We used to live in the information age, but now we’ve tipped into the information overload age.
It’s bad enough that the average employee sends and receives 121 emails a day, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s estimated that we’re taking in the equivalent of 175 newspapers of information every day, mostly streamed through our digital devices. And each morning the same process happens again.
To cope with this onslaught of stimuli, we’re becoming increasingly reliant on these strategies:
- STACKING: this is about how we manage our TIME. We tend to fill every available space in our calendar, leaving little space to draw breath.
- SPINNING: this is about the way we manage our ATTENTION. A study by Microsoft concluded that our concentration span is now shorter than that of a goldfish, which is a depressing thought (no offence intended to goldfish).
- SKIMMING: this is about the way we deal with INFORMATION. We only have time to pick out the headlines, and suffer from shallow listening.
- SPILLING: this is about the way we manage our BOUNDARIES. For example, it’s becoming second nature to pick up our email in the evenings, weekends or even on holiday.
When used persistently, Stacking, Spinning, Skimming and Spilling leave us feeling as if we’re on a conveyor belt and can’t get off. What’s more, they damage our ability to conduct meaningful conversation. That’s the conclusion of my new book Workstorming: Why Conversations Go Wrong and How to Fix Them, based on studying the habits of employees in more than 70 organizations across five continents.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be like this, and small changes can make all the difference. Try these practices for three weeks, until they become habits:
- Instead of mindlessly accepting meeting invites, challenge their purpose before deciding whether you need to attend.
- Finish your meetings early, by agreeing with your work colleagues to switch off your phones and avoid distractions. The quality of your conversations will go up immediately.
- Say ‘no’ to more requests, or at least negotiate the terms of requests. Usually you have more wriggle room to negotiate than you think.
- Turn off your emails when you leave work. If someone needs to reach you urgently, they can call you. This will revolutionize your evening and weekend time and give you recovery time.
If you take these on, you’ll feel more on in control of your day, your stress levels will go down, and you’ll have more time for mindful conversations. The secret to being effective starts with recognizing that being busy isn’t the same as being productive.
Rob Kendall has worked with over 70 organisations, including the 2012 London Olympics, Virgin and BBC Worldwide, teaching conversation skills to business leaders, sports professionals, teenagers and many others.
£8.99, available from Watkins Publishing