A recent study found that the average American consumes 34 GB of content (including 100,000 words of information) per day. That’s a lot of information to process! When I first began my organizing practice over 15 years ago, my clients’ primary source of information overwhelm came from paper. Nowadays that source of overwhelm has grown to include electronic information, such as e-mails, the internet, social media, and electronic documents. As a result, desktops and counters are covered in paper piles and inboxes and hard drives are overcrowded and difficult to manage.
Keeping too much information makes finding what you need when you need it time consuming and inefficient (even with the improvements in search technology). In addition, statistics show that 80% of what we keep we never use.
THE SOLUTION: Ask these 6 questions about the information cluttering your home, office, or computer:
- Does it require action? – Just because you receive information does not mean you need to keep it. If you are tempted to keep it, be sure it’s something you will actually act on. Coupons and online deals are a good example of information that you’re well intentioned to act on but often don’t. The coupons get lost and buried in a pile or the online deals become one more item to look at every time you access your e-mail.
- Can I get it again? – If you have the information in paper form, can you get it electronically instead? If the information is on the web or stored in the cloud, do you have a system for finding it with a simple keyword search?
- Is it recent enough to be useful? – Much of the information you collect is quickly out dated. Articles on a particular subject can become stale as the times change. Financial statements are only as relevant as your most recent statement.
- Is there a legal or tax implication? – A common habit is to keep everything, “Just in case.” Instead, ask your tax advisor or other professional about what information they recommend to keep for your particular circumstances and get rid of the rest.
- Can I indentify a specific use for it? – Have you ever labeled something you wanted to keep as “Miscellaneous”? That is not being specific. Identify information to keep in a way that you can file it for future reference and find it when you need it.
If you’ve gone through these five questions and are still unsure about whether to get rid of a particular piece of information, ask one final question:
- What’s the worst possible scenario if I didn’t have the information? – If you can live with your answer then recycle, shred, toss, or delete the information.
“The ability to find what you need when you need it,” is one of the key to productivity. Spend a few minutes a day asking the aforementioned six questions about the information clutter in your life. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll get rid of!
We’d love to hear about your success and challenges with information overload. Please feel free to share them at www.facebook.com/moretimeforyou.