Have you found yourself in the habit of constantly checking your phone, tablet, or computer for emails, texts, or other electronic communications? Do you respond to various chimes and ring tones with the same predictability as Pavlov's dog?
For better or worse, modern life has given us a new set of tools that can be wonderful servants, but terrible masters. Many of us can start to feel like we are "reacting" to our lives rather than creating them. Even worse, we can find ourselves distracted by the perceived demands of these virtual communication tools -- and miss out on connecting with the important people who are around us. If we want to live with more mindfulness and intention, we have to set some limits on our electronic tools and develop practices that keep us in the driver's seat.
Here are five suggestions for reclaiming your authority over electronics:
- Choose when you will be available. Think through how you would like your days and weeks to go. Choose timeframes during which you will be available to respond to communications. Share your availability with people who need to know. If you need to make provisions for emergency contacts, design a plan that works and share that also. The clearer you are about establishing your limits, the easier it will be to maintain them. This will reduce the stress on you, and others will appreciate your clarity and leadership.
- Choose how quickly you will aim to respond. In our high-tech society, we have learned to expect "instant" answers. Some communications truly do require rapid responses, but many do not. Decide a maximum amount of time that someone can expect to wait before they hear back from you and convey that as needed. (e.g. "You can expect a response within one business day"). You can always respond more quickly if needed, but setting an expectation that fits your life and your values can help you create more peace and spaciousness in your day-to-day interactions.
- Schedule focus times in your calendar. You don't have to be constantly available. Set aside times of day to respond to communications and times when you will focus on other activities that are important. If people that interact with you are used to you being always available, you will need to share your new policy with them. If you feel nervous about being unavailable, you can use phone message recordings or auto-respond features to let those who are contacting you know when they might expect a reply. If needed, you can also include a way to reach you more quickly in the event of a true emergency.
- Sort your email according to urgency. Several organization experts recommend sorting email into categories according to how soon you need to reply. Start by deleting unnecessary email. Often you can tell by the subject line whether or not the email requires any action from you. Next, use folders to sort email into categories that make sense to you. As you sort, go ahead and deal with those things that can be dealt with quickly. David Allen recommends immediately tackling any action that will take no more than two minutes to complete. For email that requires a future action, consider a service like Followupthen.com. This free service allows you to re-deliver an email to yourself at a date and time in the future.
- Purge when possible. If you are drowning in information, it is probably time to unsubscribe from newsletters and listservs that you don't have time to follow. Take time now and then to do some "spring cleaning" so that you don't have unnecessary inbox clutter. Creating space in your inbox, and your life, allows room for you to be more creative and more proactive. When you free your time and energy to focus on what is most important to you, everyone benefits!
These are just a few ways to end electronic overwhelm. What other strategies have worked for you? Please share your ideas in the comments below!