do it. Many managers find that seizing just two or three hours per week allows them to make a focused effort on high-value projects to drive the company forward.

In earlier postings ( for example, Seizing Your Time – the breakthrough first step in time management) (opens new window) I have called for managers to “seize their time”. Seizing time short circuits the assessment, analysis, and pondering that frequently dooms traditional time management programs to failure. Somehow, too much cogitation on time leads to inaction. In my earlier thinking, I have mostly focused on seizing time from meetings. But, now, I have come to understand that meetings are perhaps not the most insidious or pervasive waste of our time.

From my own personal practice and observation of others, its is clear that we need a new focus on TMI – Too Much Information. We are now surrounded by sources of information and, like little children in front of a TV, we are slack-jawed, glassy-eyed, and in the thrall of continuous flows of information. Think of how frequently you check your email. Every hour? Every 10 minutes? How often do you check your voice mail? How often are your interrupted by IM – Instant Messaging, Text Messaging, and so on?

This phenomenon reminds me of a 2002 article in Scientific American about TV addiction, Television Addiction is no mere metaphor. [1. Kubey, Robert & Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly,  Television Addiction is no mere metaphor. ( Scientific American; Feb2002, Vol. 286 Issue 2, p74, 7p, 2c. ] Perhaps there is a connection between the attraction that TV provides to our “orienting response” and our easy fixations on checking our email?

But, as in earlier comments in Seizing Your Time – the breakthrough first step…., let’s not focus too much on analysis of how much time we are wasting, rather ask the question, “How can I change my behavior to capture useful time?”

Why not arbitrarily set times during the day when you will check your email? Think about how many minutes a day are taken up getting to your email application and then looking through emails. Are people really sending you an email with an expectation that you will respond within minutes, even hours? Be aggressive about pushing the interval. Why not wait for a few loud complaints from key customers to tell you that you need to make the email checking a bit more frequent.

I am working to keep my email checking to three times per day, early morning, lunch, and before closing up shop at the end of the day.  I also apply David Allen‘s Two Minute Rule to the emails so that anything that I can get done immediately, gets done without delay.  [2. “If the Next Action can be done in 2 minutes or less, do it when you first pick the item up.” Even if that item is not a “high priority”, because it takes longer to store and track any item than to deal with it the first time it’s in your head. (p. 131, “Getting Things Done”]

What about your voice mails? Think about the turn around time that is expected for your industry and your job. Again, be aggressive about pushing the interval.

Take one or both of these steps in managing your personal TMI overload and be sure to devote the extra time you create to important projects, not just more of the day-to-day that is endless, and, in the end, not where the future of your company will be found.