Research firm Basex estimates that information overload costs the US economy alone more than US$650 billion a year in lost productivity. So much of our time is spent on sifting through information overload and prioritizing tasks. Productivity guru David Allen has coached many of the world’s top CEOs in his ‘Getting Things Done’ method, as well as training organizations to use their time more efficiently, from Goldman Sachs to the US Navy. “The most organized people self-assess themselves as being the most disorganized,” says Allen. “The really disorganized people don’t even know they have a problem.”
1. Write it down
Don’t carry unfinished jobs in your head: write them all down to clear your mind. Our pre-frontal cortex (which stores whatever is ‘on our mind’) is useless at assigning priority; it always lets the latest thing take precedence. By writing down tasks, says Allen, “it is possible to be buried in work and have nothing on your mind”.
2. Break it down
Don’t tackle entire projects in your head: use software for that. Think only about the next task ahead, and work on that
3. Schedule time for self-analysis
Once a week, spend at least 30 private minutes assessing what you have done in the last seven days, and what you need to do in the next seven. This is time for analysis only; resist the temptation to work at this point, and don’t answer the phone or email.
4. Organize your folders
Cognitive research suggests the optimum organizational strategy is to use between seven and 12 categories to file everything. Too few, and they are not distinctive enough; more then 12 and you can’t keep track of them all. Whether your folders are filled with paper or data, the rule is the same.
5. Don’t prevaricate
Never defer replying to an email or making a decision if it takes less than two minutes to resolve. The process of deferring a decision or an email, filing it and finding it again will take longer than two minutes anyway, so you’re just making more work for yourself.