Information Overload: A Practical Guide to Handling Distractions

This is the third in a four part series on information overload loosely based on some takeaways from the book Surviving Information Overload by Kevin A. Miller (Zondervan, 2004). (read part one or part two.)

I don’t know about your experience, but working in a church office is full of constant distractions. People pop into the office, throw things over the cubicle walls (okay, maybe that’s just my experience), send e-mails constantly, call regularly, and more.  One of the most important parts of dealing with a constant stream of incoming people, phone calls, and information is knowing how to effectively handle distractions as they come up. Here are a few of the habits I have taken up in the past few weeks:

  1. Check E-Mail Sparingly. Pick a couple of times during the day to check, respond to, and file e-mail. I used to be tied to my e-mail constantly while I was in the office, and e-mail was constantly updating my stream of thought while working on bigger projects. I now make it a habit to wait at least an hour in the morning before even opening Outlook to check my e-mail, this gives me a relatively uninterrupted hour to get my head on the day, take care of important tasks from the day before, and get a jump start on bigger projects. If you find it necessary to keep Outlook running in the background, try reducing the frequency of checks–I switched my settings so that Outlook only downloads new mail once ever 45 minutes. this gives me some bigger blocks of time between interruptions.
  2. Learn How to Use E-Mail Filters and Rules. The hour that it took me to set up a few rules for my e-mail (automatic filing, color coding by category or sender, etc.) has really helped me to filter through some of the fluff and answer e-mails in the order of importance and priority. It’s an hour or so well worth the time.
  3. Smart Phones. My cell phone used to check for new e-mails ever 5 minutes, or even push new messages instantly from the server. My work phone now downloads e-mails every 4 hours. Usually, that extra few hours doesn’t make any difference at all, and it keeps me from getting constantly interrupted by incoming e-mails.
  4. Turn off the Phone. This one’s hard. We have gotten to a place in our society where we all think we are so important that people need to be able to get in touch with us 24/7. You know what? I’m not that important. You’re not that important. Every once in a while, if you have something that really needs to get done, turn off the phone. Put your office phone on hold. Turn off your cell phone. Whatever it is that you need to do to reduce one more distraction.
  5. Get Out of the Office. I’m going to talk about this a little more in next week’s post. But sometimes the only way to really eliminate all the distractions is to get yourself out of the situation. There are times when I can be more productive in one day out of the office (writing lessons, long-term planning, etc.) than I could be in three days in the office.
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