Jul 31, 2013
So far we’ve learned some important skills for coping with information overload and increasing our productivity: prioritising, multitasking, and queuing. But what if your workload is so overwhelming that you find these strategies lacking?
The seventh part of our guide on coping with information overload should help you with decreasing your own workload, and should enable you to focus on the really important parts of your job. It discusses the art of delegating.
“Delegation is about entrusting others with appropriate responsibility and authority for the operation and / or accomplishment of certain activities.” — Chartered Management Institute
By learning to delegate you can identify work tasks that can and should be taken on by someone else. This will usually be someone in a team that you manage, or an employee of your own business.
Delegating benefits for delegators, or managers, by reducing their workload and allowing them to share tasks, making the whole team or business more productive. Delegating can prevent managers from becoming overburdened and stressed, and can allow them to focus on business strategy rather than everyday operational tasks.
What many managers fail to realise is that delegation is also beneficial to those being delegated to. Managers often feel that by taking on tasks themselves, or by solving all issues themselves, their employees will feel that they are being helped and supported. In fact the opposite is usually true. When a managers fails to delegate, their team frequently feels untrusted, undervalued, or undermined. If their manager has low expectations of them, they will tend to fulfil these expectations.
If employees aren’t required or allowed to think for themselves–to reach their own solutions–they will become dissatisfied and unmotivated, depriving the business of ideas and input. On the other hand, managers who empower their employees to work independently find they have more committed and creative staff.
Jul 24, 2013
In the modern workplace we’re expected to perform a huge number and variety of tasks. We’ve already looked at prioritising and multitasking as strategies for coping with increased work demands, and now we’re going to investigate another useful strategy which: queuing.
In Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions, Joseph Ruff defined queuing as “performing initial steps to tasks that will be completed at a later time.”
This is a different definition of queuing from the one we are used to, where individuals wait in line to be attended to. However there are many parallels that we can draw between the two, and lessons that can be learned about how to manage a queue.
Picture courtesy of http://www.growhill.com/
Imagine for a minute a poorly managed physical queue. While you’re desperately dealing with one customer, you have a hoard of others demanding your attention, asking questions, shouting out, and trying to get to the front. This will affect your ability to deal with the customer in front of you, increasing waiting times, and aggravating the customers waiting in line even more.
On the other hand, think of a calm, well-organised queue with patient customers that allow you to focus on what you are doing. A good queuing strategy results in a smooth flow of customers, shorter waiting times, and a less stressful situation. The same can be said for a work queue. A well-arranged queue of tasks can provide a smooth flow of information, a quicker and more efficient way of working, and a far less stressful working environment.
So how do you create a well organised work queue?
Jul 17, 2013
We’re pressing on with our exploration of the various strategies for coping with information overload, and we’ve reached one that is particularly close to our hearts: limiting.
While we feel honoured to live in a world where we have instant access to all the information we could ever need, we also feel that from time to time the amount of information we receive is just too much, and that to really benefit from it we need to impose some limits.
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” — Herbert A. Simon
We deal particularly with proactive data feeds, which include e-mail newsletters, RSS feeds, or social media feeds, and our concern is that many of these target too broad an audience with information that is too diverse. This means that users need to work harder to find the pieces of information that are relevant to them.
At SpecificFeeds our vision is to counter these broad data feeds with precise, relevant, clean information streams that are … well … specific. This is our way of helping you limit the volume of information you are bombarded with each day and get out the golden nuggets of information into a feed that you will actually benefit from.
Photo Courtesy of http://www.ehow.com/how_6304594_tell-discovered-gold-nuggets.html and Roger at fotalia
Tips for Limiting Information
Of course there are other ways of limiting the volumes of data that you receive daily, and the following tips should also point you in the right direction.
- Decide what is really relevant to you. Many of us spend a huge amount of time reading, checking, or otherwise processing information that will actually have very little impact on our lives. A simple example is checking the weather report every day, which is a pretty common activity. If you happen to be planning a barbecue or other outdoor event, this could be valuable information, but if you’re going to be sitting in an office for the next five days, is the weather forecast something you really need to check every day? Decide what sources of information are really relevant to you and discard those that aren’t.
- Let others handle their own information. How often do you waste half an hour reading the attached documents of an e-mail somebody copied you into? If you’re copied on a message, it makes sense to scan it and be aware of the content, but the message needs to be actioned by the person that it is actually addressed to. Let them deal with the content of the e-mail and involve you if it’s necessary. Similarly, if you manage a team, you need to empower your team members to deal with their own information and only pass items on to you that they feel you really need to be aware of.
