Electronic Beasts can be tamed

Posted in Careers, Leadership, Mentor Minute

Electronic Beasts can be tamed

Feb 25, 2009

Globe and Mail, Wednesday February 25th, 2009

The Scenario: The volume of work I have to deal with every day is insane. The emails, voice-mails, blackberry pings etc. are driving me crazy. How do I create time to stay ahead of the curve and not always get mired in the tyranny of the urgent?

The Advice:

Information overload is a constant complaint these days. Here are some ideas on how to cope more effectively with the constant flood of communication.

Set Clear Priorities

When we do not have clear priorities, it is very easy to be distracted by the endless stream of short-term crises and other people’s requests. Keeping your eye on the bigger picture is critical. Set priorities for the year, the quarter, and each week, so you know where you need to spend your time.

Structure your days to match your priorities

Once the priorities are set, your day needs to match it. Block off the time you need to get your projects done. We are all very good at blocking in time for meetings with others, but when it comes time to booking off meetings with ourselves, we tend to be less rigid. Get in the habit of actually “blocking” off the time in your day, to get to the bigger projects, so others distractions don’t eat up your time.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it 1000 times. Email is the biggest time waster in the modern working world. Until you find a way to effectively manage email, it will continue to distract you and eat up valuable time. Here are some simple ideas to tame the beast:

1. Take off the audio ping, so you are not distracted every time an email arrives. (Mine just pinged moments ago and I snuck a peak to see who it was – waste of time and I lost my train of thought and had to re-read my article-in-progress).

2. Turn off the automatic send/receive function, so you only download emails when you are ready to read them.

3. Never check your email first thing in the morning. For most people, first thing in the morning is your most productive time, so set aside this time to organize your day, and tackle your burning projects first, instead of instantly becoming distracted by someone else’s.

4. Set aside one or two times per day to review emails (i.e. 12:00 and 4:00) and don’t check them at other times. Have your auto-responder communicate this and invite people to call you directly if the matter is urgent and absolutely can’t wait until the designated times.


Commitment is the key. It can be easy to set your priorities. It can be easy to block off the time for your own work. It can even be easy to decide which of the above email-management ideas you want to put into play. But it will be impossible to actually make it happen unless you commit. And the definition of commitment is this – 100%. No wiggle room. If you say you’re 80% committed, you are actually saying you are 0% committed, because commitment is all or nothing. You will be able to tame the over-load beast only when you decide to commit to a new way of working.

Katie Bennett is a leadership coach and speaker and head of Double Black Diamond Coaching. www.doubleblackdiamondcoaching.com