Juggling Phones, Faxes, E-Mails, Voice Mails and Cell Phones
CARE Services Offers Tips on Taming Information Overload
By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Alison Rath, an academic personnel assistant in the College of Engineering, has trouble getting her work done because of continuous interruptions from phone calls and e-mails.
"I'll be working away on a project, but when I hear the e-mail alarm, I feel compelled to read the message," Rath said. "I spend valuable time getting back into my e-mail program only to find that the message does not need immediate attention."
Rath is not alone. According to Patrick Conlin, manager of CARE Services, many employees suffer from tech stress -- the information overload of phone calls, faxes, e-mails, voice mails, pagers and cell phones all competing for their attention.
"With the recent boom in technology, we are are being inundated with more information through more channels than ever before," said Conlin. "This can lead to feelings of anxiety and the sense that there's little relief in sight."
The solution, says Conlin, starts with "taking control where we can and letting go where we can't."
People should create their own personal hierarchy of communication tools and priorities, explained Conlin, and consciously decide what stimuli you will respond to, when you will respond to it and how.
For example, just because the phone rings or the e-mail "eeps" doesn't mean they need to be answered that very moment. Instead, suggests Conlin, select certain times within the day when e-mail and voice mail will be answered.
"Look for ways the technology can serve you," said Conlin. One way to take control, he says, is through your voice mail greeting. "Say you will return calls within four hours and if the matter is urgent, they can page you."
Conlin offered these and many other tips on reducing the stress of information overload at a workshop Sept. 8. Among his 50-plus other ideas -- unless documentation or editing is needed, use the phone instead of e-mail to communicate with others."
With a phone conversation, you can often get the information you need more quickly than the back-and-forth of sending e-mails and waiting for responses, he said.
If you need to reach people directly, a good time to call is right before lunch and the end of the day, said Conlin. "Most people are at their desks during these times."
Other strategies include turning off e-mail alarms; sending documents in the body of an e-mail message instead of as attachments; customizing e-mail programs to suit your needs using filters, distribution lists and signature files; avoiding pagers and cell phones unless they are necessary to your work or serve only as emergency communication devices; and starting each day working on the most important task.
"With the many distractions that can occur throughout the day, there is a tendency to lose control of our time," said Conlin. "As the end of the work day closes in, knowing that your top priority still has to be done adds extra stress."
For information on reducing tech stress, call 643-7754.