Asking the Right Question

Can asking the right question help you overcome information overload?


In our last e-letter we referenced the Harvard Business Review article, “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform”, in which psychiatrist and author, Dr. Ed Hallowell, reflects on the negative impact of stress and overload on the behavior of leaders in corporate America.  Dr. Hallowell observes that under stress we exhibit “Attention Deficient Traits” or “ADT” which are similar to attention deficit disorders in children.

In the April e-letter we discussed how work overload is a key cause of overloaded circuits. Here we would like to focus on information overload and two key causes can lead to ineffectiveness.

  • Information Addiction:  This addiction is similar to the problem of overeating many of us face.  Information gains its value as we digest it through the thinking process. In our busy lives most of us have little think time. The result is information indigestion with all the negative impacts of compromised personal and business choices.
  • Asking the Wrong Questions: Matt Anderson was the Chief Information Officer in one of the largest healthcare networks in the country. When I interviewed him for our last book he told me “What we should be doing is asking, “What information do I need to do my job or make the right decision?” rather than saying, “What does the information tell me and what should I do about it?” Regretfully, in the business world today we let information drive our priorities. We should let our priorities dictate the information we need to collect.”


De-clutter your information world

  • Take time and create a list of the important roles you play. This should be the cornerstone by which you prioritize all aspects of your life.
  • Create a list of the most important questions that you need to answer in each of these critical roles.
  • Develop a new clutter free filing system that supports your roles and easily answers your key questions. File the way librarians file.

Librarians are entrusted with more information than any other profession. Yet librarians use a simple filing system that is easily understood by a small child. If you visit a local library you find what we call Frequency of Use Filing Methodology™ including:

  • Hot files are files that are used very often
  • Reference files are used less frequently
  • Archive Files that are seldom used
  • Time dependent files that are attached to your calendar activities and related to specific time commitments

Your filing system is an infrastructure that supports you in fulfilling your roles.  This system should be designed along the same lines as the roles you play and in a manner to help you easily answer the questions you listed for each role. Each of us play our roles on three differing stages we call:

  • The Leadership Stage: Here you file information that relates to enhancing the role you play in specific people’s lives.
  • The Projects Stage: Projects by nature are change driven. Here you store ONLY information that relates to the role you play in bringing about change.
  • The Operation Stage: The operational stage reflects the routine ongoing and repeatable activities. Your information should reflect how you monitor and oversee to ensure harmony and consistency.

What next?

  • With your list of roles and questions on hand, type a new filing index or structure that reflects the points outlined above.
  • Starting with your hot files, build your new filing system and populate it with only what you need. Remember if it does not have a name it does not have a home. If you cannot relate a specific piece of information to a specific role and/or question it does not have a place in your new filing system. Keep your file clutter free.


Join the conversation in a complimentary 60 minute webinar sponsored by Strive, a firm committed to excellence in corporate board leadership and effectiveness.

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2 Responses to “Asking the Right Question”

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