I used to love getting emails, but that was a very long time ago. These days, I frequently curse my inbox. Email and other forms of electronic communication have become a least favorite part of my job. It never ends; it takes a lot of time; and it keeps me from getting more important things done so it makes me less productive.
So how do we keep our inboxes for taking over?
There is plenty we can do as individuals. Electronic communication is stressful largely because it interrupts us. After each interruption, it takes time and effort to get back to what we were doing. And since we are constantly getting messages, we are constantly interrupted. These interruptions come at a cost; they prevent us from reaching the level of concentration needed for more focused work and make us less productive.
We often act as though interruptions from our devices are unavoidable, but they are not. Instead of reading messages as they come in, disable the notifications of incoming messages and set aside a block of time at specific times during the day for dealing them. During the rest of the time, keep the program closed and all its notifications turned off.
“But I can’t do that!” Are you sure? Most of us exaggerate the need to respond immediately. Our own fears seem to masquerade as professional expectations, making us think that we have to be reachable all the time: What if they do just fine without me; what if I am out of the loop when important decisions are made? And so, we remain chained to our technology and allow it to interrupt us over and over again, keeping us from getting more important things done.
Don’t make that mistake. Most of the messages we receive are not that urgent, even if they are important. Handle them in batches a few times during the day instead of letting them interrupt your thinking throughout the day.
This part of managing our electronic communications is about our own choices and attitudes. But that is only one piece of the puzzle. Our decisions are not made in isolation, not if we want to succeed at work and nurture our relationships. We need to respect the rules and culture about connectivity at our work place. It is difficult for the individual to set limits on availability if constant connectivity is the norm and expectation. It becomes impossible for those who have less power.
Those of us who have some power in our workplace need to recognize that we are both subjects to and creators of the existing culture of connectivity in our workplace. We need to be mindful about what we say about connectivity and what attitude we display towards it through our own actions. If we treat time offline as something normal and good, it benefits both us and others. But if we don’t disconnect from our electronic communications ourselves, we increase our own stress levels and we contribute to an unhealthy culture where it is more difficult for others to disconnect. Our responsibility for setting a good example and creating a better culture is larger the more power we have.