@Work | Tools

Pro tips to help you stay on top of digital communications

These days, it’s hard to avoid being bombarded with must-dos from all our nifty tech tools. Find out how to stay ahead without getting overwhelmed.

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Whatever tools you use, it’s ultimately a matter of maintaining control over the technology, not the other way around. (Illustration by Wenting Li)

Technology has made it easy to keep in touch with others, both at work and home.  But tech tools can have a tyrannical effect, drowning us in dinging reminders and excess emails. One shows many executives now receive some 200 emails a day—more than 30,000 a year. Another reports that a typical front-line supervisor spends 11 hours a week processing e-communications, and that’s not counting the emails sent during meetings.

Of course, for CPAs and other professionals, the degree of potential to overwhelm will vary according to the company’s size and your position within it. But whatever tools you use, it’s ultimately a matter of maintaining control over the technology, not the other way around. As Michael Burns, CPA, CA, president and CEO of Toronto-based 180 Systems explains, “It’s about priority setting. You can’t let technology run your life.”

Here are some tips on how to remain serene in a 24/7 world—without losing sight of your commitments. 

CHOOSE THE RIGHT COMMUNICATION METHOD

Find out how your co-workers or clients like to communicate. Do they tend to use email, or do they prefer Skype? What time of day do they prefer? 

“This is especially important when you are working on big projects, because you might need answers right away,” says Roxanne Cramer, founder of CCC Academy, a career coaching company in Toronto. “People might tell you that they work better in the morning, or that they’re busy for the next week. The more information you get, the better.”

Text is a tool that works for some, but not others. Burns never uses it for professional purposes because he finds it “just too short,” but others find it useful when they need an answer quickly. “If I have an issue or question that’s three-star urgent, I always use text,” says Cramer.

BE RESPONSIVE AND PROACTIVE

Acknowledge your emails. As Cramer explains, it’s important to let the sender know you saw their message, even if it’s to ask for more details or to suggest connecting later. Burns agrees. “I get back to people out of respect,” he says. He also uses directories to organize his messages.

The same goes for voice mails. Why? “You don’t want potential clients or colleagues saying, ‘Well, I contacted her but she never responded,’” adds Cramer. 

When it comes to phone calls, it’s not enough to say you’ll talk at 3 p.m.—book the time and receive an acknowledgement from the other person. “That way, it will most likely happen,” says Cramer. Burns operates in a similar way. “If I send an invitation, it goes into their calendar and they appreciate that. It’s a good use of technology.” 

MANAGE YOURSELF

Most experts agree that a to-do list—as long as it is actually doable—is a must for keeping your head above water. But it doesn’t have to be high-tech; some executives actually use index cards or Post-it notes. As for Burns, he doesn’t even need a physical list; all his tasks are securely stored in his mind. “I’m so close to what I need to do that it would be impossible for me to forget it,” he says with a laugh.

You should also limit any interruptions when you’re concentrating. For example, you will be less likely to check your phone or email constantly if you turn off the ringer. 

TAKE A BREAK

Hitting the pause button is essential for avoiding burnout, according to Cramer. Every hour, her watch reminds her to take a lot of deep breaths. She also gets up and moves. Otherwise, it’s 5 p.m. before she knows it. 

Burns also takes periodic breaks. But when he just wants to change pace for a few minutes, he takes care of his more urgent emails. This solution doesn’t work for everyone, though: “If you’re checking your email every few minutes, the problem is not the technology,” he says.

Learning to meditate can also help. As Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace.com, explains, it’s always possible to be busier than you already are, so you have to be proactive about taking time out. 

“Once you start to meditate, you often come to see that tasks you thought were urgent only felt urgent,” he says.

BE MORE PRODUCTIVE AT WORK

Skip the multitasking and learn how to boost your efficiency with five smart tips. And stop wasting time in meetings thanks to these techniques from tops CEOs.