© Jan Jasper; 2001-2012
Henry David Thoreau said, "Things are in the saddle and ride mankind." Today, information is in the saddle and it's
riding us into the ground. Information is good, but we've got too much of a good thing. Due to email and the internet, we
are drowning in information. We fear that if we don't read everything of interest, we'll miss something important. While
we may no longer hoard stacks of magazines and newspapers to read "someday," we now struggle to stay focused at work with the
temptation of the internet a mere click away, and our inboxes stuffed with email newsletters. (I'm not talking about spam, that's
a different dicussion.)
A bulging inbox is insidious because the more email you've got, the greater the risk of overlooking an
important email that requires you to act. Dealing with email overload is a whole subject in itself - see
Efficient E-mail Habits and
Beware the Empty Inbox
for some tips.
The Myth of Good Information
We save informative eZines and links that colleagues and friends email to us, thinking it's good information that we'll save
and read "someday." But we don't absorb information by osmosis. Until we read it, information has no value. Some information
just repeats what we already know. Valuable information may be obsolete before we read it. Unless we're willing to devote hours
or days to catching up, there's no reason to save a lot of information we haven't looked at. To save it because of its
potential value is merely self-delusion.
The Limits of Search
At this point, I know some folks will say that hoarding digital information is a good thing - they can find whatever they need with
computer search tools. But computer search is not a panacea - you
can't search for what you don't even know you have. And some search terms are so broad they'd produce hundreds of hits on your hard drive.
The point is not that we should stop reading, rather to be realistic about what we actually have time for and can manage.
The Temptation of the Internet
For many of us, web-induced procrastination is making our workdays longer because it's hard to stay focused. Years ago, if you
wanted to go shopping you had to leave your desk and go to the store, if you wanted
to read the news you had to buy a newspaper, and if you wanted to look up a college friend you had to make phone calls. Today we
can do all this while sitting at our desks. That it's lighting fast is not necessarily a good thing.
If you can't resist surfing
the internet during working hours, try this tip to help you focus. For a couple hours each day, unplug your internet cable, or if
you have a wireless connection,
turn your wireless card off. If you rely on the internet to do your work, try deleting the desktop
shortcuts to your favorite procrastination websites. Then you'll have to type in the URL and your password, which makes it just a
harder to get distracted when you should be working. If that sounds drastic, consider - wouldn't you rather wrap up your work sooner
so you can spend time this evening, away from your desk?
Using Bits of Time to Read
Wireless-connected smart phones and iPads are extremly helpful. We can read and respond to emails, keep up with the news, and
read books and magazines while riding a commuter train, on the exercise bike at the gym, or waiting for an appointment. If you get
the paper version
of magazines, newsletters, or catalogs, rip out what you intend to read and put them in a folder which you can easily
carry with you.
When the folder gets too full, either schedule reading time to catch up, or throw away the oldest articles.
Filing What's Worth Keeping
Even in this technological age, there's still information on paper we need to keep. Important magazine and newsletter
articles should be clipped and filed by topic so you can find them later. If you don't file it, you won't be able to
find it when you need it. You'll probably forget you even have it. Such information does you no good - you may as well have
thrown it out in the first place. But be selective about what you save and file. Surveys have found that 80% of files are never
looked at again. And often, by the time you need to use
the information, it's outdated. If you are selective enough, you probably won't need to buy that extra filing cabinet.
To Scan Or Not To Scan
If you have a backlog of paper filing that doesn't get done, "Putting it in the computer" may not be a solution.
Clients often ask me if they should scan information that, upon a closer look, they
don't even need to save. The more selective you are about what you keep, the better off you'll be - regardless of whether your files
are paper or electronic.
Beware of "Free"
People often sign up for eZines because they're free. Or they buy books and magazine subscriptions because
they're on sale - then they never get around to reading them. Being free or on sale is not sufficient reason to bring a new
source of overwhelm into your life. Your time is more important than money.
Remember: You can always buy more stuff, and you can always get more information - but you can't get more time.
*The usual disclaimers apply. My mentioning these products is not a guarantee of any sort. Obviously,
you should not change anything
until you've completely backed up your files. You already do that, right?
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and identify me as follows: "Jan Jasper, a productivity expert in the New York City area, is the author
of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology (St. Martin's Press)."
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