Information Overload in Property Management, Part II
You know that you managed your priorities well when you’ve set aside a “ready to be interrupted” time in your work schedule.
So last time, we talked about what ‘information overload’ was, and mentioned that you can deal with it by modifying the information itself, or by modifying your brain so it can deal with information more effectively. This post is all about that first part: how to handle your incoming information to enable yourself to address it.
Start Your Day the Information-Friendly Way
If you consistently follow these four steps every morning, you will massively improve your ability to deal with information for the entire rest of your day. It takes a bit to get used to, but it’s worth the effort.
1. Turn off all of your notifications. No popups allowed. Mute your phone. Make sure you’re completely uninterrupted for the next few steps.
2. Physically write down everything on your mind. Not electronically, but with a pen/cil on paper. Once you’ve created a physical list of everything that is currently weighing down your mind, you can literally remove those thoughts from your ‘task-time’ by taking that list and putting it somewhere safe where you know you’ll encounter it after work. That way, you shed any unnecessary side-thoughts that might force you to make the decision ‘I don’t need to think about that now,’ because you’ve made that decision ahead of time, for all the side-thoughts.
3. Skim your task list and prioritize. Don’t read your emails unless the title indicates to you that there might be a significant problem hiding inside. Just skim the titles. Similarly go through whatever other sources of work-related tasks you have, and as you skim, jot down those items that area.
a.The Most Important,
b. The Most Immediate, and
c. The Most Challenging.
4. Do those things first.
Your mental resources are at their highest in the mid-to-late morning, after you’re fully awake but before you’ve made to many decisions about stuff. So by prioritizing first and then doing the most critical, the most difficult, and the most high-pressure things while you’re at your mental best, you’re making it as easy as possible for you to handle those challenges — and making it easier for you to deal with the rest of your day.
5. (Don’t forget to turn your notifications back on afterwards.)
Perform Tasks for Minimum Executive Function Loss
Do similar tasks together so you don’t have to ‘shift gears.’ Once you’ve settled into a groove of, for example, processing invoices, keep on processing invoices until you notice that it would be a relief to switch tasks. (Then, switch! Constant focus on any specific task for an extended time requires more and more executive function to maintain.)
In the same vein, do not multitask when you are doing something that requires your full attention. Leave your teammates only one way to get your attention — preferably by phone — and tell them only to interrupt you if it’s an emergency. The fewer times you have to ask yourself “does this need my immediate attention?”, the easier it will be to get your ‘full-attention’ tasks complete.
Save your “ready to be interrupted” time for when you are dealing with routine tasks that you can do more-or-less on autopilot. We all have routine tasks that take time, but don’t necessarily take focus, and during that time, you can open yourself up for incoming information with minimal ‘loss’.
Oh, and if you have a pile of tiny tasks to do, devote a block of time to “sweating the small stuff”, and just pile through all of your 2-minutes-or-less tasks all at once, so they won’t keep lingering in your brain as you tackle bigger things.
Organize Information for Ease of Access
Prepare your most-referenced information for easy access. If you get a dozen calls a week asking roughly the same question, set up a button on your browser that will take you directly to the page where the answers can be found. The less you have to think about the answer to a question, the less it will interrupt your current task and the easier it will be to bounce back to it.
Minimize the number of channels you have to check to stay fully updated on your tasks. For example, use your personal email only for non-business-related emails, and check it only a couple times a day. If someone does send a business-related email to your personal inbox, forward it to your business inbox and reply from there without including your personal inbox in your reply. That way you only have your business inbox to check for business activity.
Try to automate as much as possible of any task you do regularly. The more often you have to do it, the better you’ll be if you can automate some or all of it. One easy way is be creating scripts and templates for calls and emails that you have to send out regularly — but if you look hard enough, you can probably find macro software that will handle annoyingly repetitious detail work for you.
Remember, if you can get a task done with only 3 decisions instead of 30, you’ve saved a pile of your executive function for more important things.