Each peach, pear, plum. Your technology fruit salad is ready.

It’s official: a recent BT-sponsored study by Cambridge University reveals that one in three of us feel overwhelmed by the communications technology we have always on and always with us.

According to the Future of Work Consortium, during an average working day you’ll be interrupted every three minutes — so how can you regain control and navigate your way through the obstacles to efficient time management?

…Oh, hang on, my phone just beeped…now, where was I?

Just after Christmas I joined Dr Aleks Krotoski, a social psychologist specialising in the internet, and Jenni Murray on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour to talk about how best we can handle comms technology overload. (You can listen back here.)

Communication is essential for healthy life and good business decisions — but being overwhelmed by communication is not. Just like overindulgence in food endangers health, comms technology gluttony adversely affects productivity and how you feel about your work.

Let’s take a brief look at why we struggle to ignore new mail/call/message/info alerts. Behavioural economists explain that technology plays to the natural distractibility of human nature and our compulsion to embrace uncertainty and novelty. Every notification promises a ‘reward’ (an important document or good news), and the fact that it’s only occasionally that a notification turns out to be a reward serves to reinforce our need to check, check, check — interrupting our thought or work flow as we do it.

Click here to see the results

There’s been a lot of debate around which communication channel is the worst swallower of time, and the spotlight is settling on email. We tend to think of email as an instant form of communication, creating an urgent pressure to make responding (with no time to think about our responses) more important than anything else we’re working on. As a result, some companies have looked at banning email, or limiting it after working hours.

But technology itself is not to blame — it’s how we use it that’s at fault and needs to change.

Ironically one thing that is coming along to help us navigate this ocean of technology is more technology! Intelligent personal assistants like Siri (from Apple) and Majel (from Google) are evolving to help us prioritise and aggregate multiple communication channels. However, ultimately, it is up to us to maintain a healthy communications diet and that is really about getting a balance that suits us as individuals. Blackberry, Apple and Orange are not the only fruits!

Finding your healthy comms technology balance:

  1. Awareness — of how you use comms technology and how long you spend using it.
  2. Education — work out the true effectiveness of multi-tasking and task-switching for you, and give your working practices a spring clean.
  3. Rules and boundaries — enforce the ways of handling comms technology that work for you.
  4. Exploit helpful technology — like intelligent personal assistants that help prioritise and aggregate comms channels.


Guest blogger, Dr Nicola Millard

Read the full “Culture, communication and change” reports here.

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