Tame Information Overload: 10 Ways to Increase Productivity with Technology

July 5, 2005
Information overload causes a lot of workplace stress too much e-mail, voice mail, Internet connections, electronic reports, digital images, cell phones, text messages, pagers, PDA reminders, laptops, power point programs, recorders, MP3 players, bridge lines, video conferences, teleseminars and many more. How do the savvy leaders sort through the noise and capture exactly what they need to succeed?

We've always had more information than we could possibly digest. Technology has helped us overcome the traditional problem of finding the data we need, and technology can help us control and access knowledge in ways to make it meaningful.

Good leaders and managers are all knowledgeable of technology resources. They surround themselves with experts if they cannot embrace the entire scope of their assets, just as they depend on experts in finance, sales and manufacturing.

Successful leaders don't suffer information overload because they know how to manage data as well as they know how to manage any other aspect of business. It's safe to say that managers who do suffer information overload are actually a victim of "technology underload" an inability to keep up with the tools available.

Every good leader must show a willingness to be prepared in these 11 areas.

1. What's in your toolbox?

Not every company can have the latest in hardware and software, but do you know what is being used in your own company and among your customers, competitors and suppliers? Get a complete list of what's working and what's not. Get your own experts to brief you and everyone else in your organization.

2. Tools to Acquire

Misunderstanding available technology is a primary cause of technology underload. How can you use the tools if you don't even understand the tools that have been invented? Subscribe to technical journals and listen to the experts.

After you know your tools and what's available, you need to decide which hardware and software you should acquire. Buying the wrong equipment will increase your technology underload instead of bringing you up to speed. You'll be stressed with the expenditure and the results. Get good advice. It isn't free.

3. Discomforting Technology

Not everyone is comfortable with learning new technology, but long gone are the days when people jokingly described themselves as being computer illiterate. Most people have learned to avoid such statements because they know their careers are on the line. Overcome your aversions and increase self-confidence by learning more about the tools and how they can make your job easier.

4. Training

Once you understand the tools you have, you'll need to get competent training on what they are designed for and how to use them. Both hardware and software provide everything you need to do the job, but it's up to you to learn how to turn the knobs and punch the buttons. Get professional training for the people responsible for getting the job done, and learn enough to know how to challenge them.

5. Do It Yourself

Make your needs known. Most companies will pay for the training. If corporate training is just not available, invest in your own education. You'll improve your performance and your value to the company while alleviating the perceived information overload.

6. Contact Management

PDAs and computer software such as ACT! can alleviate your feeling of overload. These tools help you note the who, what, when, where, why and how of all transactions. Give up trying to remember everything and rely on these contact managers. Make the investment yourself if your company cannot do so.

7. E-Communications

Don't limit your communications to email. Educate yourself on how to use e-zines, newsletters, Web sites, blogs, bridge lines, Web cams, teleseminars, webinars, meeting scheduler, mail merging, text messaging, e-mail to hard copy delivery, e-postcards and instant messaging. Get the latest and best in spam filters, anti-virus programs and firewalls. Hide your computer from others when you search the Web, and wipe your computer clean with a program to eliminate tracking cookies and spyware a lot to learn, but just tackle them one at a time. For dozens of ways you can jump ahead, search Google for e-communications.

8. Research Tools

There's no reason to be uninformed on any subject now that so much information is posted on the Internet. You can research anything, from molecular biology to art and architecture, from lesson plans to homework. Use the free search tools such as Google and Yahoo! If they don't meet your needs, buy into special data banks such as MarketingSource.com. Start with Google.com and explore these areas of technology or a field of interest on the amazing Web. Your challenge won't be finding the information; it will be deciding which information is reliable.

9. Conference Tools

Bridge lines are the modern-day conference calls. Everyone concerned calls a designated number and gains access with a pin number that you provide.

Caller participation can be set for lecture, limited voice access, or a free for all. You can make recordings for distribution of the entire call. The number of participants and length of call depends on the program. Find out all about this technology by searching Google for telephone bridge lines.

10. Collaboration Tools

It's no longer necessary for team members to gather in a room to get the job done. The Internet and other e-communication tools permit meetings from around the world. One Web site shows more than 50 different tools available for putting great minds together. Search Google for "collaboration tools" + vendors (use the quotation marks and plus sign as shown). You'll find more than 275,000 sites with the exact tools you need for corporate, academic, or social collaboration. Missing out on this type collaboration is like throwing away a winning lottery ticket.

Get the tools and get the training. If you're stressed from information overload or technology underload, the only thing holding you back is a willingness to embrace the hardware and software available. You don't need the most expensive or the newest, but you do need to get started. Do whatever is necessary to expand your knowledge and ability or you'll find yourself left behind.

Dale Collie is an author, speaker, former U.S. Army Ranger, CEO and professor at West Point. His McGraw-Hill book, Winning Under Fire: Turn Stress into Success the U.S. Army Way, takes strategies from the battlefield into the boardroom and beyond. A Purple Heart recipient, Collie has succeeded in both the Army and the corporate world through his management and leadership strategies. In addition, Fast Company named Dale one of America's Fast 50 innovative leaders. For more on his book, speeches and seminars, please visit www.couragebuilders.com or send mail to [email protected].

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