Information Overload in Property Management, Part I
Have you ever suffered from the dreaded business disease called “infobesity?
The single biggest challenge of our collective jobs in property management is dealing with the raw amount of information that comes in. It’s something that we warn our new employees about, but it’s not something that we’re really talking about. So I thought I’d do a little bit of research and share with everyone a few of the best ideas the world’s experts currently have on dealing with the problem.
This is going to be one post every week this month, but I hope it will be worth it. Let’s start by figuring out what exactly the problem is.
What is Information Overload?
It’s not just “there’s too much information.” There are actually two sides to information overload: the information itself, and the capacities of the brain processing it. The first side — the information — comes in three varieties:
• Too much information: The obvious one, this is the kind of overload you get when you have a massive binder full of reports and charts and graphs, and you just can’t possibly process it all. This applies to new employees who are just learning the systems and the details, but most property management folks are beyond that phase.
• Poor information quality/organization: This is what property management suffers from big time. Usually the information you need is all there, but it’s scattered across too many sources, or it’s mixed in with too much irrelevant information. It is a huge expenditure of your executive function (see below) to figure out where the information you need is and then sift through it for what might be relevant to your specific problem.
• Not enough time: This is what happens when you have the right amount of information, but you have to make a decision before you can digest it all. Imagine being a doctor with a patient whose heart has already stopped and has just moments before the damage is irreversible — they might only have a single chart to analyze, but they have literally seconds to glance at it before they have to make a decision.
What is Executive Function?
The other side of the equation is what happens inside your brain when you have to make decisions. There’s a bunch of chemical stuff we’re glossing over — the important part is that there is an actual molecule in your brain (oxygenated glucose, if you want to look it up) that gets used up with every decision you have to make, whether it’s “what color pen should I use?” or “should I tell my boss about this colossal mistake or try to hide it?” This means that every time you have to ask yourself where to search for a piece of information, or sort through a bunch of text to find the information you want, your ability to make future decisions that day decreases.
Furthermore, everything that even momentarily catches your attention while you work on other tasks counts as a decision, because you have to decide whether to change focus to that new thing or maintain focus on your current task. This includes things that are entirely in your own head, like whether or not you’ve paid the Internet bill or how your spouse is going to feel about your latest purchase. Distractions are a big waste of executive function.
There are plenty of steps we can take to address these problems, which we’ll go over in the next few posts. But for now, here’s a summary of the ways we can tackle this:
1. Get better information,
2. Organize information for faster processing and decision making,
3. Manage time more effectively to focus on priorities & avoid distractions,
4. Improve your ability to make lots of decisions in a day,
5. Decrease the number of decisions you make in a day, and
6. Improve your attitude.
We’ll cover the first three points in the next post, then points 4, and 5, and then we’ll devote an entire post just to number 6, because it’s the most important one of the bunch.