- Create a selection criteria. There’s so much information out there that it can be hard to know which pieces or sources to pay attention to and which ones to discard. One solution is to create your own selection criteria. Sample criteria could include:
Jul 10, 2013
If you’ve grappled with prioritising and multi-tasking, your productivity levels must already be on the rise. Now it’s time for a radical change in the way you approach tasks and decisions by learning about the third strategy for coping with information overload: satisficing.
Simply put, satisficing is recognising when something is good enough as it is to be considered complete, instead of wasting valuable resources to unnecessarily improve it. Whether you relate satisficing to a relevant task or to making a decision, the time and effort that it can save you will increase your productivity significantly.
Satisficing: a process “through which an individual decides when an alternative approach or solution is sufficient to meet the individuals’ desired goals rather than pursue the perfect approach,” — Herbert Simon 1971
Satisficing combines the words ‘satisfying’ and ‘suffice’ and is a term originally coined by Nobel laureate economist Herbert Simon, when describing his theory of bounded rationality. He applied the theory to decision making and suggested that people did not possess the brain power to evaluate all the possible options and choose the best one when they were deciding on a course of action, and that instead they would settle for a sub-optimal option as long as it met their requirements.
Increasing Productivity Through Satisficing
While the original use of the term "satisficing" related to decision theory, you can easily apply it to every aspect of life to make you more productive.
If your boss gives you four tasks to complete in one day, you can be sure she prefers to find each task satisfactorily completed at the end of the day than to discover that a single task you have worked on is finally nearing perfection.
The opposite of satisficing is maximising or optimising, which means achieving the best possible outcome. However, if getting to that point is costly in terms of time or other resources, then the outcome may not be any better than settling for an adequate outcome.
The ideas of satisficing and maximising can be applied to many aspects of life. Take house-hunting as an example: Most people have a set of specific criteria for their ideal house.
Perhaps it needs to be within a certain price bracket, with a minimum number of bedrooms, with car parking or a garden, and possibly within a certain radius of the office. Others might need space for a full recording studio, a paddock for the pony, and a newsagent within walking distance for the Sunday morning papers – to each their own.
- A true satisficer will keep looking at houses until one comes along that meets all those criteria, and will then put in an offer right away without waiting to see if there are any better houses out there.
- A true maximiser will insist on viewing each and every one of the available houses that meet their criteria before making an offer, and will worry forever more that an even better house might have come on the market the following week.
Three Steps to Effective Satisficing
Step 1 – Decide whether to satisfice or maximise
Whether you are naturally a satisficer or a maximiser, there will be occasions when both strategies are appropriate. This often depends on the impact of the relevant task. For example, if you are performing a necessary, but routine, work task that won’t have profound repercussions, then satisficing may well be appropriate. On the other hand, tasks such as writing a CV or filling in a job application could have a significant impact on your future career, and may require maximising instead. Of course, even with these tasks there will come a point when you have to stop and say “good enough.” Of course, you’ll want to carry on improving them well beyond the point where they simply tick all the boxes.
Step 2 – Establish your minimum requirements
Effective satisficing involves being crystal clear about your objectives so that, when they are complete, you can decide the task is complete. If your boss or colleague gives you a task, ask them to be specific about their requirements so you know what is expected and can define your endpoint. Remember that quality is important. When you’re establishing the minimum requirements for your task, set the bar reasonably high. It’s a mistake to think that satisficing means settling for something that is substandard. If in the first place your objectives are qualitatively high and well defined, the results will be excellent, even if you feel there is still room for improvement.
Step 3 – Be strict on completing your task
Keep track of how your task is progressing against your minimum requirements. Be strict with yourself. However tempted you are to keep making little improvements or additions, end the task once all your objectives have been met. Worrying about whether or not the outcome really is good enough or whether you should have carried on working may take up more time and energy than maximising the task in the first place.
Suffice Not Sacrifice
Many people wrongly assume that the word satisficing is a combination of satisfying and sacrificing. In fact there is no sacrifice with satisficing, since it ensures that all requirements, goals, or aspirations are adequately met. Generally when people satisfice, they don’t know whether they have missed out on a better opportunity, or whether they could have significantly improved the outcome of the task which they were undertaking, because they stop when they have completed their targets. As long as you think carefully about the minimum requirements for the task or decision and set the bar fairly high, satisficing can still provide excellent results with a fraction of the time and effort you would put into maximising.