COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN

5.15 am

Time to get going. Jump out of bed. Fire up the iPhone and the iPad. Almost a reflex action.

43 emails overnight. Lots of spam and opt-in newsletters once sought but now deleted.

17 WhatsApp messages including 11 from one company we deal with that seems to mainly communicate by WhatsApp (weird, huh?).

One Skype Instant Message.

One text message.

A voicemail from New York.

Three LinkedIn messages of which two are prospecting for business (Del.) and one is from a genuine business contact.

Thank goodness I shut down WeChat. Couldn’t handle any more channels.

Check Facebook. My sister is in Africa and there are plenty of Lion King pics. Hakuna Matata.

Facebook Instant Message from close friend organising a holiday together next year.

Skim through Bloomberg, the Straits Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, the New Zealand Herald, the Australian Financial Review and the Wall St Journal.

Check Superbru to see how my rugby tipping competition is going.

Reply to a bunch of messages before breakfast so I can start the day with a clean-ish slate.

6.45 am

Head for the gym, warm up, do a few sprints then hop on the mountain bike for a quick bike ride down to Toby’s Estate for our first espresso jolt of the day.

Peace for an hour – no calls, no messages, no interruptions. But my mind is already wired to the rhythm of my first 60+ messages and a few newspapers. Planning out the day.

7.45 am

Ride home for a quick breakfast, read the 15 emails that came in from Australia while exercising, get dressed quickly and head for work. Arrive at work with only ten unanswered emails in my in-tray before the day starts.

9.00 am

Start the day’s scheduled calls and meetings. Fully booked until 12 (where’s the thinking time?).

Turn off the devices and the screen on my desk to make sure I don’t get distracted in meetings. Really, really hard. Only partly successful.

Noon

Turn everything on again, and there they are – 120 new messages. Bugger.

And that darned noise from Skype Instant Message – people trying to jump the email queue and get attention – instant gratification.

Get a sandwich brought in so I can catch up. Thank goodness there’s no lunch meeting today.

Ignore the Skype IM to focus on phone calls and emails in order of receipt.

12.20

I’ve deleted all the cc and bcc emails and have replied to a third of the remaining 60. 40 to go.

And so we are halfway through the day. The afternoon can only get worse – another four meetings and calls, then downtime from 5pm to deal with the next 200 emails that will come in, let alone the noise from the rest of the channels.

And my point is?

It seems like heresy to be in the digital business and not be accessible – or worse still, a luddite, shutting down channels. But I am.

I try not to reply to Skype IM unless there’s immediate context, e.g. we are on a call and there’s a piece of written intel to be conveyed. Otherwise it’s just queue jumping.

WeChat has gone. But WhatsApp can’t go because my family uses it and it’s a great way of staying in touch with the kids. Along with Instagram and Snapchat.

But you get the picture – we are facing unprecedented sensory overload and it it’s affecting our sleep patterns, the quality of our thinking processes and decision-making.

I secretly envy one of my family members. He doesn’t use a PC and he’s one of those old-style dudes whose secretary prints out the important stuff once or twice a day and he dictates or hand writes answers. He doesn’t have a cell phone. In the family we laugh about it from time to time. It may sound odd to be 100% unplugged in 2014 but it works for him. He’s a highly successful professional and he is probably a whole lot calmer than those of us who are slaves to the machine.

My recipe for survival in the digital jungle is to switch off periodically and focus on the job at hand. I even keep a list of my major work priorities in front of me – as a simple reminder that I’m paid to achieve certain big hairy objectives, not become a slave to the last thing that popped up in front of me.

It’s good to be accessible but if you are the leader of a business you need to think – and you cannot do that if you’re under constant siege.

Now, back to those unanswered emails…

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