Monday, June 18, 2018

Take Control of Your Communication (It's Really Okay)

I just finished writing an article for the Relax Focus Succeed newsletter that will be coming out next week. (Sign Up Here)

In that article, I mention author Neal Stephenson and his policies for communication. As part of my research, I wandered over to the web site page where he explains why he never responds to email or speaking requests. And I found an interesting slide-out window:

Do you see it?

There's a place to put your email and subscribe to updates from Stephenson's press people. At first it seems odd that you should let them email you, but there is literally no way for you to email him.

But this reveals an interesting truth: You can limit your communication intake and still produce as much output as you want. Why is that? Very simple: Most people are very poor at managing their time and attention. As a result, it's easy for you to interrupt their flow and break into their communication channel.

I have found this to be true in my personal and professional lives. With very few exceptions, I never answer my phone. But when I call others, I know they'll answer because most people don't have rules like this.

I check email on a schedule and keep it closed the rest of the time. I check Facebook on a schedule and keep it closed the rest of the time.

I have weaned myself off the dopamine pump that comes with social media alerts. And most people never notice. Every once in awhile, someone will accuse me of ignoring them. That is, until they realize I'm ignoring everyone else as well.

Interruption - especially electronic interruption - has a tendency to make us feel more productive while it actually destroys our productivity. We confuse busy-ness with effectiveness. At the same time, we don't "feel" the effects of lost start-up time required to get back on track after an interruption.

If you have no rules around in-bound communication, you can assume that people are wasting your time. Consider making a chart. What are all the ways you can be interrupted? For example, telephone, text message, instant message apps, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Email, door knock, shoulder tap, fire alarm, etc.

Consider what would happen if you pick five of these and allocate three minutes to each of them every hour. That's 25% of your time! Does that seem reasonable? It shouldn't!

So when you meet someone who says, "I don't waste my time with social media," consider that they might have it exactly right. If you can point to where social media (or any other communication medium) improves your life or business measurably, then allocate a limited about of time to it. If it's just fun, then consider cutting it out of the business day and only using it evenings or weekends.

Put this on your list of personal SOPs: Develop an in-bound communication policy.

Feedback welcome.


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1 comment:

  1. I actually talk about your policy all the time, because I offer it as a counter-example to what most people do, which is the opposite extreme. I have been trying to get everyone out of the mindset that we have to stop what we are doing dead in our tracks every time the phone rings or an email arrives. If one is working on the most important thing on the list (which makes perfect sense) then it has to be someone else's job to decide where the new item fits on the list. It may go to the top, the bottom, or somewhere in between. It should not automatically go to the top.

    That said, your policy is also an extreme that simply doesn't work in practice. What should be fairly obvious is that if everyone practiced this policy, no one would ever communicate. It would be like the client I have that has its caller ID hidden so that its calls show as "Private." When that client calls, no one ever answers the phone because it's like the mystery door on a game show and we don't have time for that silliness. On the flip side, when I tried to call that client from my cellular phone with caller ID blocked (technicians should NEVER give cellular numbers to clients), I couldn't even leave a message because that client doesn't accept anonymous calls. That leaves a standoff with no resolution. The client had to wait until I could call from the office number. (I can do that from my cellular phone but the quality of the call is sometimes lacking.)

    The gist of this is that sometimes, one has to be interruptible. I suggest an approach that another client in real estate used for its bookkeepers; they had set hours for taking phone calls from tenants, maybe two to four hours a day. The rest of the time they did their other work without outside interruption. The value of the receptionist, office manager, or service manager is critical here as well. That person needs good judgment in deciding what calls merit an interruption and which just go straight to the ticketing queue. That person needs to be more than a "Andrew, Bill is on the phone" type. That person might also be able to handle very minor issues such as a mailbox that accidentally gets sorted by name instead of by date. Finally, everyone needs to learn the phrase, "working with another client," which can be used in a broad sense even if the client isn't sitting right next to someone's desk. If you're in a barber shop sitting in the chair in the middle of a hair cut and someone else enters, only a very unprofessional barber would stop in the middle of a haircut to cut someone else's hair.

    Bottom line is that I would move the slider much closer to your side of the spectrum, but not all the way. That crosses the line to "I'm more important than you," which usually doesn't sit well with people, unless it is obviously true.


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