Productivity. Performance. Success

4 Steps to Manage your Digital Overload

4 Steps to Manage your Digital Overload

Emails, social media and mobile messaging applications can make your job easier and more productive. I can’t imagine a life without my smartphone (thank you Steve Jobs!). If you have ever lost your phone, you know what I mean.

We are currently travelling in Europe and my wife’s phone got stolen last week so we are sharing my phone for a few days. This is how we sound:  “You are not working! You are checking Instagram again!!” (The way my wife can stretch out “again” into more syllabus than possible is particularly impressive.)

In my previous post  “Task Switching Kills Productivity”, I discussed the cost of task switching. The mental resources required to change “context” from one task to another can drain our energy and cause unhealthy stress over time.

In much the same way, unfortunately, being “connected” all the time also comes with unwanted side effects (not to mention an angry wife). We waste time and attention on relatively unimportant digital distractions.  This is bad for our productivity but even worse, it can lead to increased stress levels and serious health problems.

“Our smartphones whine at us like petulant children”

– Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

 

In fact, a small in-house experiment (commissioned by Porter-Novelli, the London publicists of Hewlett-Packard) on the negative effects of “always-on” technology, dubbed “infomania” showed clearly that technological distraction diminished IQ test performance by 10 points. While this effect is temporary, it nonetheless still distracts us from what should have been better performance at work if we are not distracted.

How do we fix this? In this week’s post, I will describe 4 easy steps to take control of all your digital interactions.

1) Off grid time

 Psychology Professor Larry Rosen (HBR June 2015) recommends “off grid” time as a behavior principle to wean yourself from your digital devices. This basically means that you have certain time when you are not allowed to touch your digital devices.

I have tried this in several forms, and for me it works best to not check my phone:

  • from 8pm every night until I’m ready with my morning program. (I have to admit that I was previously guilty of checking my phone several times a night…and would often reply to emails and other messages. I know, it’s crazy!).
  • when I have my planned  “focus time”. I try to spend 90 mins every morning to do things that are most important to build our business. According to Nigel Booterill and Martin Gladdish (authors of “Build your business in 90 minutes a day”), 90 mins is the maximum time you should spend doing any activity if you want to maintain performance to the best of your ability.

 

2) Schedule specific time every day to manage your inboxes.

One of my solutions has been to avoid checking emails and text messages other than on predefined time slots. I schedule three 20 minutes time slots every day to check my inboxes (emails, calls, messaging applications).

This is not as easy as it sounds. I have to control myself not to check my phone outside of these timeslots. If you manage to do this, you will see a real boost in productivity.

 

3) Use “Do it, delegate it or defer it” model

I use the “Do it, delegate it or defer it” model to manage all my inboxes:

  • Do it – if it takes less than 2 minutes, I will reply immediately.
  • Delegate it – if it takes longer than 2 minutes, I will ask myself if I am the right person to reply. If the answer is no, I delegate it.
  • Defer it – If the action takes longer than 2 minutes and I’m the right person to reply, I have to defer it to another time.

 I never spend more than 2 minutes to reply an email or a text message during these predefined time slots. I try to strictly follow the “do it, delegate it or defer it” model.  If I need more than 2 minutes, I schedule a specific slot in my calendar.

 

4) Schedule specific time for social media

 Social media is the most powerful form of marketing we have ever seen. At the same time, the success will not come without hard work.

I have started to schedule two 30 minutes sessions everyday for social media. I believe it’s important to stay connected and I found that this time is sufficient for me to manage my social media interactions (Facebook, Instagram,  Linkedin and Twitter).

I have found that it’s very important to stick to my predefined timeslots. It can be very hard to resist the life that the social media machine has created for us. It’s easy to get caught up in a conversation, scrolling aimlessly through your friend’s post on Facebook or check your Likes on Instagram.

If you have to prioritize, keep in mind that social media is about building relationships with your target audience. You don’t have to have one million followers or get 10 000 likes on every post (if you are not a celebrity). What is important is that you build trust among the people that matter to you (friends, family, potential customers, business partners, investors etc).

 

Discussion

 Are you always ‘on’ but never really paying attention?

We can’t ignore the value of being “connected” and interacting with others. However, we must control ourselves so that we don’t blindly follow where our digital interactions take us. We have to be mindful about our purpose and be the master of our digital life. We also need to make sure that we get time to “disconnect” and reflect.

I would like to learn more from you. What are you doing to manage your digital life? I personally feel that I could use more tools to be more efficient. What tools are you using?

