Take Control

Basic Training

Experts say the first step in avoiding information overload is to develop a keen sense of your goals and objectives.

"The best way to get a hold on information is to become really clear about your strategy," says Ellen Siminoff, vice president of business development and strategic planning for Yahoo!, who receives upwards of 300 e-mail messages and several dozen voice-mail messages daily. "If you have a sense of what your strategy is, you know what's important, what to spend more time on and what not to waste your bandwidth on."

Once your priorities are clear, the next step is developing a logical way to attack cumbersome e-mail, faxes, voice mail and other information sources. Some experts recommend checking them often so they don't pile up, while others advise designating certain times of the day for wading through your messages. Siminoff, for instance, tackles her e-mail inbox early every morning. Before beginning other tasks and attending meetings, she responds first to important and urgent messages, then to less important ones, so they're off her plate fast. In addition, she leaves quiet time at the end of her day for answering e-mail messages that demand a more thoughtful response.

Keep in mind, your strategy should fit your business environment and daily goals. When answering messages, stay focused. Don't get sidetracked into returning voice mail or responding to e-mail messages that don't align with your strategy. If possible, have an assistant screen your voice mail, incoming faxes, e-mail and snail mail so you see only the most pertinent information.

Whenever possible, keep your responses short. Get to the point when returning voice-mail messages, and stick to the facts in your e-mail. One great advantage e-mail has over picking up the phone: The niceties go out the window--or at least take up a lot less time--allowing you to get right to the matter at hand.

Above all, give newspaper articles, e-mail and other information a shelf life. If, after several weeks, you haven't found time to act on or pass on some piece of "interesting" information, toss it. If you've come across something important, print it out and file it, or immediately pass it on to the appropriate person. Don't keep e-mail around for too long either. Once the matter has been dealt with, delete the message permanently (just be sure to have some kind of regular system in place to back up your e-mail first).

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This article was originally published in the August 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Take Control.

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