How to Keep from Drowning in Information Without Missing What You Really Need to Know


All of us have a lot of information to process in our daily lives. Information is readily available – almost too readily available – and healthcare is exploding with information that must be read, processed, prioritized, and sometimes filed for future reference.

During the course of the day, I typically skim, read and sometimes participate in:

  • Google News (and sometimes Fast Flip)
  • Google+
  • Listserv email
  • Business and personal email
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook

Yikes! It is so easy to spend a hours consuming new information every day and still feel that you’ve missed something.  So how does a manager stay current without spending the entire day reading and organize information so you can find it when you want it?

Here are five things I do to manage information:

  1. Slim your reading down with the Unsubscribe Rule. If you’ve received three emails from a person or company or newsletter and nothing in the three interested you, unsubscribe. It’s not worth subscribing if you have to look at more than 3 emails to receive something of value. The time-to-value ratio is not working for you. Don’t forget to also unsubscribe to magazines. I’ve stopped reading professional magazines and paper newsletters as I really believe there is nothing in them that I can’t find online.
  2. Use Instapaper to easily file away articles for later consumption. Instapaper is a free program my son told me about that allows me to click on web articles I am interested in but don’t have time to read. Once I click, the articles are filed for me to read later. Sometimes just the thought that I’ve captured something that I might need later satisfies me and when I check back in, it seems clearer what I need to attend to and what I can just delete.
  3. Set email rules and filters, prioritize and label. Use the tools in your Outlook (good tips here) or gmail (good tips here) to organize your email and make sure you can find what you need when you need it. I automatically move listserv and LinkedIn notifications into separate areas so I am not tempted to get distracted by topics and conversations when I need to focus on the task at hand. You can also use the digest version of a listserv and get just one email a day from each group you belong to.
  4. Delete liberally. You can always Google it. If the information isn’t immediately important, you can always Google it later. Unless the information is very obscure, most information can be found on demand by searching.
  5. Set aside time to read and process without interruptions. It takes 2 or 3 times as long to move through information if you’re constantly interrupted. Put a note on your door that says “Do Not Disturb”, push the Do Not Disturb button on your phone and close your door.


Here are a few more ways I organize information:

  • If I start thinking about a project I am working on and have some ideas I want to jot down quickly, I will sometimes open/compose a new email and leave it in draft form until I am ready  to cut and paste the information into a document or spreadsheet.
  • If I come across something I really want to read and absorb but just don’t have the time, I will copy the article’s web address (url) and paste it into my calendar for a less-busy day so I won’t forget to look at it.

How do you keep from drowning in information and make sure you separate the good stuff from the junk?

Posted in: A Career in Practice Management, Day-to-Day Operations

Leave a Comment (5) ↓


  1. Lorri Zipperer August 22, 2011

    These are good suggestions, but a primary strategy is to work with a librarian! 😉 If you are at an organization with one, pls consult him/her to get a sense of effective and efficient ways to manage info overload. If you don’t or are focusing on managing info glut at home, check out educational services at your local library — they may have some tips to help with doing this that you hadn’t thought of.

    • Mary Pat Whaley August 23, 2011

      Hi Lorri,

      This is a great idea! Thanks very much for weighing in.

      Best wishes,

      Mary Pat

  2. Randall Wong, M.D. August 22, 2011

    As a physician/business owner, I have, too, have time management and information management chaos!

    Server based solutions, such as Google’s Docs, are both a time saver and are easy to organize. Because they are server based, you always have access to them…home, office or away. Just log in to your Google account and start working!

    GMail has a “Tasks” window to let you keep organized. You can create multiple “to do” lists, but best of all, you can coordinate with Google Calendar to set up reminders and you can drag email (stuff you didn’t have time to address in the first place) right into the “task” itself so you don’t have to waste time searching your own inbox.

    Dropbox is a free application that basically allows you to share your own files between multiple workstations. Once you use it, you’ll get a better feel of how efficient it can help you work…just drag your work/files/pics etc. into the dropbox folder and it automatically syncs with all your workstations!

    I find that if the project/article/idea is not right in front of me…I’ll forget. It’s not going to get any easier, either.



    • Mary Pat Whaley August 29, 2011

      Hi Randy,

      Excellent additions! Thanks very much for sharing.

      Best wishes,

      Mary Pat

  3. Elisa santos September 8, 2011

    I skim through article titles to see if I want to take the time to read them. I am my children’s medical advocate so I take a more direct hands-on approach by seeking out specific answers, cross-referencing drug interactions(my daughter was already overdosed once)and scouting for less invasive procedures when warranted.
    I follow specific people and sites that are most related to our medical needs. I also keep questions and concerns written down, research some info myself and then confer with the kids’ pediatrician and specialists to decide on a course of action. It is my job as their mother to be a well-versed asset, in reference to team input because no one knows my children better than I.