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How to Take Control of the Information Avalanche

How to Take Control of the Information Avalanche
Image credit: Simon le nippon/Flickr

In his book No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs, business coach and consultant Dan Kennedy reveals the steps behind making the most of your frantic, time-pressured days so you can turn time into money. In this edited excerpt, the author offers seven quick ways you can dig through the avalanche of information that crosses your path every day.

Supposedly, we are in the Paperless Age. But according to University Microfilms, we’re now creating one billion pages of information each and every day in the United States alone. That doesn’t even include the avalanche moving to you online. There’s nothing different about it, except its immediacy and more aggressive intrusiveness.

It’s up to you to route all your incoming and in-bound information through a screening process and method of organization. Let me offer you some “shovels” to help you dig your way out of the avalanche:

1. Improve your reading skills. Many people are poor readers and insist they don't “like” to read. Sadly, our U.S. universities and high schools alike are churning out massive numbers of young people who don't read, get all their news from TV, radio or quick, abbreviated online reports, and, in a shocking number of cases, are borderline illiterate. Take or get a good home-study speed reading course. Although I’m self-taught, when people ask me to recommend courses, I refer them to Howard Berg. He holds the Guinness Book of World Records title of World’s Fastest Reader. You can get information about Howard’s courses on speed reading, accelerated learning, and memory at www.howardbergspeedreading.com. Speed reading (and speed comprehension) is real.

2. At least be sure you get the information you really want and need. If you're really busy and time is much more of an issue than money, you can pay others to read for you. There are “clipping services,” including one run by The Wall Street Journal, that will ferret through hundreds of daily newspapers, trade magazines and other media for the topics you've requested and send you just the articles about your topic. You may have a staff person read and clip for you. A good project for son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter is a regular pile of reading, like trade journals, to clip, highlight, even summarize for you. One of my clients pays his high-school-age son $75 a week to read 14 different trade journals and newsletters and record summaries and excerpts on a weekly CD that he can listen to while he drives to work.

3. Set aside any “bulk” material that's not time sensitive to review at your leisure. Catalogs, interesting-looking junk mail and popular magazines fall into this category. You must be very selective about what warrants your attention now, what later, what never.

4. Consider condensation. You can subscribe to Executive Book Summaries, for example, and get brief summaries of a dozen, new, “hot” business books every month. This is sort of a Cliff Notes for adults. There’s a similar service, Newstrack, for news buffs.

Online, there are services like Google Alerts, to notify you of information that's relevant to you. You can also go to most news sites, trade journal sites and information sites and access articles by topic search.

One small caution: Don’t completely close off spontaneous discovery and eclectic interests. You may want to raid The New York Times website daily just for any news specifically relevant to your business, but it's still good now and then to read the Sunday New York Times cover to cover. You'll find useful things you never knew existed.

5. Use your DVR, TiVo, on-demand services, etc. No one is really bound anymore by the TV schedule. You need not be home at 9:00 p.m. to watch the documentary on CNBC about a company of interest to you that's airing at 9:00 p.m. In defense of TV, often slammed as the crap box, there happens to be a lot of useful, instructive and provocative programming for entrepreneurs. Of the general crop airing as I write this, I like and recommend the ABC show Shark Tank. But the financial cable channels are full of worthwhile programming. There may also be a reality show in your business niche.

6. Use your drive time or travel time as learning time. Here are the average to-and-from-the-office commute times for major cities: New York, 1 hour, 5 minutes; Washington, DC, 1 hour; Houston, 1 hour; Los Angeles, l hour, 30 minutes; Dallas, 48 minutes; Phoenix, 46 minutes. That can be classroom time. All my best teaching is available on audio CD, and most sales, marketing, and business experts offer their training on CDs as well. Many new business books are also released on CD. Your 40 minutes in the car per day x 250 business days a year + well-selected audio programs = 167 classroom hours available to you.

7. Resist the siren song of distraction. A lot of people let “noninformation” consume a lot of their time. Today’s news is tomorrow’s fish-wrap, yet we have just about become consumed with useless news. Twenty-four-hour-a-day news stations. News-talk radio. News and opinion websites. Yes, you want to be informed. But do you need to be informed about the latest celebrity sex or shoplifting scandal, the latest athlete going to jail, the weather in Bulgaria? 

Dan S. Kennedy is a strategic advisor, consultant, business coach, and author of the popular No B.S. book series. He directly influences more than one million business owners annually. 

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