If you are up-to-speed on internet (or texting) lingo, you know that TLDR (or TL;DR) means “too long, didn’t read.” Today, having access to too much information (TMI) can be a serious drain on those whose work involves spending much of the day involved in projects and tasks that include researching and capturing information that is then transformed into understanding, wisdom and advice. Too often, some of that information gets misplaced or lost, which leads to researching and capturing information all over again. Sure, there’s Google to help you search for that lost information, but it is often locked up in a company’s own network, or on someone else’s computer.
Sobering statistics about how much time we spend searching for information
13% | Increase since 2002 of an engineer’s time spent searching for information. (Source: IHS Knowledge Collections Webinar )
8 | How many searches it takes a worker to find the right document and information. (Source: SearchYourCloud)
19.8% (1 day per week) | The time that is wasted by employees searching for information to do their job effectively, (Source: A Fifth of Business Time is Wasted Searching for Information, says Interact)
30% (2.5 hours) | The time each day a “knowledge worker” spends searching for information. (Source: Information: The Lifeblood of the Enterprise.)
60% | Percentage of executives who feel that time constraints and lack of understanding of how to find information were preventing their employees from finding the information they needed. (Source: Information: The Lifeblood of the Enterprise.)
Where information gets lost
Note: The following list of places information gets lost around the office is not the results of scientific research. It is based on my personal 30-year experience of not being able to find 19 percent of the information I needed, but couldn’t find. (Note: In a future article, we will focus on finding information on the web. The following is focused on information that’s in-house.)
In an email thread
Bouncing back and forth on an email reply thread can bury any information worth keeping (or losing). Even email that uses Google search is unfindable after 4–5 replies. Email places information in silos that are impossible for others to obtain. An email thread is where information goes to die until half of a sentence is needed to prove you didn’t do something you were supposed to.
In an email inbox
If someone has more than 100 email messages in their inbox, they may as well have 1,000. Email that is sitting in an inbox is email that will be lost, sooner or later, by one or two people. It’s silo information that can only be found via search, then, only if you are lucky enough to recall the exact words you need to find it.
In text messages
Like email, but worse.
On a server
In too many small businesses, a shared server on an office network turns into a big basket of confusion and chaos as people start making up their own filing conventions. One group will start filing information by project, another group with file things according to clients. Soon, some employees are filing photos in one file and documents in another, despite the photos and documents are both related to the same job.
How to cut down on wasted time spent searching for information
Create a company-wide convention for naming files and folders
Chances are, everyone in the office creates file and folder names using their own system. However, when two or more people are gathered around a project, a standardized filing format will reduce the time necessary to find something you need that was created by someone else. Such standardization should be a part of everything else on this list.
Train and be an example
Lead by example. This is a classic example of the weakest link syndrome: Your information management solution will be only as good as the person who doesn’t adhere to it.
Use cloud-based, office-suite software
G-Suite or Microsoft Office 365 are the leaders in the cloud-based office or productivity suite of software that includes spreadsheet, presentation, word processing and other work-related applications and features like email and file storage. (See project management, below, for advice on using office-suite software).
Use a project management software platform for all collaborative projects
There is software made precisely to solve the problem of organizing e-mail, texting, organizing and sharing digital information and the digital pieces and parts of a typical work-related project. It’s called “project management” or “project flow” software. There are several brands of project management software but the one we use at SmallBusiness.com is Basecamp 3.
Use Slack if you aren’t using Basecamp 3
Basecamp 3 and the office-communication platform Slack have several features and benefits that overlap one-another. Organizing various types of communication and collaboration around projects is the obvious similarity. However, if you use both, that overlap can quickly lead to confusing redundancies. Despite Slack having the lion’s share of hype these days, Basecamp 3 is a more robust project management platform. Slack is more focused on capturing and organizing communication related to a project, including audio and video conferences.
Instead of subscribing to email lists, use Feedly
If you use a newsfeed organization software platform like Feedly, every time one of your important news sources publishes a new article (or podcast), it will go straight into a set of files and folders organized in whatever manner you’d like. (Here’s a good tutorial on how to use Feedly.)
There’s nothing that comes close to matching the versatility of Evernote. For capturing and organizing information you want to file away for a later day, using Evernote’s filing and tagging features will enable you to find anything later.
Don’t use email to store any information about anything
It will take you twice the time it would take using project management software.
Do you have tips for filing and storing things you’d like to find later. Email: Tips@SmallBusiness.com.