Too Much Information – learn to control those interruptors3 min read

A continuing hot topic here is the surge of interruptions that consume our work day (and evenings, too).

I have talked about this earlier in these postings, Seize Your Time – gaining control over Too Much Information and Multitasking, Too Much Information, Interruptions, and High Performance

Many people see their emails, instant messaging, Twittering, Blackberries and iPhone (to mention just a few interrupters) as beasts that they must satisfy instantaneously and continuously. Everything is in real time.

The first question to be asked is, “Do all of these interruptions really have equal claim on my time?” If you work in a customer service call center, then truly that ringing phone does have claim on your next free moment. But, in reality customer inquiries can be filtered and sorted for action as appropriate.

A second point to be considered is how inefficient and unreliable all of these little interruptions make us. Despite all of the blather about “multitasking”, human beings really can only do one thing at a time. When we are “multitasking, we are really performing a whole series of tasks sequentially. The brain is expending lots of energy and taking extra time to keep track of which tasks are in queue and what the status is of the last one we worked on and the next one we pick up. Worse, in most ways, is the fact that all of this is making us perform at a lower quality level. All of the back and forthing introduces errors and the interruptions are preventing us from really devoting enough time to energize our creativity and problem solving aptitudes.

Multitasking is a fraudulent idea.

Lets take a line of thought about emails and see if we can develop some actions that you can take that will bring at least this interrupter under your control.

Look over the emails you have received over the last day to week. How many of these really required instant action –  did the sender expect you to be sitting at your computer waiting for the email gong to put you into action? Did the sender really think that they were emailing to the equivalent of a customer service center where they could expect that someone would immediately read their email and respond? What would have been a reasonable response time for these emails? Today? End of Business Tomorrow? Do all of the emails requiring response in less than a day come from a predictable set of people? If so, do they really need this, or is it just a bad habit that you have encouraged? Perhaps, you can set some new expectations for them.

But, lets say there are some people who require responses in less than a day. Set up an email filter (“Smart Folder” in the Apple MAC world) where these emails will automatically be sorted. Now when you go to your email application, you only need to look at that folder. Everything else can wait until one of your regularly scheduled trips to the email box.

And that brings us to the next step. Set up a schedule for checking and responding to email. For most, first thing in the morning and at the end of the day will do it. Then, you have to stick with it. For me the challenge is my iPod Touch. I carry it around in my pocket and there is an enormous temptation to take it out and look at my emails.

Take this one step with emails. Don’t worry about all those other interrupters. Rome was not built in a day and you will not change your multitasking habits over night. Prove that you can gain control over just your emails. See what the results are. Then, you can move on to the others.

Remember, time is the one resource you have that can not be bought or inventoried. To be productive and sucessful you must make the best use of this most valuable asset.