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Ready to Explode - Top Tips to Avoid Communication Overload

Aug 10, 2008
I frequently hear clients and prospects lamenting that they don't have enough hours in the day to do everything, never mind marketing too! (Of course, that's before we start working together), and that their work-life balance is out of whack. On closer analysis, we often get to some root causes and the two I'm going to discuss in this article are common culprits.

Recently I came across some interesting research (see http://www.gmeurope.info/socialmedianewsroom/ archives/377-The-real-working-day-just-3-hours-50-minutes.html) where 1,000 UK business people were surveyed about their office efficiency. One of the revelations was that the average time we spend on constructive work each day only adds up to three hours and 50 minutes. Apparently office workers are wasting in excess of 20 working hours a week, 960 hours a year, costing UK businesses 140billion in lost labour costs. Phew!

The survey also revealed that 51% of office time is spent answering unnecessary phone calls and checking emails. Almost three quarters of those surveyed admit to sending an email rather than having a phone or face-to-face conversation. Apparently close to 40% of office emails travel less than 100 metres between sender and recipient. Does that resonate with you?

If so, please take note of the following top tips to avoid communication overload:

Phone Call Phooey

When did this trend to make ourselves (and demand everyone else be) available 24/7 start? That's phooey as far as I'm concerned. There are perfectly justifiable times during even the work day when we should not take phone calls. For example: when in a client meeting (that's just rude); when driving (dangerous and illegal); or on public transport (inconsiderate to everyone around you).

But what about when we are actually in the office? Let's face it, at times we may be working to a tight deadline and really need to avoid interruptions. Perhaps we're working on something technical that requires 100% concentration.

- There is nothing wrong with turning off the phone and letting voicemail pick up your calls. Just make sure that you have a decent outbound message, that you don't leave the phone off for hours on end, and that you return any calls promptly.

- If you prefer not to divert calls to voicemail then let your PA or VA take your calls.

- Ban personal calls during work time.

And before you make a call, think twice. Do you really need to make that call? Are you asking for help on something that could be resolved by yourself rather than disturb someone else? Why not 'google' the subject, look in the client folders, or open the reference manual? This is a particularly common problem in offices where one person is perceived as the 'go-to know-it-all'. It's often easier to 'just ask Jim' than figure it out ourselves.

Email Inefficiency

It is so easy to be sidetracked by incoming emails every time that little popup arrives at the bottom of the screen, or the envelope appears in the toolbar. Here are some suggestions that work well for me:

- Don't leave your inbox open all day. Rather schedule specific times that you will check emails and then close the programme again.

- Disable the pop-up that alerts you of new messages even when your inbox is closed.

- Create folders and set up rules so that email is pre-sorted and you can prioritise what to read without needing to scroll through hundreds of messages in your inbox. A simple start is having a folder and rules for 'friends and family' so that jokes, forwards, and Auntie May's holiday pictures are available to view when you have time, but not distracting you from business communications.

- Create a separate folder for key clients, another for suppliers, etc.

- Hundreds of old, read messages in your inbox is untidy and probably adding to your perception of overload. Be ruthless: Delete them! If you think you might need to refer to them again down the line move them into another folder, but get them out of your inbox.

- Every month eliminate old emails from folders that you honestly know you will never refer to again.

- Don't cc messages to people to whom the email is irrelevant. I have colleagues who are brave enough to delete emails (without reading them) if they are only in the CC line. They believe that if it was important to them, it would have been directly addressed to them.

- Don't send emails to colleagues in the same office if the same message could be relayed in person. Plus we all need extra exercise ...

Now that you've reclaimed all those lost hours be sure to put them to productive use. Ensure that you only do what leads you down the 'quickest route to the money', as my mentor is always reminding me. Your work day should be split between working with existing clients, and marketing to get new clients. Everything else should be delegated or outsourced.

Vanessa Deakin and Zee2A Limited 2008.

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About the Author
Vanessa Deakin, Operations Director at Zee2A, works with Professional Service Executives frustrated and disappointed with their current growth rates, marketing efforts and business profitability. She helps them to skyrocket their results and break their own best records. To learn more or sign up for her e-zine, please visit www.zee2a.com.
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