Originally published on Inc.com.
For many people, dealing with the endless amount of incoming communication can be overwhelming and lead to information overload.
In the old days, we had two things: phone and regular mail. Now you have to deal with email, social media platforms, voice mail, fax, instant messaging, text multiple platforms, and people barging in with something they think is important.
Okay, that last one has been around for a while, too.
We live in an interrupted society on information overload. Fear of missing out on something important leads to anxiety, distraction and even addiction to information.
If you find yourself lost in the sea of options you are not alone. Successful people know that most communication is non-emergency communication and does not have to be answered immediately. Knowing this puts you in a position of strength rather than feeling like a victim to the deluge of incoming information.
It’s worse for “nice” people who want to be respectful and respond to everything quickly. As incoming communication increases, it becomes impossible to maintain the kind of connection and response time you’d like to have. This is simply a fact of becoming more successful: Discernment about your response time is key.
With that in mind, here are five ways to successfully manage incoming communication:
1. Schedule time to process email and social media.
Yes, I said process. That means you look at all of your incoming communication methods as a giant inbox.
During processing time, you’re not looking at content beyond what’s in each of your email and social media inboxes. It doesn’t matter who posted what during this time.
For each item, reply, delete or take action. Never move on and say, “I’ll get back to this one.” You won’t.
If you don’t know what to do with it, put it in an “I Don’t Know” folder, but don’t leave it in your inbox. If it’s not important now, it probably won’t become important later.
2. Take do not disturb time.
Start with your phone and choose “do not disturb” for calls. Turn it on when you need to get something done.
All calls will be rejected and go straight to voicemail. When you finish what you’re working on, and I mean when you finish, then you can check your voicemails.
This will feel strange at first, so start with 15 minutes. You’ll learn to enjoy the non-interrupted time and your productivity will soar.
3. Prioritize the incoming communication types.
Where does your most productive business conversation begin? On the phone? Through social media? Instant messaging? Decide on the one type of communication you will always respond to quickly — and then stick to your promise.
It might be Slack for communication with your team. Or phone to speak with prospects and customers. Or social media for customer service. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, as it’s up to you to decide what works best for you.
4. Limit your connection methods.
Maybe you have Skype, Slack, text, phone, blogs, and ten different social media platforms where people can reach you. If you don’t tell people how to connect with you, they’ll use whatever method is best for them, not for you.
Thus, you end up on the hamster wheel of trying to please everyone. Just because you can put links to all of your social media on your website doesn’t mean you have to.
Choose the top three to five methods of connection you’ll accept and let people know the best way to reach you. Often, this can done right in your email signature or on your social media profiles.
5. Take “no contact” breaks now and then.
If you’re constantly busy and wondering why you’re not being productive, it’s time to take a break. If your brain is on constant overload, running from one thing to the next, distracted and mentally exhausted, your body will follow.
Take a “no contact” break every once in a while and unplug completely. Read a book, get outside, take a walk, paint, draw, or do anything else that doesn’t involve communication. Good things happen when you slow it down once in a while.
If responding to incoming communication is running your life, it’s time to rethink your priorities. Responding to people is a natural and fundamental part of doing business and must be done regularly, but it doesn’t have to be done on someone else’s timeline.
Set your own communication schedule and enjoy more productivity, creativity and focus so you can be happier, healthier and more fully enjoy your life.
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