Leave a Comment

34 Comments

  1. Aga Aga
    August 10, 2015    

    Good one, I do find social media in many ways distracting rather then beneficial, for instance i do not have FB at all, and i find it manageable, my friends to tell me that i miss out on allot of things that happening around me or my friends. To be franc i have to many things happening in-front of my nose, that keeps me busy and entertained.

    Then only useful social media tool that i would recommend it would be LinkedIn, since everything in there straight to the point and very professional.

    I agree with you, that we need to be discipline about it.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 15, 2015    

      Aga, Very interesting! You have a good point. Sometimes we forget about the people we are with and instead focus on our devices. I have just started to be more active on LinkedIn. I think Linkedin has a hugh potential.

  2. August 10, 2015    

    Hi Jonas,

    This is a nicely put post that can serve as a guideline for many of us who are stuck with heaps of digital overload and find it getting out of control. I appreciate your efforts in coming together with a step by step guide in this regard.

    Your idea of an off-grid time is definitely necessary, but it’s not an easy task to get started with. Staying away from my phone for a while and when I get back, I feel like the world has gotten way ahead of me. But again, I haven’t yet started dictating world economies or world politics!!!! For a start, I feel that I should be able to prioritize my time on social media and what is really important vs what is really urgent. That would help me get my off grid time.

    I agree with your “Do it, delegate it or defer it” model. It is a perfect solution and I am sure some of us must be doing it sub-consciously ( I do – just being honest ). Once we get this more into practice in a conscious way, I am sure we can really observe a major change in handling the bulk of emails that land in our inboxes every few minutes.

    I am often guilty of getting absorbed in unproductive conversations on social media to the extent that I realize that the conversation would still have occurred without me and would keep continuing no matter what. I think there is a need here to evaluate myself if I am the right person to respond before I can step into a conversation that could appear to be nothing but eventually consume much of my time once I get pulled into it.

    To sum it all up, in my opinion, prioritizing is an essential part of each of the steps you have mentioned above.

    Thank you for coming up with a very helpful post!!!!

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 16, 2015    

      Thanks for sharing. I have the same problem as you. :-) If I’m not very disciplined I tend to “do it” even if it takes more than 2min. It often screws up all my priorities. ? Try to schedule specific time for emails and social media. It has worked really well for me.

  3. Mina Mina
    August 11, 2015    

    Staying connected with our smartphone is a great tool in our hands. However, it has become a total distraction and in many cases a waste of time. It has become an addiction for many people and it should be treated like an addition!
    The guides you have listed are great but very very difficult to follow – just like you said!
    Just like arranging times to connect, we could arrange times to disconnect! For example, I have a friend who arranges family gatherings and everyone knows that they must leave their smartphone at the door, otherwise don’t come at all!!

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 16, 2015    

      I totally agree. Arrange time to “disconnect” is a very good advice.

  4. August 16, 2015    

    Interesting topic. I know that I’m always ‘on’, but I don’t really pay attention to my digital device. To start with, I don’t have facebook, instagram, twitter or other social media account accept for my Google+. I don’t look at Linkedin as social media, instead as professional tools that help with my career. As for mobile applications, I have Whatsapp, BBM, Telegram and Viber. Whatsapp is the main group chat which I seldom participate in group chat, I rather be the reader or listener in the group which can be done when I am free. Viber is solely for work related as the Myanmar group communicates through it, but more on monitoring the issues which the team will response to their support request. So, I have limit myself to certain applications that has flooded our digital life.

    I don’t believe in setting a off grid time as this the time (at night) when I catch up with group gossip for the day. My work “off grid time” is when I reached home. And as for “focus time”, I need to explore what is it and how does it works.

    I don’t see how scheduling a specific time to read emails or messages would help. 20 minutes 3 times a day only is very little time alotted for this activity. I don’t mean that we have to check every minutes, may be one every half an hour or an hour. Normally, I will check my mails on my mobile only to look for; who sent it, subject and importance. Mostly I will defer it until I finish with my meetings, work or discussion to response from my notebook. As for calls, during office hour, I will answer only to those important such as client, superior and immediate family. Other than that I will return their calls when I am free.

