By Johanne Bouchard
EBS Business Columnist
What once took weeks to get a response to a letter, now can take seconds. Online communication has many benefits, but it can also consume much of our time.
The modern expectation of an instantaneous response affects how and with whom we communicate. We’re inundated with emails to our private and business accounts; texts; voicemails; and messages on LinkedIn, Facebook and Skype, among others.
Clients and friends ask me how to prevent becoming overwhelmed with modern communication – since I’m disciplined about prioritizing and processing incoming messages, I’ve developed some tips:
Eliminate unwanted incoming communications. Make sure you have effective anti-spam software on your computer to decrease, and ideally eliminate, the volume of inappropriate emails in your inbox. Only accept connections on social media from people you’d like to hear from, and manage notifications on all your profiles to limit what comes through email. Be selective about which profiles include your contact information and manage privacy settings to determine who can see them. Take time to unsubscribe from every mailing list you no longer wish to be on.
Prioritize communications. Schedule 30-60 minutes at the beginning of the day exclusively for email, then allow for short check-ins at set times the rest of the day. Otherwise, email can wind up eating away your entire workday. Attend first to business emails and inbound messages on LinkedIn. If applicable, check your preset mailboxes for new messages, then attend to personal email. Acknowledge and/or respond to everything that warrants immediate action; delete messages without relevancy; categorize what requires your attention within 24-48 hours; and file what must be archived where you can find it.
Filter incoming messages. Inbound email messages can be automatically directed to mailboxes for contacts with whom you frequently interact and receive a great volume of emails. Also, appropriately labeling subjects of your email communication makes an enormous difference in time spent on incoming responses.
Discipline yourself. Email is distracting and makes it harder to focus and be present. Close your computer and ignore your phone when possible. If you can’t be totally disconnected, move devices away from your desk so you can focus on what you must do. Set an alarm or timer and don’t get distracted until it rings. I often advise people to consider adopting the Pomodoro Technique, which is one of the simplest techniques to effectively break your work down into short, timed intervals. It is important to manage your time by learning to work in short cycles, to sustain your attention span and concentration.
Take a last look. Before you retire for the day, check your inbox for emails that might impact your schedule the next day, such as a meeting cancellation or change; an urgent request for a new meeting; a new Skype conversation; or a deadline status. Anything that can wait until the next business day, should.
Modern communication should not lead our lives, we just need to manage it as one aspect of our day. It’s important to streamline how we communicate via email so we’re not constantly reacting to endless communication. Also, know when it’s time to pick up the phone and minimize wasted time or misunderstandings that can result from too many emails.
Johanne Bouchard, a former high-tech marketing executive, is a leadership advisor to CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs, as well as an expert in corporate board composition and dynamics. Visit johannebouchard.com to learn more or download her recently published eBooks “Board Composition” and “Board Basics.”