Information Overload: Email, IM, Fax, Mail, Phones

A new client called me this morning stressed out about all the information coming into her office every day. She’s having a hard time concentrating on work that generates income and needed some suggestions.

You have to take stock of what is bothering you, write it down, and develop some solutions to reduce the angst or make it go away. The following turned out to be her main issues.

What type of messages are coming in? Is it spam, personal friends, potential clients, current clients, etc.? Analyze the incoming messages so you know what you’re dealing with. I have numerous ways to manage email, and she realized she should take my Outlook/Time Management class.

  • Create answers to messages you receive often. Save them as signatures (in Outlook 2003 or older) and in QuickParts (Outlook 2007 or later). When you need to send the same answer, it’s already written and a click away.
  • Stop checking email all day. Set aside times of day to check email. Get into a meeting with the Inbox and stay focused on it. During that meeting, analyze each message and either delete it, pend it, schedule it, task it, flag it for follow up, or do the work if it’s quick.

Cell Phone
Who’s calling your cell phone during the day and why? This was a mix of her family wanting to know what she’s doing, clients who are also friends, and personal friends.

  • Change the outgoing message on your cell phone. “Thanks for calling. My cell phone is turned off during the day. If you’re a client, please call the work phone at (the number). I’ll return all other calls after work hours. You may also send me an email at (email address). If this is an emergency, please call the work phone.
  • Turn off the cell phone during the day and only use it at your convenience.

Instant Messages
Who’s sending you instant messages and what do they want? This amounted to a lot of “What are you doing?” type of questions so that account will be logged off during the day.

What is coming in via fax? Information comes in via fax that needs to be filed. Change the old-style fax machine to receiving faxes via email. She didn’t receive a lot of faxes so I advised that she sign up for a free fax account at

When the mail comes in, put it in one place, separating by recipient. Someone should process it once a day.

Who’s calling you the most and what are they asking for?

  • Change your outgoing message and let people know when they should expect a return call, suggest they send you an email instead, and refer them to your Website for more help.

    If you’re in a job such as a reporter with tons of irrelevant calls (e.g., from publicists), don’t say, “I’ll return your call as soon as I can” because you’re not. It’s perfectly fine to say something like, “Due to the number of calls I receive every day, I may not be able to return yours. However, I want to responsive and have put a link on our Web site, blah, blah, blah.”

  • Make your Website easier to navigate and add a Frequently Asked Question page. This will reduce the number of non-revenue calls.

Can you afford to allow non-revenue interruptions to interfere with work? Me neither. Analyze each interruption and put a process in place to manage it.

Have you made any changes that help you get work done during the workday? Let us know by leaving a comment.