Most businesses think of dealing with information overload
- few consider reducing the amount of information they deal with.
Considering most businesses have information pathways that are
already clogged by surfeit of information, this attitude doesn't
People start creeping in early just to deal with their email
inbox. Some poor swine gets the job of sending out a weekly digest.
Very few businesses undertake any detailed analysis of the information
they are asking staff to deal with, its intrinsic usefulness and
whether people are any more effective once they have read it.
Information should be read before it is passed on to anybody
else. The problem with email is it is so easy to bounce unread
information and make it somebody else's problem.
One company boss hit the newspaper headlines a few years ago
by announcing he was banning email (yeah, right). Anyway, email
can be a very good way of cascading relevant information through
Here are some good rules for dealing with your information load,
in particular, but not exclusively, what you receive online.
Individuals within an organisation have to take responsibility
for the reading, removal or dissemination of information that
comes to them. And deal with it contemporaneously.
Don't do the email bounce. If it gets to the stage where an email
has four people's input on it - start a fresh email, outline the
cumulative key points so far in a sentence or two and - most importantly
- why you are now sending it to the person you are sending it
Read information before you send it on and only send it on if
you think there is a direct relevance to the person you are sending
Ideally, flag up the relevant section or paragraph. Better still,
send them a précis of what you have read and tell them
where they can go to find out more - such as a URL. The central
idea is not to increase an employee's capacity for information
but to refine and define the information stream.
Don't skim off the top. The temptation is to skim off the most
relevant or actionable material from your virtual or actual inbox
without assessing what's left.
People deal with critical information - such as bills - and add
less critical information to a notional Must Read pile, which
they rarely, if ever, get round to. Often information from this
pile is ditched without ever being assessed, simply because an
inbox gets too full or a pile of unread papers topples onto the
Just because the boss wrote it doesn't make it more important.
It isn't just external information that companies have to deal
with and refine. Internally generated information is often given
a sanctity it doesn't deserve.
When generating internal communications the first rule of thumb
should be - only those with something to say should talk. When
it comes to written information this translates into: we only
write things down - for other people to read - when we have something
to say. Status reports, which effectively say nothing in a department
has changed, are no use. Internally generated information should
progress the corporate case. It should tell people things they
do not already know and keep them up to date with change - not
It's not what you write but the way that you write it. Think scientist
- not artist. Even if information is pertinent it still needs
to be written in such as way that it can be easily read and assessed
and the core data retained.
The way the copy is "crafted" is crucial in this respect
and there are a number of disciplines that can be used to keep
the copy interesting, succinct and easily navigable.
Text needs to be structured in such a way that people can
dip in and out of what is on offer. It's useful to explore hypertext
disciplines even when writing for offline.
Traditional hard copy text can be restructured in a way that
is non-sequential but intuitive and meaningful - allowing people
to jump sections, amass key points and if necessary, review.
Think of including a "If you read nothing else - read this"
box - what we call a RT box for short - at the bottom of longer
pieces. If you can write a good RT box with all the salient points
in it, ask yourself why you need to write anything longer?
Finally, we give you an acronym passed on to us by another
business. If you remember nothing else, remember TRASH:
With the information you receive you should do one of these things
||Throw it away
||Refer it to one person after you have read it and decided
it's not relevant to you
||Store it if there is a good reason using monthly folders,
which you then delete after, say, 3 months
||Halt it but telling the person who is sending you irrelevant
drivel to stop.
this article as a PDF
(PC users: Right-click this link and Mac users: Ctrl-click)