Slay the Information Overload Dragon: How to Get Organized
By: Emily Bennington, Monster Contributor
Is it just me — or have you noticed it too? Every year, the onslaught of information overload steadily increases, challenging our sanity. And time and time again, our attempts to “get organized” fall flat.
What can be done?
For help, we called in a few experts and asked them all one question: With business moving at warp speed these days, what is the best organizational tip that has worked for you personally?
From subtle shifts in time management to the latest in productivity apps, here’s what they had to say about getting organized.
The secret sauce is planning.
“Planning is the most underutilized organizational skill in our 24/7 work,” says Patti Johnson, CEO of talent development firm People Results. Johnson says she’s always surprised at how many professionals fail to properly plan their schedules, resulting in dropped balls and damaged reputations.
“One of the best things you can do is to find a time that works for you, maybe 30 minutes on Friday afternoon or an early arrival on Monday, and reassess your priorities for the week or month,” she says. “When you do this, it becomes clearer what can wait and when you will have to say no.”
Johnson says this type of weekly planning will give you a clear roadmap for how to get organized and maximize your greatest resource — your time.
You control email. It shouldn’t control you.
Cathie Black knows about organization. In her career, Black has served as President / Publisher of USA Today, Chairman of Hearst magazines, and bestselling author of Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life).
Black says her #1 tip is learning how to manage email.
“Don't start the morning getting totally bogged down in answering emails from the night before,” she says. “Get the first things completed and off your daily to-do list. Then — and only then — tackle email.”
Johnson agrees. “The most organized people I know are masters at remembering what matters most and bowing out gracefully with what doesn’t,” she says. “We have such a high volume of work, emails, and expectations that a valuable skill is a filter that determines what can be skipped, needs a quick response, or requires thoughtful time and attention.”
Both Black and Johnson say a good technique for avoiding information overload is to only touch an email once.
Even better: plan ahead and block out your time into hour-long chunks to master email management, as opposed to the minute it comes in.
C’mon, get app-y.
Using three apps to stay organized? Seems a bit counterproductive, doesn’t it? Not for Jenny Blake, top career coach and author of Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want. Blake says she keeps a running file of outstanding action items by project using Workflowy, a list-making app designed to help "organize your brain.
"Each morning, Blake revisits the Workflowy list and records her biggest priorities for the day using TeuxDeux, a separate app that allows you to keep an electronic to-do list. (Hence the name, which is pronounced “to do.”)
Finally, as ideas pop-up throughout the week, Blake captures them in Evernote, another app which allows you to organize notes, photos, and documents together by project. Blake says she loves using Evernote because it syncs across all of her devices – tablet, phone, and computer – so everything stays up-to-date seamlessly.
While she knows keeping up with three apps is not for everyone, Blake insists her system has been key to ensuring she stays on track. “Each app is good for one important function,” she says, “and each in their own way.”
When all else fails, there’s always the trusty paper and pen.
Jeff James, CEO of strategic branding firm Mythology Marketing, calls himself “old school.”
In a previous role, James managed the marketing efforts for Microsoft, so he’s no stranger to the role of technology in organization; still, he says he prefers to keep it simple.
“I use a basic priority project cascade for annual planning,” says James. “First I sit down and determine the primary things I want to accomplish in the year ahead. Then, what are the key top-level projects that will get me there. I break down the action steps by priority and add them all at once to my Outlook calendar. That’s about as fancy as I get,” adding, “and sometimes it even works.”
Emily Bennington specializes in two distinct forms of career transition: college students entering the workforce and women leaders entering executive management. She is the author of Who Says It’s a Man’s World: The Girls’ Guide to Corporate Domination and the coauthor of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job. Emily has been featured on Fox Business, CNN, and ABC, and quoted in publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and Glamour magazine. Emily can be reached online at EmilyBennington.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.