12 June 2008.
Information overload has a significant
impact on lawyer productivity. Seven in 10
lawyers believe they are inundated with
information and 2 in 5 think they are headed
for an information "breaking point" (LexisNexis
Workplace Productivity Survey 2008).
Managing information overload depends to
some degree on personal circumstances. Your
work may be more time-sensitive than mine.
My work may require more up-to-the-minute
information than yours. Some people may have to
work harder at turning off the incoming
information channels. Those unfamiliar with
certain technical solutions may have to
invest time in learning something new before
they reap the rewards.
What this means is that you have to find a
method that works for you. To that end,
what follows are some ideas for managing
information overload. Adopt, modify or
eliminate them as suits your situation.
Plan and Prioritize.
It's not always possible for those who
provide a service to develop, and stick to,
a daily plan. To some degree, the needs of
clients, customers or patrons will shape the
But if you've been doing what you do for
awhile, you have some idea of how the
average day or week proceeds. Develop your
plan around this knowledge. Prioritize the
regular tasks you want to accomplish. Build
in some flexibility for the unexpected.
Your plan should include limits. Suppose
Friday afternoons are usually quiet, so you
set aside 3 hours every week at this time to
catch up with professional reading. But a
client's call sets you back an hour or more.
Do you squeeze the time lost into the
following week's schedule? I suggest not
because if such interruptions happen
regularly, or if the following week's
schedule cannot accommodate the additional
time, you could fall further behind. You'll
lose a sense of accomplishment and you'll
begin to feel overloaded.
Instead, let the reading (or the hour's
reading you lost) go. Shelve it, or send it
on. If it contains something you really need
to know, that information will cross your
desk again. If it's something you'll need to
know later, you'll educate yourself when you
need to know it.
Turn Off or Schedule the Incoming
If you must answer the phone when you're in
the office, then you must. Can you instead
turn off other incoming channels - e-mail,
instant messaging, RSS, Twitter or any
technology that appears to demand your
Consider how much time these technologies
waste. (They can, of course, be time-savers,
when managed. See below.) Out of the 50
e-mail messages you received this morning,
how many comprise essential information or
communication? If the answer is a
relatively small number, then turn it off.
Check it 3 times per day, or less, if
Limit checking RSS feeds to once per day, or
less. If you track (called "follow") people
via Twitter, connect only to those who
provide information essential to your work.
Consider setting up a separate account to
follow family or friends. If you receive too
many non-essential interruptions through
instant messaging or text messaging, turn
them off and schedule times to check in.
Reduce or Mange the Incoming Information
You have more control over incoming
information than you might think. One
obvious example is opt-in newsletters you
receive by e-mail. You may, of course,
But suppose the information is highly
relevant to what you do. Consider switching
to the RSS version, if one is available.
Then, rather than cluttering your inbox, the
information will be waiting for you when you
open your RSS reader. Better, it will
disappear (unless you actively save it) when
you close the reader. If you find that
you're marking the issues read without
reading them, then perhaps the newsletter
isn't as relevant to your work as you
Delete any feeds you mark read, without
actually reading them, 2 or 3 times in a
If the e-mail newsletters you read do not
have an RSS version, set up rules to sort
them into special folders as they come in.
This, too, will prevent clutter in your
Much of the advice on managing e-mail
requires that you 1) spend an entire day
organizing it or 2) delete everything after
acting on it. Neither of these options works
I depend heavily on rules to sort my
incoming e-mail. Currently, my
virtualchase.com e-mail is processed through
86 rules with spam-filtering minimized. What
remains in my inbox I act on, when
necessary, and delete or keep. I read
pre-sorted e-mail once per day or less. I
check the in-box about 3 times per day. I
periodically clean up the folders and the inbox.
The Bottom Line
To be productive, you need time to focus on
what you're doing. Interruptions decrease your focus. Remove -
even if for a short time - those you can. If
you invest time in experimenting with new
technologies, you might discover other ways
to manage incoming information and save
Above all, set reasonable goals and
prioritize them. Plan your workday to the
extent possible. If you accomplish most of
what you plan, you'll feel productive.
Moreover, if you let go of what isn't at the
time essential, you'll feel less overloaded.