Cutting Tool Engineering
October 2011 / Volume 63 / Issue 10

Overcoming information overload

By Keith Jennings

I’m not normally one to write about subjects that have been overanalyzed, debated and analyzed some more. But because processing excessive quantities of submitted information has become more distracting than ever—particularly for a manufacturer—it seems timely.

This situation really hit the fan on a recent Sunday afternoon when, for once, I didn’t have any family or other activities requiring my time, so I decided to go to the shop and get caught up on paperwork, e-mails and various other projects. Of course, the easiest time to do this is when alone with no normal business activity taking place. Besides, it was a hot summer day in Texas, and spending time outdoors in 105° weather isn’t exactly enjoyable.

While I was sorting files, e-mails, voice messages and reports, the reality of this scenario came into focus. Why does it take a weekend to do things that should already have been done during the workweek? A valid question because my work duties take precedence over cleaning my messy garage.

An occasional weekend work day isn’t uncommon, but when I realized that most of what I was doing that particular day wasn’t really important or applicable to the day-to-day management of a manufacturing business, I became more annoyed. Part of my time-consuming tasks involved shredding a large stack of unsolicited material, and reading and sorting government forms and reports, new medical insurance quotes and workers’ compensation reports. I started thinking about how disruptive this type of activity is not only for me, but for company managers and owners everywhere.

That’s because much of the information is generated by people and organizations with a spotty track record at best. This isn’t to demean qualified companies trying to grow their businesses by contacting our shops, but so much of what’s being thrown at managers and owners is a confusing and distracting mess.

It also happens that machine shops and other manufacturers are “sweet-spot” candidates for service-based companies seeking to add clients. When they hear that you work for a 10- to 50-person machine shop, their eyes light up and you commonly hear how your shop is the “perfect candidate.” That may be true, but listening to their sales pitches usually isn’t a good use of your time. Of all the received calls, messages, e-mails, inquiries, papers and meeting notices, what percentage has relevance to your actual profit? It seems small to me.

Is it possible to eliminate or at least minimize this negative impact on our workweek? Many “gurus” have written books about that issue, but, in today’s business environment, it takes a good strategy to balance an openness to gathering information about relevant products and services, while minimizing the wasteful time dealing with unrequested stuff. For example, I set up a Yahoo e-mail address for e-mails I want to defer so it’s not coming to my normal company inbox. I also trained my secretary to carefully screen calls and visitors, and honed my communication skills to politely—or impolitely if necessary—dispose of these distractions, which often aren’t even business-related.

I always try to be cordial and respond professionally, but it’s not possible to respond to everything. Thankfully, my secretary doesn’t mind getting rid of the trash. Without that and my own increasingly savvy mental filter, I’d likely be at the office on many more weekends.

If you’re also dealing with information overload, schedule an uninterrupted day, deal with it and start over with a new strategy in place. For me, the result was a better week focused on activities that really matter. CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping. Contact him at
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