    Sometimes we don’t know that emails, calls or messages that we defer to view might be an important. However, “Do it”, “Delegate it” and “Defer it” is the right thing to do.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      I have changed my daily plan to be more efficient and effective. 1) I’m using whatsapp as my main message app. I have turned on “notifications” and reply messages for 5 min every hour between 8-20 (12h). 2) I spend only 20min two times a day answering emails. 3) I have reduced social media to 30 min a day. Weekdays I focus on LinkedIn and weekends Facebook and Instagram.

  5. August 16, 2015    

    But somehow..unfortunately for a person in the technical support team line like me, it is not ok to ‘disconnect’. Especially for online messaging; eg= viber and whatsap.

    Like a doctor who has to be on call at odd hours, we won’t know when a problem might arise. So we must be online and reachable all the time.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      It’s not healthy to be online all the time. I have my whatsapp notification on and answer messages every hour for 5 min. But I don’t check messages after 8pm and before 8am. I hope you can schedule your work in shifts. No one should be connected 24-7. That’s not efficient and you need time to recover.

  6. buya buya
    August 16, 2015    

    I agree that we need to manage our time when come to prioritize our focus. That why during this year Hari Raya celebration most of the advertisement is about to have a physical connectivity rather than digital connection. I’m still trying to leave my gadget for a while attending an important activity I.e meeting or dinner with my family.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      It’s not easy right? I have my whatsapp notification on between 8-20 but I turn it off at 20.00 every night. That keeps me sane. 😉

  7. August 17, 2015    

    Agree. We also should manage how to use the smartphone. If not, smartphone will become dumbphone. Don’t use only for social networking. Many features in the smartphone can make our life more organized.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      I agree. What apps are you using to organize your work? I use Evernote for all my planning.

      • August 24, 2015    

        I’m using Any.do: To-do List. Very helpful

        • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
          August 26, 2015    

          Roy, I will check it out

  8. Azzad Ariffin Azzad Ariffin
    August 17, 2015    

    I remember when MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and Google Talk reign supreme over the social network scene, everybody would at least have two of them installed (on PCs, as phone apps were then in its infancy). When stationed onsite at customer’s place – having their own evil system administrator – who indiscriminately bars chatting software, our ‘technical expert’ would always find ways to circumvent such restriction.

    It was the ultimate distraction. Productivity were halves. However as the same group of people progresses and matures over time, their dependency on those application for chatting turned into mere need to be connected. Now we have WhatsApp, Viber, and a host of other phone apps and I see the same pattern again. Those who clocked just a few years on the job are the worst addicts and those so-called seasoned workers, seems not to be encumbered with such need.

    I guess it boils down to the individuals’ preferences. As for me, I am ‘always connected’ not that I need to communicate with people, rather, so that people can communicate with me (and if it doesn’t take more than two minutes) 😛

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      Azzad, see my answer to Shariman. I have changed my daily routine to be more available without returning to “firefighting mode”. I believe it’s very important to keep improving the way we work. We should be like professional athletes. They prepare themselves for every training and every competition. Before work we have to prepare ourselves for the day, and every night we need to evaluate and plan for improvements. 5-10 min every morning and evening. It’s all about discipline.

  9. Malik Malik
    August 17, 2015    

    I think we have to assess ourselves how much we are attached to the social media. If it is too much and affecting our focus to our job or tasks, then it is best to temporarily disconnect and schedule a specific time for it.

    Personally, I would uninstall or avoid distracting apps from my mobile phone and limit my access to some social media from laptop only.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      Malik, I only have notification on my whatsapp. The rest of the apps I will only check on predefined time slots. I’m also trying to plan my social media time. I have cut down to 30min a day. Weekdays I focus on LinkedIn. I read a lot. Weekends I focus on FB and IG.

  10. Amirulzaman Amirulzaman
    August 17, 2015    

    Have to agree with suhaimi salleh about being online and reachable all the time as I’m also working on the technical support team. However, the struggle is real when dealing with social media as it is very easy for us to get carried away. Time management is essential to tackle this issue.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      See my reply to Salleh. It’s very important to disconnect. You can work in shifts. No one should be connected 24-7. There could be exceptions for example during go-live. But you can’t be connected 24-7 every day. It’s not healthy.

