Many of us experience chaos from time to time in our everyday life when we are flooded by a constant stream of proposals, information and messages, more or less unchecked, through too many different channels. It’s as if we are exposed to a bunch of pipelines which deliver contributions to our everyday planning.
??If we’re not to drown in piles of paper, loads of unread e-mail and to-do notes, we need to quickly deal with whatever comes in and immediately determine what it means to us, or better up, determine what to do with it and what actions it requires.
The channels involved
I feel that the number of possible channels we are exposed to are increasing at a steady pace. To be more specific, the channels may for example be the obvious:
- Cell phone
- Home-, or office phone
- Voice mail box on your cell phone
- Voice mail box for the home phone of office phone
- Instant Messaging (Windows Live Messenger for example)
However, there are also many other ways through which information is provided that may not spontaneously appear to be channels, but which still supply information and materials for to-do-items.
- Your desk, where colleagues drop off notes for you.
- A missed call on your cell phone (A missed call means that “Somebody didn’t get a hold of you.” You need to decide if you should call back or not.)
- Meetings (Who does what when as the next step?)
- Colleagues who stop you in the hallway (... and ask you about something or want you to do something.)
- Your mind, where things pop up when you least expect them to.
- People you run into or meet at a party (”Lunch? Definitely, I’ll take care of it!”)
- RSS News Reader, where you keep track of blogs et c (You read something related to a potential client. Does it start a sales process or not?)
- Issue Tracking Systems
- To-do items from the project sites related to projects you’re involved in
- Intranet with internal company news
- Discussion-groups you’re keeping an eye on.
- Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networks
?As you can see, we are already at 20 different channels and counting, and still these are fairly common ways through which we obtain information.
The problems this creates
The problems with having many incoming channels are several.
More channels means it’s harder to manage to go through them all.
The more channels you have, the easier it is that a channel is forgotten and the information that is “incoming” through that channel is left undealt-with.
The more channels you have, your time and focus will be increasingly scattered (since you are interrupted more frequently from several different directions), you will have a hard time focusing on one thing for a longer period of time, and you lose track of what you are doing over and over again.
What you can do
If this feels familiar, strive to have fewer incoming channels and decide how, when and where you’re going to take action and determine what to do with the material entering through each channel.
- On a blank sheet of paper with a pen you enjoy writing with, write down all incoming channels you are exposed to today.?? This means all the ways which provide an inflow of physical things, information which will become to-do tasks, reference material, large or small projects, good ideas, things you need on a particular day, trash and things you are waiting for others to come back to you with.
- Consider whether you can get rid of one or more channels.
- For each individual channel, decide upon a strategy of how and when you go through its information and when you keep the channel open or closed, so that you’re able to take control over when you are exposed to each inflow.?? So, when do you keep your mobile turned on or off? How often do you check your e-mail? When and where do you go through your voice notes from the Dictaphone and do something tangible with them?
- Think the system through and make sure that it’s easy to add things to your to-do-list when you go through or keep the channel open, and that you have a well thought out system of “middle-storage” for the reference material, in case you go through the channel somewhere else than in your office where you have direct access to your reference material system (set of binders, suspension file cabinet, etc).?? Make sure that the to-do-list is in an easily accessible form, portable, easily sorted and edited. Otherwise you can’t get rid of that one voicemail message until you are at your to-do list, you have booted it, logged in, scrolled to the right place and typed down what you’ve got to do.?? Always carry a “sorting” folder in your bag when you’re away from the office and place all the papers you’ve decided are reference material in it. Write down where it will be filed once in the office on a post-it note or directly on the document. When you are back at the office, empty the folder and immediately sort the material into the right place (which is easy since you’ve already decided where it should be placed).
What are you thinking of?
What issue in structural thinking or structure management do you ponder on the most? What issues are you most keen to solve when it comes to your own structure? As you might know by now, good structure and how to simplify everyday tasks are some of my major interests, both privately and in my role as a struktör.
I hope to raise your question in an upcoming blogpost, so please leave a comment below.