Emails, phone calls and status alerts. Our work is constantly interrupted. Dr Joanne Cantor, Pink Elephant ITSM Conference speaker, discussed how to deal with the constant stream of bleeps or pings that demands our attention.
Here are five of her tips to manage information overload.
1. A list of contacts who can ‘drop everything’
Many of us are “always on”. The lines between work/play have blurred to the extent that I now take work calls and check my messages even while on vacation. However, it works both ways. I will also take long lunches with friends to catch up or leave the office early to go to the hairdresser. This arrangement is a win-win situation for me.
But, it is impossible to be available 24/7. Cantor suggested prioritizing a small number of people who can reach you immediately. These people could be your boss, your senior manager, or the nursery your child attends. If you have to switch work, ensure that these people have a way to reach you. This will allow you to feel connected to the people that matter, without having to be ‘on’ for everyone.
This kit contains templates that will help you plan who should be on your list. This will help you identify the most influential people at work.
2. Focus
Cantor and Nicholas Carr, another speaker, said that the internet and how we work today have made it harder to focus. This is what I call a “butterfly mind”. You move from one subject to the next. Both of them claimed that we have lost our ability to focus on one thing at once.
I disagree. I get twitchy when I watch TV and don’t do anything else (I’m currently making baby shoes for a raft newborns). If I forget to bring a book, I can’t focus well on the tube. If they put in the effort, I believe people can still focus on one activity. You can also read a book to help you remember how to do it. Write down the task you feel and then do it later.
3. Learn to manage interruptions
Close your email client when you’re done writing a project report. Your phone should be set to vibrate instead of vibrate. Your status can be changed to unavailable on your instant messaging client. To let people know when your next availability is, you can send an email with your out-of-office message.
You should block out time for actual work. Not meetings or traveling to clients. It sounds silly, but sometimes I end up with two weeks worth of work if I don’t do this.
4. Sleep well
Cantor spoke about the reviving power of sleep. She suggested scheduling problem solving so you have at most one night to work on the issue. If your mind is working on the problem all night, you might wake up with the solution or a new perspective.
Keep a notebook near your bed so that you can take notes and take action if you wake up with great ideas.
5. Play
Cantor spoke about the story of the grasshopper who played all day and the ant who worked all day. Although it’s not something I knew, the morale was clear: You can’t work constantly and expect to be productive.
Take breaks. Cantor stated that people who are able to relax and have a good balance between work and life find they work less than those who work too much. This is because their brains work more efficiently.