Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Is the information overload driving you crazy?

posted by Judette Coward-Puglisi, President of IABC T&T
It was a conscious choice not to become a "crackberrian." Among my friends that makes me an anomaly. I am aware of course, of the life advantages of the little black box, clutched in your hand in the same tenacious way a baby does an umbilical cord. The Blackberry keeps you connected. Switched-on. Clued-in. But, I swore a long time ago never to become one those people.

You know who they are. They are the ones who take their cell phone to church and put it on vibrate. They are your friends who are in a conversation with you, but, as you're obviously not holding their interest, they take the call from the phone that's ringing Rhianna's latest hit and continue to talk to whoever's on the other end. They are the people who are sitting in a restaurant and checking voice-mail every 15 minutes. They are the business persons who take another call during a face-to-face meeting with you. They are people who are not in the moment but always looking to see, "what's next" and "what else" should they be doing.

Most of my resistance to being constantly plugged in came after I took stock of my work day. When I get in at 5:00 am , I wade through 25 to 30 e-mail messages. I move onto voice-mail, which is limited, thankfully, to accepting only 2 messages since I last checked it. Afterwards, I check a handful of web sites, mail, and other paper-based notices from my assistants which also need my daily review. I do all this within a 2 hour time-frame, which would be perfect, if only for the fact that I have to repeat this process several times during the day, and also deal with a continuously ringing cell phone which is supposed to keep me in touch.

I am not alone. In a global survey of over 1,700 business communications professionals (conducted by the International Association of Business Communicators of which there is a T&T Chapter) an overwhelming majority of respondents (85%) said that e-mail overload was taking over their lives and having a negative effect on their productivity. The negative effect was even higher (93%) for users of Blackberry devices and other Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). 62% of respondents said they received too much e-mail, with 81 % saying that their e-mail was always left open, implying that they were continuously wired to a virtual mode of communication.
At some point, all the information from so many sources becomes too much to handle. For me, professionally being constantly connected in the workplace, while very useful, robbed me of the necessary silent time needed to reflect on my business, its current situation and where it was going. Personally, with a daily to-do-list a mile longer than Wendy Fitzwilliam's legs coupled with constant deadlines, it became easier and easier to move away from my centre and subscribe to the mistaken belief that busyness authenticated my presence in the world.

Of course there are many ways to take back control. Information filters can help with the volumes of data, screening out less-than-critical messages. Deleting your name from list servers is another way to limit the influx of e-mail. And sleeping in bed without the Blackberry on the pillow next to you (I swear a business associate told me he does this) will definitely be helpful.

But for me, the most important solution has been to continue the human, face -to -face connection with important relationships, whether business or personal. After all, these relationships are the very things that provide the energy in my life. I've found that you can never stray too far from what is really meaningful before losing connection with yourself, everybody else and the things that really matter. And if you've lost that, neither b-mobile nor the best Digicel hookup can bring it back.

Judette Coward Puglisi is the Managing Director of Mango Media Caribbean (
www.mangomediacaribbean.com). She is the founder, and current President of the International Association of Business Communicators, Trinidad and Tobago .


Anonymous said...

How do you deal with the information overload?

So far in my own analysis of e-mail and its impact on my work day, I realize that I have had to develop systems and rules which have helped me cope. I also realize that lack of systemic "attack" on emails allows me not to be overwhelmed and frustrated.

How I stay on top of my e-mail: my system and rules-

Rule #1 - For days when I am in office and have no major meetings and I am in front of my computer, I do the following:

1. Respond right away
2. Delegate the action to
junior staff and others
3. Place e-mail and action in my follow up box under 2 categories - For me to follow up and for others follow (by use of the different color flags)

Rule # 2 - For days when I am out of office on meetings or even in office on long meetings I:

1. Stay back to do the above process
Note: I have found that if I don't tackle emails in a timely fashion I tend to drag my feet on those jobs, and procrastination and a lack of action can set in.

