Sipping from a Fire Hydrant (843 words)

How do I stop the insanity? Monthly, I get about 60 trade magazines mailed to my office. Daily, I receive about 10 electronic newsletters in my email in-box. And, social electronic networking—between Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter, I’m bombarded hourly.

Information Assault

How about you? Are you finding it hard to decide where to dedicate your time? For over 20 years I have been listening to my friend, Dr. Terry Paulson, talk about “today’s” information flow is like trying to sip from a fire hydrant. Well Terry, it just gets worse—and the productivity professionals—yeah sure thing. We have a two-fold challenge; information flow and information retention.

For the Rest of Us

Back in the mid-1990s I used to teach a full-day course for the Dun & Bradstreet Foundation titled, “Managing Multiple Priorities” which was a solid program (for the day) on getting stuff done. The course was deeply based in tactics yet strategy is the real issue. Let’s face it, how many “pending” emails are in your inbox, neatly stored in an archive system? With how many sources of information flow are you dealing? Most importantly, how many much of this information do you really need?

A couple years ago, for some unknown reason, America Online closed the email account that I had been using for over a decade and I thought the world had come to an end. After a while I realized that it was no major disaster and actually was a nice spring cleaning. The point is that we hold onto so much that we might “someday” use and all that stuff is creating what I call, information constipation. Right this minute, look around your office. What can you toss? Before you read another word, get up and toss it—yes, I mean right now! Admit it, didn’t that feel good?  That’s what we all need more of; the willingness to toss stuff.

Toss and Block

The, what to toss question has both physical and emotional elements. Letting go of the physical stuff is generally easier than the emotional. As an example, it is much easier for me to toss my piles of trade magazines than it is to decide that I no longer need the subscriptions—thinking that I might miss out on an important piece of information. Then there is the issue of what to block all together. More on making those decisions later.

While reducing clutter in one’s mind and workplace is a very liberating experience, one must make decisions on one’s standard operating procedures (SOPS)—what to accept, to keep, to toss, or to block. This goes for both the mind and workplace. Without doing this, you will soon be, again, in confusion. Below, I’ve listed some helpful “dumping” questions. But first, you really do need to develop some sort of system for yourself on easily retrieving the stuff you really, really, really do need. And that is very little. Perhaps understanding why we do not get stuff done will help in the decision process?

Why We Do Not Do Stuff

The information below is from a survey I recently conducted. I asked the question, “What keeps you from doing what you say?” While I consider the first two items to be effectively the same, I listed them separately because they are subsets of the issue.

16% – Poor prioritizing

10% – Lack of time

11% – Fear of failure/lack of self confidence

9.5% – Lack of focus/distractions

9.5% – No motivation/purpose/passion

8.5% – Over commitment

8.5% – Change in priorities

4% – Circumstances beyond personal control

5% – Miscellaneous

18% – Denial (Survey respondents stated, “I always do what I say.”)

Reviewing the above list; which one is your Achilles heal? I realize that you may have more than one issue, however, there is one over-arching issue that when resolved, the others cascade behind and become resolved.

Getting Over It

At the end of each day, we all do a quick mental review and are either pleased or displeased with the day’s activities. When pleased, we sleep well—but, when we believe we could have achieved so much more; sleep can be an elusive commodity.

Below are some questions to ask yourself about the flow and retention of your physical and mental junk.

  • Do I really, really, really need to look at this?
  • Do I really, really, really need to keep this?
  • What’s the worse thing that could happen if I didn’t have access to this?
  • Am I really, really, really willing to tell others to stop sending me stuff?

My best suggestion is for you to adopt the philosophy of first only accepting what you really need and secondly scan and dump most of what you do accept. This will keep you in the know, and out of the clutter. The reality is, you will be able to find the info again if you really need it. The great lesson that I learned from AOL closing my account was that I really didn’t need all that information that I was hording. How about you?