7 tips for managing digital information overload

In today's high-speed digital world it is not unusual for business and project managers to have multiple email, social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook) and text messaging accounts -- for work and for personal use. The problem is how to manage all of these accounts and inputs so that they do not distract managers -- and impair them from completing projects on time or properly.

"There is a growing body of evidence that frequent checking emails, texts, social media, etc. significantly hampers productivity, so people need to break this habit," says Leigh Steere, cofounder, Managing People Better.

Image credit: Galina Peshkova

So what steps can you take to tame the electronic jungle? Dozens of organization and productivity experts, as well as project managers, share their top seven tips for managing information overload from email, social media, texts and more.

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1. Establish a schedule for checking your email."Block your calendar for emails and dedicate specific times for social media and news," says Hussein Yahfoufi, vice president of Technology at OneRoof Energy. "I block 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. for emails. Most emails can wait a few hours and often times get resolved in that time," he say. If it's an emergency, people will find you, he adds."

2. Categorize emails immediately. "When you do check your emails, develop a category system that prioritizes them based on urgency and relevance," says Evan McCutchen, CIO, TechnologyAdvice. "For those that are not urgent and require immediate replies, label them accordingly to identify when they need to be addressed (if at all)."

"Deal with every [email] message by either deleting it or moving it out of your inbox," says Maura Thomas, founder of RegainYourTime.com and author of Personal Productivity Secrets. "First, halt new messages from downloading by setting your client so that messages only come in when you press the send/receive button," she says. Then "try to process your inbox to zero before hitting the send/receive button to download new messages. This should be done at least once per week."

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"When you check your email, look at the subject line," says Robert C. Pozen, the author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. "You can tell by the subject line if it is not worth your time to read this email -- from a political candidate, a survey or an email to 500 people" -- and then immediately delete it.

3. Have team members make a list of questions and reserve a set time daily to answer them. "Ask [project members] to make a running list of questions they have for you and send that running list once a day," says Steere. Appoint one person to be in charge of the list of questions, and that the questions are prioritized in terms of importance. "Having a prioritized list works better than 75 emails throughout the day."

4. Consider how many social media accounts you really need -- or need to check at work. Check or monitor only work-related social media accounts while at work. And to keep social media distractions to a minimum, schedule specific times over the course of the day (e.g., when you get in in the morning, during lunch and just before close of business) to check these accounts.

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5. Use a dashboard tool for managing your social media accounts. "For managers who have to run multiple Twitter accounts (like me; I run nine), the best tool I can suggest is TweetDeck [or HootSuite], which is a godsend in not only tweeting to multiple accounts, but also offers insight into what your followers are following," says Samuel F. Swicegood, owner, Audio Toaster Broadcasting. "You can also schedule tweets, which saves immense amounts of time."

6. Turn off your mobile phone -- or limit texting to specific times. Unless you use your mobile phone for work, keep it off while at the office -- or schedule times to check for and send text messages. During office hours, have team and family members contact you via your work phone in case of emergency or via email for less important matters.

7. Use a project management tool to keep yourself and your team on track. Use "an all-inclusive project manager [such as Basecamp or TeamworkPM] that allows you to prioritize your tasks according to due date and importance," says Owen Hemsath, president, Videospot, an online and video marketing company. "The system [should] come with a calendar, notes and a messaging system that works with any email client, so it can remind you what you need to be working on at a given time."

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.

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This story, "7 tips for managing digital information overload" was originally published by CIO.

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