Digital Overload: How to Boost Productivity and Eliminate Burnout


August 2010

Whether we like it or not, we're continuously inundated with emails, status updates, mobile text, and videos, among numerous types of messages. Perhaps we're even bombarding others with messages of our own. After all, that is the nature of the digital beast, or so it seems. And as communications professionals, it's our job to be right there with it.

But we may be paying a steep price to operate in a state of constant contact. As journalist and author John Freeman has cautioned in this Wall Street Journal essay, "The faster we talk and chat and type over tools such as email and text messages, the more our communication will resemble traveling at great speed. Bumped and jostled, queasy from the constant ocular and muscular adjustments our body must make to keep up, we will live in a constant state of digital jet lag."

As PR practitioners, how can we keep from burning out and, at the same time, ensure that our messages aren't merely adding to the digital fatigue?

10 Ways to Lessen the Load of Lightning-Fast Communication

While it may seem like a daunting task at first, incorporating just a few of the following tips can help you communicate more efficiently and increase your productivity — while minimizing the strain caused by a flood of communication-stimuli.

1. Pace yourself. Although some judgments can be made almost instantaneously, most require time for thought and reflection. We must always consider the consequences of our words, whether spoken or written, how the words will be interpreted, how our professional and personal contacts may react, and what the potential fallout could be. In his Wall Street Journal piece, Freeman described the danger this way: "Employees communicating at breakneck speed make mistakes. They forget, cross boundaries that exist for a reason, make sloppy errors, offend clients, spread rumors and gossip that would never travel through offline channels, work well past the point where their contributions are helpful, burn out and break down and then have trouble shutting down and recuperating."

2. Execute your tactics wisely. It doesn't make sense to set up a life stream for your company or to blast email messages every week if you don't have anything of value to say; after a while, no one will listen to you. Similarly, if you're not disseminating information or ideas that are worth airing, you'll squander the opportunities offered by online and social media, not to mention your own energy and time.

3. Consider phoning... Much time and energy are wasted on communicating via email or text when a simple phone call could prove more efficient — and rewarding. If you're struggling to convey your ideas in a written format or think that the conversation may warrant several emails, or the tone misinterpreted, it's probably best to call. Plus, the more-intimate interaction fostered by the telephone helps build camaraderie and trust with colleagues and prospects. (Need help taming the call reluctance blues? Check out this post on the BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas blog.)

4. ...Or meeting in person. We miss out on many subtle nuances, inflection, and intonation when our relationships are restricted to digital interactions. Humans are social creatures, and there is often no substitute for engaging with someone face-to-face. And like a phone call, in person communication helps decrease miscommunication and also forges deeper connections. Even chatting with someone using a video service, such as Skype, can improve the quality of the communication and the relationship.

5. Budget your online and mobile text time. Yes, social media and mobile text have become an integral part of public relations and marketing campaigns. But they aren't always the most effective channels for communicating and, whether used personally or professionally, both can leave you feeling drained. Spending less time surfing online and swimming in the social media or mobile text fishbowl frees you up to do other things, such as finishing a client project or enjoying a bit of fresh air — both of which can add to your sense of accomplishment and boost overall mood.

6. Formulate a plan. Craft a strategy that lays out how and when you will send and view digital communications. For instance, you may decide that an hour is all you want to or can devote to social media. You can then set a timer that tells you when that hour is up, signaling you to move on to another task. In fact, professionals who check their email periodically rather than continually are more productive and less stressed than those who keep their email box open all day long, as they experience far less interruptions in their normal work activities. Carol Schiro Greenwald of Greenwald Consulting explains: "We can't multitask because the brain isn't set up that way. It is set up to think in logical order, from general to specific. If you stop doing something in the middle — Think about when you start doing it again. You have to go back to the beginning." In short, there just isn't room for all the information. When you're trying to do a thousand things you aren't really concentrating on one thing at a time. Something has to give and you lose your focus.

7. Avoid temptation. Shut off the email, mobile text, and social media messages. Messages, such as irrelevant status updates or emails about said updates, only serve as distractions. Instead, set up and refine alerts so that only the most important items come through. This way you're always able to process and respond to the items that require immediate attention.

8. Cleanup your RSS feed. Of the numerous blogs and online news sites you receive via Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed, how many do you actually read? (Probably no more than a few.) And how many RSS subscriptions do you have just so you can say that you subscribe to a prestigious source? (Perhaps more than you care to admit.) Regardless of your reasons for subscribing, if you don't have time to read them or you're not deriving any value from them, you should remove those outlets from your RSS feed. This will save you time cleaning up your email box or weeding through erroneous content in search of the sources that truly matter.

9. Consolidate connections. Do you really need to be friends with everyone on every network in which you take part? If you participate in the big three (Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter), and have contacts that overlap, it's likely that the information has already come your way at least a couple of times. If you think the information is redundant, try to pare down the list of friends on each site. This way, you'll still be able to stay up to date, but you won't have to wade through material you've seen before.

10. Don't dwell. Evaluate your content sources. Once you make the confident and thoughtful decision to de-friend, unfollow (Oh, the horror!), unsubscribe, and deactivate try not to give the action another thought.

In the end, successful communication is about delivering and receiving clear and concise messages. If a channel isn't working, leaves you feeling overwhelmed, or keeps you from achieving important tasks, it's time to rethink your strategy and revise your tactics. Your company, your clients — and your health — will thank you for it. 

About BurrellesLuce

BurrellesLuce is the U.S. leader in media monitoring. Professionals in a wide range of industries rely on our comprehensive curated content from local and national print, online, broadcast, and social media sources. BurrellesLuce has a turnkey copyright compliance program that allows us to provide copyright-compliant, behind-the-paywall content not available to other services. BurrellesLuce combines grade-A content with easy-to-use software, allowing users to evaluate and analyze their media coverage and PR efforts. It's all integrated into our user-friendly interface, BurrellesLuce WorkFlow™.

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