In communication it is easy to “over-do” it. We all use email, voice, IM, RSS, and more. The trick is to manage your time, and other’s expectations at the same time. We’ve grown used to instant contact to nearly everyone in our address books over the last decade (or more) to the detriment of productivity.
While we have increased our productivity over the last 10+ years, I think we have hit a plateau as far as communicating with each other. It has become so easy to ask a person a question, to get an answer that we often forget the implications of doing so. The more we communicate, the more we interrupt and distract each other. Now I’m repeating a lot of what many are saying, but I’m also going to be following these methods to gain back what could amount to several hours in a week.
Take the ubiquitous email for example. We all abuse it on a daily basis, hoping to steal attention from one another to perform some task or other. Most of the time, the answer is already available to use, but we seem to feel like pestering a coworker or friend is a better use of time than looking up the answer ourselves.
As recent Lifehacker post Limit your email messages to 5 sentences details, you can work towards brevity. An elegant explanation can be found at five.sentenc.es if you care to link to it. Going even further going back to setting expectations, you can train people to expect shorter messages.
Another technique that is becoming common lately is to process your email (and feeds for that matter) once a day. Again, when you set the expectation that you will respond within a day, you can pick the time that works best in your schedule to read/reply to email. Process later in the day to get a jump on the next day, or mid-morning to answer any critical questions for the day. Depending on your responsibilities, I’m betting you’ll find the right time.
News & Blog feeds are a fantastic way to increase your information consumption. A good reader also makes a big difference here too. The amount of information that one can process through feeds as apposed to individual web pages is amazing. I literally increased my ability to consume information more than ten-fold with feeds (and Dave Winer’s “river of news” layout). Combine that with a an reader like Google Reader that is available anytime, anywhere and you have a powerful news appliance.
The problem, of course, is that you can easily become a news junkie – always hitting refresh and watching for new bits to come through. While entertaining, it’s a waste of time. The industry news doesn’t change from 9am to 3pm, so why watch it all day? Why not process your feeds once a day, similar to email? Later or earlier, it doesn’t matter – it’ll keep you up to date on your industry and help you gain back hours in the week.
Instant Messaging is another essential business tool that we abuse. I’ll allow to some former coworkers that it is potentially HUGE time waster (Tom, Craig – ya listening?). BUT the flip side of that is that IM is one of the most important productivity tools that an individual or company can leverage. The trick is managing the tool to your advantage. Every IM tool allows you to set your presence as “Busy”, “Do Not Disturb”, “Offline” or some other status that indicates you are not available.
The biggest mistake is that, like email, we feel like we need to answer any request immediately. Start using your status to reflect your actual work status. Are you trying to get that report done? That presentation polished? That document formatted? For crying out loud – that means your “Busy” – set your status and revel in uninterrupted bliss.
Now micro-blogging platforms like Twitter (and Jaiku, Pownce, and Hictu) are a different breed. They cross boundaries like covered by blogging, IM, and SMS (text messaging). The result is a literal fire-hose of status updates and thought streams from dozens, hundreds or thousands of individuals depending on how many “friends” you have. The concept can be hard to get your head around, but the beauty of these platforms is their brevity.
While not the case with some competing services, Twitter restricts each post (called a Tweet) to 140 characters. This will train you to be concise and descriptive. This is very good, because it helps you hone your communication skills by communicating only the information that is required.
So in explaining what I’ve been learning and thinking about for several months, I’ve written a verbose and wordy description about how not to be. I hope the hypocrisy of the post helps drive the point home. The basic thing to keep in mind no matter what communication tools you use is to leverage the tool to your benefit. Think about time as much as you think about what you communicate.
Brevity is essential