Are you in emergency scanning mode?
Communication, whether in personal or professional capacities, has been and will always be what humans are about – but as frequency and volumes continue to increase, so does the risk of lapsing into emergency scanning mode.
Digging for gold is addictive
E-mail. Text messages. Twitter. Faxes. Facebook. Voicemail. Phone calls. Letters. Instant messages. There’s such a thing as too much of a good thing – and unless you’re careful, you could end up in what I until recently didn’t have a good name for, but courtesy of a recent interview with David Allen now do: the emergency scanning mode.
Emergency scanning is what happens when your subconscious realizes that, buried in between a thousand pieces of insignificance that flash before your eyes on a daily basis, there might be something of importance. Even though your subconscious is probably right, this results in a catastrophic workload for your conscious mind – thereby placing you in a reactive mode and causing stress.
In order to cure a problem, you must first realize you have it
If you earn enough, you get yourself an executive assistant – the human equivalent of a spam filter – to deal with the problem for you. If you don’t, it’s first and foremost a matter of realizing you’re actually in emergency scanning mode and then deciding to fix it. This may sound easy, but the emergency scanning mode has a nasty habit of creeping up on you when you least expect it. An hour later, you suddenly realize you’ve been monitoring as opposed to working.
Although you will not be able to eradicate the problem entirely, there is much you can do which will diminish the negative side effects. More likely than not, for instance, you are watching communication channels that you do not need to, and paying too much attention to those you should be watching.
Simplify; then simplify more
To remedy the situation, reduce the number of channels which you can be reached through (voicemail and instant messages should be axed first, as they empower the initiator as opposed to the recipient), as well as your information intake. You really don’t need to read 7 daily cartoons, for which you attempt to compensate by subscribing to 5 different newsletters about productivity. Rather go for 2 quality cartoons and the best productivity newsletter (just don’t tell your boss about the ratio).
After simplifying your communications, the next step is to set aside time for doing work. Depending your preference, I suggest either two large blocks of time per day where you render yourself uninterruptable, or an interval system where you work in a highly focused manner for 30 minutes and then pause for 10.
Naturally, whatever you choose has to be something that suits your workflow; the key is to keep it simple and plan for unexpected interruptions by doing one thing at a time so that you can always easily pick up where you left off.
These are the basics, and there’s a lot more that can be done once you’ve regained control of your reflexive indulgences; please feel free to add thoughts and tips of your own in the comments.