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Managing Information Overload

Managing Information Overload
 Technology with Integrity

By Tim Torian, Torian Group, Inc.


"Information overload is not a function of the volume of information out there," he says. "It's a gap between the volume of information and the tools we have to assimilate that information into useful knowledge." 
           - Paul Saffo, Institute of the Future

Things are changing. Changes are happening in every aspect of our lives, and it is more and more challenging to keep up. As a business owner or manager, you not only need to understand what is happening with your business, you need to be part fortune teller to understand what will change, and what to do about it.

A big part of this is developing good sources of information, and filtering it so that you are getting what you need, and not wasting time. Spending a little time improving your tools can pay off by improving your effectiveness every day.

A host of new technologies can help you manage information. These tools include filtering mechanisms for groupware and E-mail; software agents that scour databases, portals that can be customized to your needs, content delivery tools such as RSS, and search engines that help tame the World Wide Web. All these technologies have one thing in common: They're designed to get the right information into the right hands, and block out unnecessary data.

Here are some basics:

Get Connected: If you are not using the internet, get with it. You cannot expect to compete without high speed internet access and email.

Identify information channels: Think about where you get and need information, and how you prefer to communicate. Do you prefer email, use online chat, or spend your time on the phone? What do you need to access at the office, in the car, at home, in meetings?

Manage your phone: Get familiar with the features available on current cell phones, such as email and text messaging. Consider a PDA/cell phone combination.  When you upgrade your phone system, look at integrated voice mail / email systems, so your messages are all in one place, and can be managed as another file.  Tools are now available to update your calendar on the phone and at the office in real time – changing either one changes your appointments at the office server and on your PDA/phone.

Manage your email: Get an effective spam filter, so you are not wasting your time deleting unwanted email. Consider having multiple email accounts for different purposes. They can all come in to your inbox, but be automatically categorized as they come in. Keep your personal account very private, so only important information comes in to it. Take advantage of the rules in outlook to redirect incoming email into folders. Have “information” type emails automatically redirected to folders you can review as you have time. You can also use rules to automatically sort your sent email into categories.

Manage news: Have relevant information come to you, rather than searching for it. Take advantage of the many free personal portals, such as my yahoo, or my msn. Spend a little time finding RSS (a type of news service that sends you information) feeds that are specific to your needs.
Try Google news – It is very effective at filtering to find just the news that interests you.

Manage your information: The holy grail of personal information management is to deal with it only once. Next best is to create it once, and have it available when and where you need it. Information can be divided into reference, and everything else. Reference information is stuff you might want to use again someday. Everything else is something you need to do something about – appointments, tasks, correspondence, etc.

Personal Information: Determine what works for you, and work it. If you are not already using outlook rather than outlook express, make the switch. Get some kind of electronic calendar. There are many good tools, most with more features than most of us use. Use outlook add in software to implement your favorite task and time management methodology, such as the 7 Habits tools, or David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ methodology. Take advantage of tools that give you access to what you need from wherever you are – Cell phone / PDA, laptop with mobile internet access, and remote access tools such as outlook web access, VPN’s and Remote connection to your office computer.

Reference Information: Develop a good electronic filing system for your reference information. This will depend on your industry, and may involve integration with vertical market software. Move toward electronic documents, by saving .PDF and scanned information rather than paper. In addition to organizing favorites, Web links can be copied to the desktop, and then saved in folders with other relevant documents. Use one of the personal search tools such as Google desktop search to find information stored anywhere in your computer system as you need it.

 Finding information: Web search tools have gotten a whole lot better. Many industries also have subscription based information tools that are essential to a particular job. Keep in mind that databases of information, many of them free, do not show up in search engine results. Consider identifying some key database tools that are relevant to your industry and bookmarking them.  See the link below for a list of database web sites.

Resources for Managing Information
The SBDC is offering a free seminar on personal productivity August 10. Call them at 625-3051 for more information.

Personal portals: http://my.yahoo.com ; http://my.msn.com ; www.newsisfree.com
Portal list: www.google.com/Top/Computers/Internet/On_the_Web/Web_Portals
Build your own portal: www.portalscripts.com
Search Databases: www.searchability.com ; www.searchtools.com
Digital literacy: http://21cif.imsa.edu/inform/program/difcorecompetencies.html
7 Habits tools: www.franklincovey.com/planplus/outlook/index.html
David Allen software: http://www.davidco.com/productDetail.php?id=63&IDoption=20

Tim Torian has taught computer networking at the College of Sequoias and Cal Poly Extension. He has a BS in Computer Science, and has been consulting on computer networks for the past 20 Years. His industry certifications include: Cisco CCNA and CCNI, Microsoft MCSE, and Novell CNE.  He is president of Torian Group, Inc. which provides a full range of Technology Consulting services to local business, including computer services, networking, and custom software development. They can be reached at (559) 733-1940 or on the web at http://www.toriangroup.com


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