Thursday, May 31, 2007

Managing information and expectations

I read quite a few posts/articles last night about managing (or really, lack of managing) email and other streams of information. There was an article in the Washington Post about declaring email bankruptcy and Merlin Mann of 43 Folders commented on it. In both pieces, the message is clear: some of us get way more email than we can reasonably be expected to respond to. I've written about my own issue with what I called the email time suck before. I have often thought about how to manage the incoming email and I do wish people who emailed me would stop and think sometimes before they do. Here's some thoughts:
  • I get a good portion of email that could be answered by calling (or emailing) the help desk instead. I wish people would start there.
  • I get email about questions that are answered in online documentation that's clearly and easily found.
  • I get email about stuff that has nothing to do with me, often beginning with the phrase, "I'm not sure if you're the right person . . . " Call the secretary or the help desk.
I'm sure there are other situations that I shouldn't be emailed about but those are constant and frequent enough that I think about them often. It's not that I don't want to help. It's that these superfluous emails take up time and keep me from doing other things. And if I'm not around (which I'm often not), the person sending the email often doesn't get a response very quickly. No good for anyone involved. When I'm going to be away, I have a vacation message that tells people to call the help desk. I'm amazed by how many people ignore this and send me a follow up message in an angry tone wondering why I haven't responded or taken care of x. Hmmm. Maybe because I'm away and am now dealing with 500 messages, half of which could have been handled by someone else.

I will say, though, that technology has really helped me to manage email and my other information streams. I do wish that, besides the filters I have set up to move list emails to folders and spam to the trash, I could have a way to autorespond to email based on key words. There probably is such a thing. If you know of it, please let me know.

Jenny, at The Shifted Librarian, writes about dealing with information overload and letting go of the idea that you have to take in everything. I'll admit that I often feel like I need to read more, find more, write more and that that can be a big stress point. However, I've gotten much better about using technology to help me let go. I switched to Google Reader a while back and wasn't sure I was going to like it until I discovered "List View." Now I have all my feeds in folders and I select a folder to look at and scan the headlines, reading the posts I want. And then, I hit "Mark All as Read" and don't look back. It was hard to do that at first, but it's freeing. I also star things I find interesting but don't have time to read and will go back to them later. Sometimes I add stuff to my links. It depends on how I want to use it. Knowing that I can access those links is really helpful and sometimes, I just browse through them and see what's there.

I have more to say about strategies for managing the information flow, but I think I'll stop there. How do you deal with the gushing stream of information?