If you thought our coverage of Americans remaining over-worked straight through the holiday season was disturbing, then brace yourself. LexisNexis has helped bring to light a much more unnerving reality: professionals from coast to coast are so overwhelmed by the amount of daily information, they're going as far as deleting it before it's even read. In other words, we're on a beeline to a complete meltdown. 

Digitally Drowning

LexisNexis’s 2010 International Workplace Productivity Survey polled 1,700 white collar workers from five different countries: the United States, China, South Africa, United Kingdom and Australia. The questions drilled respondents on their experience of, and attitudes toward, information in the workplace. 

To say the results were dismal across the board would be an understatement. For instance, professionals from each country reported that the following scenarios happen at least once a week:

  • Employees deliver incomplete documents, e-mails or other communications because the necessary information or materials could not be found on time.
  • Employees experience trouble recreating how time was spent for billing purposes.
  • Employees must recreate a document because a previously-created version could not be found.
  • A deadline is missed because of trouble finding necessary information.
  • A meeting or appointment is missed because of scheduling miscommunications.

To make things worse, failing economic conditions have sent us on an even deeper nosedive. "They survey shows that on average, white collar professionals spend over half (51%) of their work day managing incoming information, rather than actually using it to do their jobs," explained LexisNexis President and CEO of Legal Markets, Mike Walsh. "For American professionals, this is reportedly a 10 percent increase in time receiving information since 2008."

What Does an Information Breaking Point Look Like? 

If we continue on down the ignorance-is-bliss path, things stand to worsen -- globally --  before they improve. Walsh illustrated this with a few more rough facts:

  • A majority of workers in every market (62%, on average) admit that the quality of their work suffers at times because they can’t sort through the information they need fast enough.
  • Approximately one in two (52%) white collar professionals report feeling demoralized when they can’t manage all the information that comes their way at work.

"Demoralized" is a pretty serious word to use in a work context, but if things have sunk so low that professionals are simply trashing their communications before fully reading them, it fits. 

"The heavy toll on employee morale and productivity will eventually come to bear on the bottom line," continued Walsh. "Ultimately, the resulting problems for firms could range anywhere from lost productivity and profits to lost talent."

Tools for Turnaround

Data management tools and features of all shapes and sizes are out there, waiting patiently for you to embrace them with joy and vigor. As far as e-mail management goes, there are several to choose from: Google Priority InboxVaronis DatAdvantage for Exchange, and M-Files v7.0 are just a few of the newer ones. 

One additional solution that I personally think is pretty nifty comes from Baydin (news, site), a company that designs tools for both Gmail and Outlook (and, incidentally, won the June 2010 Enterprise 2.0 Launchpad competition in Boston). 

Boomerang is like a snooze for your Inbox. The tool manages the messages that you can't deal with when they come in, but know you need to address at some point. If you receive a message that requires your reply at a future time or date (such as event registrations), you can schedule it to reappear at a customized time. Out of sight but not out of mind:

You're Not Alone in This

Taking control of your inbox seems to be the recommended first step from several experts. Sally McGhee of MPS, for example, goes into detail about the importance of setting up an e-mail reference system and scheduling process time here. "Really, it is possible to empty your Inbox. The key is to evaluate how you are processing and organizing your email and then make some changes," she said.  

"Personally, I try to not let the constant email flow interrupt my work day. I rather set aside pockets of time during my day to respond to emails – tackling high priority issues first, getting to lower priority issues later in the day," added Walsh, who also suggests utilizing the power of your IT and leadership departments: "...when it comes to emails, I try to bundle my communications and, unless there is urgency, I won’t send out emails over the weekend. As we all know, in a 24-7 world, receiving note from you CEO over the weekend can trigger an avalanche of email reactions…"

This seems to be a much healthier practice than what Harris Interactive recently indicated has become the cultural norm (sending and checking e-mail straight through the holidays), but before we can expect to get to that point, we're all going to have to seriously consider this data management thing. Ready? Start here