Keeping the discipline to clean your digital inbox
Don’t you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of messages with which you have to deal? The challenge is that, as fast as you might curtail, prune or cut off incoming media, it seems that new ones sprout up all over the place. It requires regular discipline to go back and take stock of how you are working and communicating. In my opinion, it is absolutely vital, in today’s age, to have a clean inbox.
Which terminal to focus on?
My 3G iPhone — essentially because of the portability and the phone function — is the central nervous system of my digital inbox. For me, it is certainly more important than American Express not to leave home with it. It’s a beautiful invention (thank you, Mr Jobs). And yet, every day, you can hear people complaining about the horrors, nay the addiction to their cell phone. So much so, that the addiction to the cell phone has actually been given a medical term called Nomophobia (thanks for the input, Christopher Peri @perivision). As the smart mobile phones (and tablets) start to overtake the desktop, television and other terminals, they will increasingly play the capital role in our communication eco-system. Your digital discipline then, must focus on the mobile interface.
If the switch existed, would you turn everything off?
But, the issue goes deeper than the cellphone. Beyond the nomophobia, there is the curse of email, the incursions of Facebook, the banality of Twitter, not to forget the voicemail on Skype (and your phone). If you had the option with one single switch, some days, don’t you just want to turn all your entire digital & mobile communications off? I like to refer to a friend of mine who was aghast at his children for not wanting to come home for the holidays. His kids, who are all living overseas, find Skype an adequate alternative. My friend disagrees and shuns Skype. The challenge in communication is that, by definition, it takes both sides to agree. In this case, in the absence of Skype, there is zero communication. I’m not sure that is the good answer.
It seems that there is a budding movement to unplug, at least in the personal sphere. A digital equivalent of the fa niente. In the more mature Facebook markets, the number of subscribers is now retracting mildly. Even some of the younger Facebookers are feeling the futility of the Facebook environment. This poses a sizeable risk for brands: the consumer just does not want to hear from you unless you provide a meaningful addition to their day. Brands need to provide a valuable reason to want to open that mail, click on that link, read that post… much less buy that product or service.
Brand management unplugged
The next layer of the challenge is for brand managers and executives. If on the personal side, people have had it with too many mails, then when that same person arrives at the office, the feeling can be amplified. How can brand managers avoid the same sense of being overwhelmed? Employees need to get that some space, if only to think strategically. Yet, ignoring your emails, does not mean they will not stack up behind your back. And, we know how switching off for a week kills our Klout score. Switching off your communication — the lifeline of brands and the army, much less human beings — is a perilous thing to do if you are in business.
The personal challenge for brands
Communication and, more emphatically, conversation is by definition a personal affair. For brand managers and community managers who are trying to keep up with internal business demands (and the unfortunately enemy of progress, internal politics) as well as keep tabs on the client comments and interrogations in forums or on social media platforms, having a clear digital inbox is becoming, without doubt, a STRATEGIC issue.
How best to manage your digital inbox
My strong urging is to take a step back from time to time to review your communication systems and to vet or control your digital inbox. Here are six easy steps to follow:
- Reclassify your emails, so that only those who merit it arrive in the primary inbox. In gmail, for example, this means attributing these people to “important” status (or “starred” for to do), and then filtering directly into sub-folders certain types of mail, e.g. newsletters and ads.
- Which telephone numbers deserve a different ring tone? Create emotionally relevant ringtones for the important people. Otherwise, let the call go into voicemail. If the number is blocked or unknown, let it ride — they probably have something to hide.
- Turn off your mobile phone at least an hour before you intend to go to bed. You can do this in the settings, so that it turns off and on automatically.
- Select which friends’ posts will appear in your Facebook Timeline, etc. You can subscribe to or block out specific people, according to the quality (and quantity) of their posts. As Brian Solis has said on a number of occasions, the UNLIKE button will be gaining more and more favor.
- Sign up for a “consolidation” service for social media, such as Boxcar. Boxcar allows you to view in one place, with a consolidated badge, all the relevant tweets (mentions, DMs, specific people, etc.) and Facebook messages, comments, etc., according to your preferences.
- Now go into the notifications settings of your smartphone and turn off all badges and popups from the individual services; at the very least, be extremely selective at allowing what can be leeches on our time and attention.
Saving time and resources takes time and resources [upfront]. It’s a little work, but in the end, it should make you more productive as it will, in the process make you realize who and what is more important.
What do you think? What tricks do you use to stay ahead in your daily communication?