With dozens of ways to connect with millions of people all around the globe (and beyond) from just about any device, the world really does fit in the palm of your hand. That is pretty amazing, but can also keep you from getting anything done. The never-ending torrent of notifications, calls, pings, pokes, tweets, etc require constant attention.
This hurst productivity, focus and the relationships we have with others. Switching between work and incoming tweets, means less work gets done. Trying to follow a group discussion on WhatsApp while reading book means the book does not get read. Think about the danger when "reading a book" is replaced with "driving a car". Showing your facebook friends you are having drinks with other friends means your real-life friends are not getting the attention they deserve. And if all people in the group are doing that, why did you get together in the first place? The rest of the night is likely to be filled with checking the comments and likes to that update. "That was great, we should hang out again soon". No thank you.
A strange side-effect called FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is also a direct consequence of this: the more ways cat photo's can be spread, the more communication channels you need to keep an eye on in order not miss anything. 'Fortunately', almost every communications app has a way to grab your attention as soon as someone wants yours. Many people are addicted to this.
There is no need to stop using all those ways to connect and share, but there is a need to be in control and controlling your own urge to continually make sure that you didn't miss anything. Here are some tips when you are on the sending or receiving end of communication:
When sending, choose your weapon wisely:
- Is there an emergency or does the receiver expect you? Get face-to-face, or make a phonecall.
- Anything else: find another way as face-to-face and phonecalls are very intrusive. Basically, you, the sender, get to decide that whatever you have to say must be more important than keeping the other person from working on what may be their Magnum Opus. When the person you need to reach, is available on instant message, he or she made the choice to be available for interruption. And e-mail can be turned off, like notifications of the dozens of social networking apps.
Whatever you do: do not send an e-mail and then go phone them to see if they received your message!
When receiving, control the ways you are notified:
- Turn off as many instant notifications as possible: email, twitter, facebook, etc
- Process e-mail on a few set moments of the day, for example: in the morning, after lunch and at the end of the (work)day.
- Turn on "Do Not Disturb" mode on your smartphone (iOS, Android), minimizing the people and apps that are allowed to "break through"
- Spread your "policy" so people around you know you will respond, but at a moment of your choosing.
- When meeting other people in person, switch off or ignore you phone as much as possible and be with the person you are meeting.
Doing this rigorously allowed me to focus a lot better on what I was doing, increasing productivity. Which led to a bigger sense of accomplishment and more time to do others things I like doing. I would not want to miss the connections I make through various forms of digital communication! But I do not want to be led by those communications. I want to decide if and when to pay attention.