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The Tyranny Of The Incoming

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about all the ways my life is interrupted by something incoming – emails, message notifications on apps, text messages, Instagram updates… it’s a relentless onslaught and the effect it has on me is that at times I feel I exist in a state of constant distraction.

Technology has made communicating with people anywhere, anytime a very simple process.  Too simple, in fact. And because of its simplicity, we easily get into the habit of sending messages that may not have needed to be sent at all.

When I scan the list of unopened emails in my inbox, I prioritize those that need immediate attention and focus on them first.  But even recognizing that many of these messages aren’t a priority (or are junk and can be deleted), they still have an effect on me.  They still need to be dealt with, even if it’s just deleting them.

This daily effort to purge can feel overwhelming.  If we ignore the emails they can quickly accumulate into the hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands.  Ugh!!

I think what I dislike most about this onslaught of incoming messages is that it forces me to be in reaction mode too much of the time. Each one requires something of me that I may not have been prepared to give.  

And I’ve noticed in some of my friends an attachment to their devices that borders on addiction.  I’ve actually stopped going for tea or lunch with a few friends who just can’t leave their phones alone, even for the hour or so that we’re together.

All the pings and buzzes and notification noises our devices make can become Pavlovian in the way we instantly respond to them.

And yet, there was a time before these personal devices existed when we all got along just fine without them because we didn’t know what we were missing!

Sometimes I long for those days again…

So, how can we manage this onslaught, this incessant deluge that interrupts every aspect of our lives?

The first thing to do is to turn off the visual and auditory notifications – if we don’t see that compulsive little red dot and we don’t hear the ping or buzz or whatever, we won’t feel the same urge to react instantly.  And in my experience, very few of the messages, I receive require an instant response!

The next thing to do is to schedule two or three times during the day when you give your focused attention to text messages, emails, etc.  This should be somewhere between 15-30 minutes MAX in each of your scheduled time slots – otherwise, the onslaught can consume a much larger portion of time than is necessary or healthy.

And even though we believe we can multi-task efficiently by flipping back and forth between email or text messages and other work, studies have shown quite conclusively that multi-taskers are much less productive than mono-taskers.

Creating rules for your inbox(es) can also take care of many of the unimportant items by automatically sending specific types of messages to folders you create – this not only organizes your inbox, it also reduces the number of new messages you’ll see each day.

And finally, I highly recommend having at least 3 hours each day in which you are completely unplugged from phones, tablets, laptops, or other electronic devices.  Use that time to really connect with the people who are important to you.

Look them directly in the eyes when you speak with them, listen and communicate with your full attention, and notice how quickly you’ll feel calmer, more connected, and more in control of your life!

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