Surviving the data deluge

In our daily lives we have to deal with a flood of data. Email is usually the worst offender, creating a data downpour of Biblical proportions. Ages ago I described some tips I’ve found helpful in dealing with that particular kettle of fish. This time, I’m writing about some more general things you can try.

Each working day brings laughter and tears; unbridled joy, troughs of despair. Or maybe your workplace is different to mine. But  there are probably plenty of minor frustrations to make your life just a little bit less enjoyable. Here are some of the ways I’ve found to make mine a little smoother.

1 Prioritise (or Decide what to do)  

To help you decide how to prioritise, you can divide tasks into categories;

  • Urgent and Important,
  • Not Urgent but Important,
  • Urgent but Not Important,
  • Not urgent and Not Important.

A task is urgent if it’s time critical. A task is important if it is going to move you towards your goals. Assuming getting paid is one of your goals, obviously doing chargeable work is important, but so is marketing and sales. Organising your stationery drawer is not important, although it might be urgent if it’s overflowing and blocking the door from opening.

I try to get tasks done in the order above. You need make sure the “Not Urgent but Important” tasks get some attention – these are the ones I find can slip. If that is happening to you, then you should consider reprioritising or getting rid of some of the tasks – delegate or eliminate.

2 Do a list

Personal development writer Steve Pavlina puts it this way. Time management, he says is simple, “decide what to do and do it!” While this sounds easy, I’ve found it anything but. The “Decide what to do” part is covered above. The “Doing it” can be more difficult. So, after prioritising, write a list and then work through it. I have an Excel spreadsheet that lets me do all sorts of complicated stuff with colours and formulae, but a pen and paper may work better for you.

3 Focus

Concentrate on one thing at a time and don’t let yourself get distracted. I find this incredibly difficult. But I’ve realised that it’s just a question of practice. I break tasks down into smaller chunks, then myself targets and small rewards; a nice cup of tea after I’ve finished writing this article for example.

4 Meditate

This is like magic! Meditation doesn’t have to be sitting in a room full of Bhuddists for an hour over lunch – although that can be very nice. It can be as simple as taking 5 minutes to sit quietly on your own. There are loads of demonstrable benefits to meditation and it is incredible how powerful it can be. If you feel a bit weird doing it, here’s a one minute meditation you can do at your desk.

Close your eyes, sit up straight and breathe slowly and deeply. Count your breaths in up to five and then back down to 1. So 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Even one repetition of this is useful and you can extend the repetitions each day if you want to.

You can listen to this if it helps – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXICpv29k4o – volume turned down so it feels unobtrusive. It might help if you put on earphones so that you can sit at your desk and look like you’re working!

finally…

You’ll notice that none of these tips depends on software.  My feeling is that software is a tool that you can use to implement a solution rather than a solution in itself. Having said that, you could take a look at Trello, Slack, Basecamp and Google Docs if you want somewhere to start.

I really hope that one or more of these ideas can help you be a bit – or even a lot – more productive.