Remember when an overstuffed inbox or a full voice mailbox was the biggest source of your communications frustrations?
Today’s technological age has brought a wide range of platforms, programs, and apps aimed at making the exchange of information simple and intuitive. From a purely functional standpoint, that’s exactly what online calendars, file sharing programs, content management systems, online project management software, and team messaging platforms have all done.
Here’s the truth about communication overload: it doesn’t happen because of technology, but in spite of it.
Without setting some human parameters and boundaries around your communications systems, you may quickly find yourself drowning in a sea of excessive, unnecessary information that complicates, rather than simplifies, your work and life in general.
Just as technology breaks down barriers to accessibility and opens doors for collaboration, it also allows you plenty of room to create customized online environments that support your productivity instead of sapping it.
Here are five ways to put an end to communication overload:
Use notifications sparingly.
Notifications are much like the proverbial boy who cried wolf: when they’re set to go off constantly, they stop being effective and start becoming a nuisance. And that’s not just to you personally: how many times have you had nonsensical, or worse, embarrassing notifications fly across your screen when sharing a presentation with a client or colleague? Configure your notifications so you only get alerts that you truly want and need. For example, set team messaging notifications to alert you only whens someone is speaking to you specifically (normally with an “@” mention), and then let your coworkers know that if they need your immediate attention, that’s the best way to do it. And keep in mind that if you get notifications on your computer and phone, you probably don’t need a copy sent to your email, too.
Don’t be afraid to leave conversations or groups that don’t really apply to you.
From email distribution lists that don’t affect you directly to chat threads that linger on even after the central issue is resolved, you can choose to remove yourself from the conversation. If you’re concerned a group leader or owner of the email chain or chat will be offended, or that you might miss something important, reach out privately and ask to be included only in what specifically needs your attention.
Streamline your communication system.
When you have many programs running or too many windows open, it can slow or even crash your computer. Similarly, having to fetch data and information in several different places makes you less effective and more likely to lose focus. Choose a central platform for your team to use that integrates the core collaborative applications you use (i.e. text/video chat, file sharing, project management, calendar, etc.) for a more productive, streamlined work experience.
Make sure meetings are meaningful.
Regardless of whether you’re meeting in person or virtually, it’s key to make sure your meetings are well organized and include only those who need to be there. That means having an agenda, keeping to a set time, and being sure that each person who attends gets specific information that he or she needs to get his or her job done.
Block-out time to work from priorities.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re hit with a deluge of messages asking for your attention and response. Before you dive into your day, ignore your inbox, stay off social media, and keep your chat apps closed; take the first couple of hours each day to take care of the most pressing items on your to-do list. Productivity expert Rob Hatch calls this your “Success Block,” as this practice allows you to honor your priorities and your agenda before you start accommodating everyone else’s. Knowing that you’ve taken care of your most important business helps set the tone for a more relaxed, more productive rest of your day.
Suffering information overwhelm is not a given, but a choice. Diffuse the overload by organizing your online environment so it replaces your sense of panic with real opportunities for greater productivity – and peace.