  11. Mohamad Zahary Mohamad Zahary
    August 17, 2015    

    Very interesting read. I agree with all the point mention. But still social media such as viber and whatsapp are very useful for us to communicate with the client, the thing is we need to put boundaries between work related and non work related when accessing the media social. For non work related especially school group chat, I tend to read when I’m totally free, otherwise I just ignore it because most of the content are not beneficial to my line of work.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      Zahary, I think you have some good points here. You seem to be able to prio what’s important and avoid wasting valuable time

  12. Faizzal Faizzal
    August 17, 2015    

    This is a very good article and good steps on how to manage your ‘digital life’, me myself need to be very discipline to follow the rules or step that that I created to manage my ‘digital life’. I also notice that social media tend to “disconnect” us from people that close to us but ‘connect’ us with people that far from us, this can be good if we know when to use it and it will be very bad if we do not know how to manage it. For me, this is the step that I can start with.

    What is important is discipline the use of social media. If we do not discipline the use of social media, it will not make us focus on our work. However, “Do it”, “Delegate it” and “Defer it” is the right thing to do.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      Faizzal, I like what you are saying about disconnecting ourselves from people that are close to ourselves. I totally agree that we need to be more disciplined in the way we use social media.

  13. Mir Mir
    August 17, 2015    

    It is a good article and useful for me to manage or control my digital overload. I agree with Wka said “the smartphone can make our life more organized” but when time with family, I will leave my smartphone behind back same goes at office. That is way for me to manage digital overload. So, I can spend more time on my family and do the work.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      Mir, you seem to have find a good balance between work and family. That’s good.

  14. Fadhlul Wafi Fadhlul Wafi
    August 17, 2015    

    I would like to suggest The Pomodoro Technique (pomodorotechnique.com). Pomodoro means tomato in Italian language.
    This technique is about the time management. It’s recommends that we divides our time in 25 minutes sessions. In 25 minutes, we should fully focus on our task without any distraction and take 5 minutes break after that. In that 5 minute break, we can check our inbox and social media.
    After 3 sessions of 25 minutes, we should take 15 – 30 minutes breaks.
    This technique teach us how to work with time and not against it.
    Please visit the website to get an idea how the Pomodoro works and the benefits of this technique.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      Wafi, thanks! I have read about the Pomodoro Technique and I’m planning to try it. Do you apply this technique?

  15. Arma Arma
    August 17, 2015    

    I missed those days without a smartphone. I was in the support team and people used email or phone call to connect to me. The best part was that I received problem in details and the tone of the messages was more relaxed. Maybe they’re carefully delivered the messages. I was able to solve more problem logs in a day. The max no of problem log was 2000 a month.
    I started using a smart phone when I joined Pintar Group in 2013. It was exciting at the beginning. Then it became addictive. Turn off sound and disable application alert works for me.
    Now, my phone is dying and I feel great. I’m more focused. I don’t read unimportant messages. No selfie too! Yeay.. Happy me!

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 23, 2015    

      Arma, no selfies!? :-) I have also turned off all notifications but with one exception, whatsapp. I turn on the notification every morning at 8am and switch of at 8pm. I reply messages every hour. All the other applications I only check twice a day.

  16. August 24, 2015    

    I think we need to change the way we use our devices to manage this load, smartphone in particular. An intelligent use of it at a proper scheduled time (like the post said) is really efficient. A good example is Twitter’s own app vs Tweetdeck. Tweedeck is also by twitter but it simplifies the way you use twitter. I can pick more tweets on tweetdeck in 2 minutes than on twitter itself.
    So I think first of all its about when to do what. You shouldn’t really be checking your Instagram feed during a meeting or replying your whatsapp messages while programming something. And then it’s about creating that thin line between what you need to do and doing it in excess of what you need to do. A good example of which is whatsapp. We use our project whatsapp groups during our work. but we don’t really have to attend the personal messages on whatsapp during work. We can perhaps send a template reply to people saying I’d call you or I’d get back to u in detail during lunch break or when I’m off the work. web.whatsapp is good to keep you off the hook. You can open your whatsapp on your notebook through this during work time and use it from there instead of picking up the phone and get caught by other notifications.
    Tracking your daily attachment to your phone and which app you’ve been putting in most of your time is also good. I can suggest “Moment” for that. It’s an excellent app which helps you track our daily usage of your phone and even of your kids on their phones because it can create a family hub. Though I find it ironical that you have to use an app to actually reduce the amount of time you are spending on your phone. But that’s the point, it’s a blend of using your devices intelligently and on the proper scheduled times.

    • Jonas Lind Jonas Lind
      August 26, 2015    

      Hassan, I will definitely try the app. Thanks!

JONAS LIND is a co-founder of two IT companies, one in Sweden and one in Malaysia. He has been in the IT industry since 2000. He currently resides in Malaysia with his family.

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