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Information overload: How effective leaders managed information.

It’s difficult to engage and manage teams from behind a desk, but that is exactly what most leaders do on account of the staggering speed and sheer volume of information that flows to their desk every day. As a result, we have become a society that is accepting of leaders who direct and manage “from afar.” There is even new social media software for business that enables leaders to monitor employee activities and use cliché triggers such as “like” or “thumbs up” as a form of recognition. Please.


How is it possible for one person to remain current on the rafts of organizational information, policy changes, new programs, and company initiatives, all while effectively leading a team? The truth is, it’s not. There are only so many hours in a day, and despite many in leadership roles choosing to work evenings and weekends to catch up, information continues to flow at an uncontrollable pace.


But yet there appear to be those who can manage it all, including spending significant time with their team members both individually and as a group. So how do they do it, you might ask? Information mitigation.


Here are the five best ways to mitigate, manage, and overcome the information mountain to allow for more face time with staff.


1.    Identify priorities.

To bring clarity to managing information, it is important to maintain focus on both organizational priorities and your own personal priorities? Some of the most effective leaders I know make note of their top priorities, be they for the day or the entire year, and keep them visually displayed either in a planner or at their desk. Time is precious, and remembering our priorities is helpful to quickly weed out any distractions or information that has little value.


2.    Commit time.

Time is a non-renewable resource that is finite. It is in our best interest to spend our time wisely, and we often have to schedule time to ensure the most important priorities are met. Too many leaders let their meeting schedule prioritize their day, which is the opposite of what they should be doing. I know that you’re thinking, “But I have to attend these meetings.” The short answer is, no you don’t. Block time in your schedule to meet with or speak with your team on a daily basis, and if you are challenged by others that their meeting is mandatory, use this statement: “I am measured and held accountable to manage my team. I am happy to participate in your meeting at a different time, or I may be able to call in for a portion of it, but my priority is to lead my team.” This won’t get you out of every meeting, but if you stick with it you will find the number of meetings in your schedule begin to be reduced or conform to your schedule.


3.     Triage information.

How much information do you retain in files, emails, and on your desk? To reduce the noise you must spend some time implementing information screens. Place filters in your emails to reduce ‘cc’d’ inclusions. Spend five minutes at the end of every day clearing your desk and identifying your top three to five priorities for the next day. Spend five minutes at the start of every day reviewing any material that you didn’t read before leaving the day prior – then toss it, delete it, or file it, but don’t leave it sitting around. Haven’t you noticed that those leaders who appear to be on top of things have a clean desk and organized email inbox? Interesting coincidence. Or is it?


4.    Shift work.

I’m not referring to shiftwork, but to actually moving work to others through redirection, deflection or delegation. You weren’t hired to be a jack-of-all-trades, but to specialize in a specific area of the business, be it Sales, Operations, Maintenance, or Finance. Don’t try to accomplish everything on your own, and for goodness sake don’t take on projects that don’t impact your area, directly or indirectly, unless you believe that doing so will be of benefit to your team in the near future. The busiest people are often given the most off-the-wall assignments, but all this does is reduce their chance of achieving their goals and priorities, which are typically handed out by the vary individuals who provide the additional assignments. Don’t be afraid to push back and challenge work that comes your way, regardless of who it is from, just be tactful about it and support your reasoning.


5.    Downtime.

The most effective leaders I know are those who take committed downtime from their organizations or businesses, be they evenings, weekends, vacations, or all of the above. For several years I worked in an organization where smartphones were mandatory so that you could be reached 24/7. Tired of being called at all hours, I performed a test where I turned off my smartphone after 6:00pm, and didn’t turn it on again until the next morning, allowing me to check and follow up on messages before the start of the business day. In the two years I applied this practice, I had only one complaint from an individual who was my equal (not superior). Not an opinion I truly valued. During emergencies, people knew how and where to reach me, but I gained some valuable downtime with family, which rejuvenated me, helping to maintain focus and drive in my role.


The volume and frequency of incoming information is not going to slow. In fact, I suggest we will likely see the just the opposite. So what are you waiting for? Start applying these five steps immediately and you will notice instant relief from information overload.


© Shawn Casemore 2012. All rights reserved.

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