Rule #3

1. No e-mails on a weekend. Casual surfing may be okay but "Mark as unread" is a useful tool for Monday email reading.

Rule #4

1. I take a lap top with me if I will be gone for more than 5 working days on work assignments. For less than 5 working days I deal with it when I get back. (i.e. I milk the excuse that I was out of the country and use rule #2). For more than 5 working days - I take a lap top and also apply rule #2 in the evenings.

Rule #5

1. Delete the little and less significant e-mails weekly. This reduces the size of your inbox as well as overall anxiety.

Nadine Johnson
Marketing Specialist
Tourism Development Company

Judette Coward-Puglisi, IABC T&T President said...

Nadine, I like your five rules, especially your no e-mail weekends. Although it may mean you have to get in a bit earlier to work on Monday in order to catch up.

Julie Freeman, President of IABC, says in this cleverly titled December Business Week article *!#@ The E-Mail. Can We Talk? (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_49/b4012096.htm?chan=search), that e-mails and text messaging have become the default means of communications especially among today's younger employees and it often gets in the way of face to face interaction.

I see this with my own assistants, both in their twenties and part of the IM generation…uhhmm…I mean instant messaging generation. In November last year I asked them to stop the scores of e-mails they were sending out and just pick up the phone and speak to clients and suppliers. 2 months later I wonder if there has been a difference in the quality of communication they are giving and receiving. I have asked them to blog about the experience.

In the meantime, take a look at what this e-mail says in response to the Business Week article.

"Over and over again I've either been the victim, perpetrator, or innocent bystander to misunderstood e-mail. Also, I was getting to the point where I was writing long e-mails that were more like position papers, instead of actually talking it out with the person. Now, I don't automatically respond to an e-mail with an e-mail. I take a second and consider what the best way to respond really is. Are they requesting a document or some data? I can do that by e-mail. Will my response require an explanation? Pick up the phone or walk down the hall."

Date reviewed: Dec 1, 2006 6:53 PM

Anonymous said...

Should I send a quick e-mail or pick up the phone to call is a personal battle I continue to face. As a communications major I know the importance and value of formal interpersonal communication; however it always seems easier and more convenient for me to send a correspondence via e-mail rather than having to find telephone numbers and go through operated calling systems, receptionists and voice messaging services. Recently though, whenever I am tempted to click that send button, I hear my boss's voice in my head asking "couldn't you have just called?" While I intentionally make more phone calls and have recognised that it does eliminate the unnecessary back and forth which can arise when communicating via email, I still prefer the latter. Quite simply it is quick, convenient, direct (without a middleman) and eight out of ten times reliable.

La Toya Quamina
Project Assistant
Mango Media Caribbean


Anonymous said...

As a Communications Intern at Mango Media Caribbean, part of the job is to get through to clients, customers, and prospective customers. To do this, I have found that if I want to efficiently manage my time it is always better to call rather than send an e-mail. Especially in a fast pace environment, time and energy can be lost waiting on a response via e-mail. However, email should always act as a back-up. When you can’t get someone via telephone, you should e-mail them. That way it will give you time to do other tasks and put your mind at rest for the while, knowing that at least the information was sent. Now, if the person does not respond via e-mail, it would just be a matter of calling the individual again. You definitely can’t say you didn’t try.

E-mail can also be a better choice when there is a large amount of information to share, and considering that some people will hit you with “I’m too busy right now to talk”, it’s better to e-mail. In the end, always give the person the option, because some people are easier to get via e-mail while others are not.

Jane Sadaphal
Communications Intern
Mango Media Caribbean


Anonymous said...

The trick is to use the technology; not have it use you. I put downtime in a dentist's waiting room to good use by reading the IABC blog and responding to emails. At home, it's off. That may have something to do with my husband's threat to send my new 'toy' through a window!

Maria Rivas-Mc. Millan
Corporate Communications Manager
Guardian Holdings Limited

Anonymous said...

Dealing with information overload is challenging for me as a student. Time is critical and so I ask people to call, IM or text me once the message is urgent. As for dealing with filled inboxes I have taught myself to prioritise: scan message headings first then read and respond accordingly.

My preference however is for interpersonal be it formal or informal.

Amanda Best
Communication Studies and Literatures in English, UWI Final Year Student.

"Communications is the key to success".