I am writing this short blog posts as a response to an observation I have made recently on my social media channels. I was feeling really overwhelmed last week due to a long list of emails I had to address (in my case it’s 80, while I can cope with about 50 to-get-done on my list). I was also noticing a sense of overwhelm with the number of incoming messages through multiple digital channels. I realise that this is something we might struggle with, especially in the times of everyone working from home. Even if we ourselves are sensible about the number of emails we sent, chat messages we type and social media updates we share, our online friends might be a bit busier. I, for example, tend to speak and post quite often, while some of my colleagues do so less often, so I am aware of that and do my best to cut down on how often I post – with more or less success, to be honest. On top of our usual habits, we are at the moment also managing a very different reality and a wide range of intense feelings too. So for good mental health, it’s really important to find ways to stay as calm and relaxed as possible.
Attitude shift from individualistic to more collective is important
What can we do to respect the fact that others work and communicate differently while maintaining our very own sense of wellbeing? Here is my first tip: instead of placing the responsibility on the sender of each message, we need to remember the core principles of communication – in each instance of communication we have a sender, but also the channel (platform or space where we communicate) and a receiver. For some strange reason, in our current Western culture, we have gotten used to placing all the responsibility on the sender, while there is a lot we can do as receivers too. Yes, we can expect the author of a message to be concise, relevant to the channel used, well-timed and not too disruptive to our individual pattern. But we can also learn to manage the incoming messages wisely and do some of the job of the communicating too. We can choose to do our best to understand the sent message. We do have a choice as to when we read the messages, how much attention we pay to a longer text and how respectful we are of the fact that everyone communicates differently.
Having a central bucket for incoming messages helps to manage how we communicate
My second tip (for managing the communication channels) is very simple and comes from this book: have a bucket for all incoming messages. It can be really overwhelming to live and work in a mental state in which we are bombarded with messages from all directions, while sometimes also continue unaware of what else is there to respond too because we cannot see everything in one place. The solution is really simple. Choose a digital tool which can collect all your incoming messages to see them all in one place. I personally direct all my incoming messages to my email: all my email inboxes come to one web client (Gmail), all my social media notifications, chat messages and work updates come to the relevant inboxes. As a result, I have all incoming messages in one place and I can decide when to read them, what needs actioning and what is for future reference. This way I can check my emails anytime but without the stress of having to do everything at once. I know what comes in and I only respond to the urgent messages, if I really have to. The rest depends on the time of the day or week. The sense of KNOWING all my incoming messages is most important for my wellbeing. I do not have to worry about the unknown amount of work or responses required and so I feel a bit more grounded and a bit more in control of my communication channels.
Of course, setting up the bucket takes time. Using the bucket requires some adjustments. I had to ask all my friends to email me, not call me. As a social media consultant, I had to think carefully about my contracts (2 hr response time in some cases can be quite demanding, but is possible) and other commitments. As a trainee counsellor and a practising coach I also had to think about the self-care time when I do not check emails at all. It is hard at first and very rewarding in the long run. It is always a work in progress. Sometimes the bucket works very well. However, on busy days seeing all the messages we need to deal with might feel overwhelming, but that’s OK. At least we can make an aware choice of dealing with them or stopping to rest and coming back to a larger chunk of work time dedicated to just communication.
If you set up your digital bucket, let me know, how it works for you.