virgin islands scene

One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.
-- Andre Gide


Wednesday, March 6, 1996

Dealing with information overload

It never stops. Email, phone calls, faxes, memos, reports, magazines, trade journals, audiotapes, radio programs, television -- you’re constantly assaulted with information. It comes from every direction. The growing role of computers and the Internet make the problem even worse, because computers can spew out information at a rate that is almost incomprehensible.

How do you deal with it all? How do you manage to get through the day without being completely bogged down by information?

It’s not easy. It takes a strong focus and discipline to avoid getting pulled of in any number of directions.

Stephanie Winston, in her book Getting Organized, outlines what she calls the TRAF System for dealing with paperwork. The concepts of the TRAF System can apply just as well to email and many other sources or information.

Each of the letters in the acronym TRAF stands for an alternate action that you can take with any piece of information which crosses your path.

T is for TOSS. One of the best ways to deal with something is to throw it away. I do this so often with email that I’m afraid the “D” key on my PowerBook is going to wear out! Likewise, the recycling bin in my office is also beginning to show signs of wear from the loads it must bear. No, I don’t discard anything that requires an answer, but much of the information you get each day doesn’t deserve to clutter up your desk, your file cabinet or your disk drive. So ask yourself “What would be the negative consequences if I didn’t read this?” If there are none, then toss it.

R is for REFER. If you can delegate someone else to take action on something, then do it. Ask yourself if you really need to be the one to act on something, or if someone else could do it just as well. Many things can be passed to others who can deal with them more appropriately.

A is for ACTION. If a piece of information comes to you that demands action, then put it in a special folder or add it to your “To-Do” list. Then take action on it as soon as possible so you can move on to something else.

F is for FILE. If you receive some information that you will need later, then file it where you will be able to get to it. But remember, 80% of all papers filed are never seen again, needed, or used. So if the information is something that you can always get elsewhere (and with more and more information available online, this is increasingly the case) then there’s no need for you to keep your own copy.

The important thing is to quickly deal with every letter, phone call, fax, email, memo or other information that comes to you. One of the biggest wastes of time is dealing with the same thing over and over again. You pick it up, read it, wonder what to do with it, and stick it back on your desk. Again and again you pick it up and read it. If you deal with things as soon as they come up, then you’ll avoid a lot of wasted time and effort.

Keep the TRAF System in mind as you go through your day, and take control of the information in your life.

— Ralph Marston

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Copyright ©1996 Ralph S. Marston, Jr. All Rights Reserved. The Daily Motivator is provided for your personal, non-commercial use only. Other than personal sharing, please do not re-distribute without permission.