"And the beat goes on.............."
Do you do this?
In your internet searches, your online reading, your review of incoming emails and review of reports, studies, and other information which you routinely come across, do you often (even obsessively), bookmark, email a copy to yourself, or save to your reading list things you find interesting, and that you want to come back to because you think the information may have some application to your work, may be valuable to your organization and your colleagues, or because you want to pass it on to people you know - within and without your organization - because you think they will appreciate it too?
And then do you, almost always, never get around to getting back to that information, and periodically end up deleting it from your system without ever having done anything about it? Or worse, let it pile up as a bookmark, in your reading list or email inbox? Or do you often forward things to people in your sphere because you don't have time to actually deal with it yourself, but you still think it's worth passing on? Are you a serial information hoarder, or serial forwarder? Do you think you are doing either yourself or other people a favor?
Is this a kind of obsession or compulsive disorder we are all susceptible to in the modern information age? We are constantly advised to prioritize and to forego even good things for which we simply don't have the time, but that prioritization seems to be a hard lesson to learn, and impossible to implement.
In reality, things we save, hold onto or pass on, that we think are interesting and valuable - either for us or others - may be costing us valuable and scarce time, and in the long run, aren't helpful to either us or those we think we are helping when we pass them on. In fact, this behavior may be part of the larger problem of the growing and relentless onslaught of information that compromises our productivity, makes us feel that we are not in control, and steals from us irreplaceable time.
Here are five rules that might help in addressing this now ubiquitous habit:
1. First, DO NO HARM. Like the medical oath, the first thing we ought to remember is that time is scarce and that not everything we come across that we think is going to be useful, really will be. We need to discipline ourselves to get in the habit of being very tough on what we save, and what we forward, by asking whether or not the item is really likely to end up important, valuable and helpful, or merely a time waster - for us or those in our circles. Be more discerning and critical.
2. Assume you and the people you forward things to don't really want or need the info. Develop a personal policy that will allow you to forego saving and passing on most of the information that you come across. Remember, what you need most is knowledge, and information itself is not knowledge. And remember too that just as you delete items forwarded to you without ever reading or even opening them, so too do people similarly delete things you pass on without opening them (and in today's world of scams and invasions, it's a good idea to heed the now virtually universal advice not to open anything - even if from a theoretically trusted source - unless you are absolutely sure it is safe. We all know not to open unknown and suspect attachments in emails. There is now evidence suggesting we not even open emails from unknown sources).
3. Hold onto nothing longer than 3 days. Delete, delete, delete!
4. Information that is truly important ought to dovetail with the goals you have established as truly important. If you can rank your immediate and longer term goals, you ought to be able to rank the kinds of information that you ought to keep or pass on. If it doesn't help the goals you rank as high, don't save or pass it on. Move on.
5. Share with others the kind of information that you find valuable and would appreciate being forwarded to you, and what kinds of things you don't appreciate. If unsure about what others may want you to pass on - ask them (at the least, the people in your own organization. Spend ten minutes in a staff meeting talking about this). If others know what you don't want, maybe they won't forward stuff that clogs up your system. And if you know what they don't want, you can honor their position.
Time management will become increasingly more important to individual career success and the success of our organizations.
Is this advice worth passing on? I leave that to your best judgment.
Have a good week.