August 16, 2017

Information Overload

I once heard from a technology wiz that the most frequently built tech tool is a task management solution. No wonder! Gone are the days where we wake up at dawn, milk the cows, collect the eggs from the chickens, and pull weeds the rest of the day. Getting a computer chip implanted in our heads to handle all the incoming data traffic maybe might not be such a bad idea except it would probably be obsolete within a year. Handling the hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual tasks inside of a business can be a daunting challenge.

Running a bookkeeping and accounting practice with a hundred clients was a huge personal undertaking. Each day I would have hundreds of emails to filter through, dozens of phone calls to make, and my daily to-do list could grow into the hundreds. In order to accomplish my tasks, respond rapidly to any customer request, coach my employees, and still have time for the gym, my family, and relaxation I had to rely heavily on my processes! Here are 3 items we focused on to reduce our information intake and stay on top of everything.

Importance vs Urgency

Stephen Covey created a very simple Time Management Matrix pictured below:

Time Management Matrix

Simple and effective. We need to define our tasks, workflows, and processes into one of these 4 quadrants and focus all our energies and desires into working in #2. If we find ourselves in #1 — it usually means there is a “fire”, we haven’t planned for the activity, or we have failed to allocate time in our day to getting ahead of urgent/important items. If a to-do comes up and you qualify it as #3 — see if you can push it into #4. Never do anything in #4… ever! Don’t waste time… it’s a most precious recourse in business.

Project & Operations Management Software

In order to be able to identify your tasks into one of the 4 categories — you’ll need a tool to help you track your task list. The tech community has built some amazing project management tools. In our business, however, we have a need for ongoing processes and operations and not simply a start to finish project. Many of the tools which exist are built around start and complete projects. Implementing Kanban, SCRUM, Waterfall events, AGILE, etc is often not possible in our client engagements because the work is never-ending. However, many of the ideas behind these project management philosophies can be carried into our processes and workflows.

We implemented Asana in our business because it gives us the flexibility to create ongoing work as well as one-off projects. We customized the way we interface with the data so we can always stay on top of our tasks without becoming burdened with complex tracking methods. We also integrated our team and personal emails along with our time tracking solutions into Asana so that we can quickly create tasks and track time against tasks without having to leave the Asana platform or our Email Client.

Email overload

Many of the small business ventures I have worked with have CEOs who are overloaded with communication. The more established, successful, larger companies have CEOs who have reduced their email overload or who have excellent systems for dealing with the influx of communication. I am biased towards technology which makes it easier to find and store information. We use Google Business Apps and take advantage of the tagging and automated rules to sort our emails. We also have a rule to keep our inbox below 20 emails. We also recently implemented Front which integrates into our Asana so that emails can be turned into tasks quickly and then archived.

Just as it is important to keep your workspace clear — it is important to keep your head clear and your workflows organized. What are some of the things you do to reduce information overload?