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Time management - Processing the information

Processing the information

The process

At any given point in time you will be.

  • Processing work for later action.
  • Carrying out tasks from those already processed.
  • Doing tasks that just appear.

For the first part you have retrieved all the information or items that need processing for either disposal, immediate action or filing and you make a start.
Tackle one item at a time.

Never put an item back on the pile. Dispose or process accordingly.
If you are unsure then process by filing to the ‘delayed file’ whilst awaiting additional information to clarify the situation.

The idea of tackling one item at a time can sometimes be inappropriate.
If you have been away for a period of time it is quite natural to scan the items that have arrived in your in-tray so you can action any particularly urgent items. You might be able to circumvent some of these problems by your assistant’s diligence or remaining in contact with the office.

Dealing with one item at a time creates focus.

Note: Do not get confused with the process of ‘sorting’ and the following actual ‘action’. An action requires a physical activity. If we process a piece of information in the in-tray for ‘action,’ then the next step is really the action, for example, telephone John, arrange a meeting, order supplies etc.

We know we have to take some action once the items have been processed and end up filed in the correct places.
Make sure you keep to your sorting process and don’t let the ‘odd’ item end up in a miscellaneous file somewhere.
If this happens the system will start to crumble. If you are truly unsure then file it in the ‘delayed tasks’ section with a note attached identifying any additional data required to make a decision.

Define the purpose

We examine the task and decide on its purpose. Depending on the type of communication this may be obvious, for example, a journal or well crafted memo or report, but equally this may be rather vague. Emails are notorious for short cutting good grammar and are often ambiguous and unclear.
Once the meaning and purpose are clear we can decide how we will process it.

At this point it is easy to be unsure of the purpose and spend too much time trying to consider the ambiguities.
If this is the case, note what action is required to clarify the situation. The task will then have to be put into the category of ‘delayed tasks’ until the clarifying information is to hand.


We would carry this out for tasks as referred to elsewhere, see ‘prioritising’.

Decide on the appropriate action and format

You know the question asked or the purpose of the task in hand but what is the format for your action? The first thing to decide is what that the action format must be. This is usually fairly obvious but might require a little thought.

Is it best as a memo?
Do you need to add supporting data and generate a report?
Do you need to communicate to wider audience and give a presentation?

Of course the action may be only a telephone call etc.

Carry out the action

You decide what the action is. If you are unable to do it immediately you will need to add a diary reminder and add the supporting data into your ‘day file’.

Add a reminder in your diary

Anything you are unable to handle on the day you will have to delay.
These items will appear as a reminder in your diary.
These items will stretch over a week, month, 3 months and beyond.
The longer term diary entries will be less certain than those over the next week.

Before you can tackle any action based upon your diary reminder you must have any supporting information to hand.

We referred previously to a simple system of ‘day files’ which can be used to file information which is required on, say, the 14th of the month.
The day file and the diary should match up. If they don’ t there is a danger of overlooking a task.


Once you complete a task you will need to file it appropriately. If you can’t complete it on the day or it is delayed for some reason you will need to rearrange the day for tackling the task. Let’s say you move the task to the 21st because you are waiting for an additional report, move the supporting files to the ‘day file’ for the 21st and add a note in your diary for the 21st.

‘Day files’ are discussed in more detail elsewhere, see ‘day files’.


Make sure you date all of your communications and notes. This is invaluable for tracking purposes at a later date.


This is covered in more detail elsewhere, see ‘reminders’.

Non - PRINCE2 information