Almost everyone feels some level of overwhelm given the sheer volume of info that comes in daily at work (and home!). The chaos that can result makes it difficult to perform at your best and can be a real drain on your time and energy.
To take control of your immediate environment, set firm boundaries. Organizing experts have said for years that there are just four things to do with information: act, file, delegate, or toss. As a first step, limit the amount that comes in. Be sure you are cc’d only on relevant meetings/emails. You’ll have to balance your desire to know everything with the downside of that volume.
Make quick decisions. Delayed decision-making creates the feeling that you’re constantly behind, and ultimately that perception can become self-fulfilling. Scan email and immediately trash it once you do. Leaving it in your inbox creates clutter. If you do need to keep it, move it to a folder so when you need it you can easily find it.
If you have piles in your office, work on reducing them. Schedule time on a regular basis to deal with each piece of paper. If you’re stumped, give yourself a “free pass” once. If you don’t know what you want to do with it the next time you see it, toss it—it’s just taking up your time/energy. Get rid of anything that does not support you in your work or goals. It will take time to get through your backlog but once you do, you’ll immediately feel a sense of control.
Traveling can present unique challenges because not only does information continue to flow into our offices while we’re out, but we’re also exposed to new information at conventions and client meetings that we want (or think we need to) retain. Bring post-its and label things as you go so when you’re back, you already know what you want to do with this new information. Some executives bring several envelopes labeled by project or area of expertise so they can sort as they go. Whatever works for you is fine—just make sure you’ve got a plan to handle the information you’re gathering.
Your time is valuable; make sure whatever is claiming your focus is worth the trade-off.