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 .