Trying to respond to each and every one of them - perhaps out of the anxiety that we may miss something if we don't - often interrupts our train of thought and flow of concentration and that may render us less effective at work.
Adapting to the times requires managing ever-expanding amounts of data. We need to learn how to filter out unnecessary information and select and use what is relevant, says Hong Kong-based solicitor Stefania Lucchetti in her book, The Principle of Relevance: The Essential Strategy to Navigate Through the Information Age.
Through learning what she calls "the principle of relevance", we can train ourselves to expand our brain's capability to acquire and process multilayered information, and respond only to what is relevant.
The first steps to mastering the principle are: developing a clear purpose, establishing criteria to determine when and whether it is attained, and gathering the resources necessary to reach the goal.
Then, collect data that relates to the purpose from various points of view, and analyse and comprehend them. The final step is making a decision on if, how and when to respond to the information.
Take replying emails as an example. "Whenever you feel like responding immediately to an email, go back to the purpose you have set," Lucchetti writes.
"[Is] the content of this email relevant to effectively reaching your ultimate goal? Does it add content that is of real value, or do you feel the need to answer it merely to show your intent to communicate? What are you taking attention away from if you decide to answer the email?"
You may then develop a reasonable time interval for checking email. But, ultimately, you have to be the "master of your own mind" to achieve your goal.
"Breaking habits requires significant effort, but it can be done. It requires discipline, vision and self-mastery," Lucchetti says.
Printed in a larger font size, and with extra spacing between lines and including chapter summaries, the book is designed to make reading easier and thereby help the process of information gathering by readers.
The author also provides tools to help readers achieve the principle of relevance, from outcome checklists (on how to set a well-defined goal) and charts (to locate which piece of information is relevant), to pertinent questions and mind maps (in order to make sense of overwhelming information inflows).
But the book is not intended to be a guide that offers a quick and easy way out. In fact, it takes time to learn how to use the tools and, as Lucchetti stresses, practice makes perfect.
"If you... train yourself to use [the tools] habitually and instinctively, you will start processing information more quickly: this will enhance your ability to spot alternatives, expand your options, work with context and find a quicker and better way to reach your intended goal," she writes.
- Success is based on the ability to select and use the most relevant data
- In setting a goal, beware of your options and hidden goals, and make a conscious choice about which is the priority
- Something relevant refers directly to your purpose and is significant. For example, it solves a problem, offers an insight or gives you an edge
- Being master of yourself involves recognising and deliberately deciding when to act and with how much strength
- Dealing with pressing matters may offer a sense of immediate satisfaction, but it deprives you of vision and efficacy in the long run
Win a Book!
Classified Post has five copies of The Principle of Relevance: The Essential Strategy to Navigate Through the Information Age by Stefania Lucchetti to give away. To enter, please tell us how you navigate through the flood of data and select the information that is most relevant to you, and e-mail your answer to email@example.com, with the subject "Win A Book Contest" on or before 28 May, 2010.
Terms and conditions
- The best answers, as judged by the Classified Post editorial team, will receive the prize described above and no correspondence will be entered into.
- Winners will be notified individually by e-mail.