Saturday, September 27, 2014

Personal Digital Emissions

We, as individuals, are responsible for our own personal emissions.

Emissions like sound (how loud we speak or the noise we generate) and smell (cologne, body odor, cigarettes, etc.) are obvious. But, over the past 20 years a new category has emerged: personal digital emissions. In the mid-1990s I began teaching time management training classes. While researching time management strategies I read two excellent books that addressed information overload: Data Smog and Information Anxiety. A lot of our digital emissions causes and is caused by stress.

Digital emissions are the electronic information we emit. There are two types, passive and active.

The passive emissions aren't a big problem. These are the digital emissions such as my phone checking a mail server for new e-mail. These emissions usually interact with other devices or servers.

Rather, it's the active emissions – our emissions that interrupt someone else – which quickly get out of control. So much so that I feel it necessary to post this reminder. Every e-mail and text message sent, and every phone call made, will be an interruption in someone's day. It's worth taking the time to think before acting. Is your digital emission urgent and important enough to justify interrupting someone? Frequency and timing are a factor, too. Equally important is your response to someone's digital emission. Did you take the time to fully read and understand before responding? I just made this mistake, myself, last week, when responding to an e-mail from a friend and professional colleague. Good etiquette, clear communications, and time management techniques are important work and life traits.

I've seen people load up on app after app and tool after tool thinking they've found the silver bullet for time management. Truth be told, it's not the tools that make or break us. Rather, it's our own personal habits and self-discipline. You shouldn't need to worry about forgetting the things you need to do. Instead, you should simply organize in a way so tasks and events come in front of you at the appropriate time.

Here's some advice for refining your digital emissions.

Texting Etiquette

Sending multiple text messages, on the same topic, within a minute or two, is annoying. At least I find it annoying. My phone will ding and vibrate so I'll pull it out of my pocket to read the message. I'll either respond or not and then put it away only to pull it out 30 seconds later when the next message arrives. You may be lying in bed with nothing to do when sending your text message, but what's the recipient doing? Are they working, driving, or in a meeting? A simple text message can be distracting. Multiple texts in a short period are very distracting. Many times the sender only needed to wait 60 seconds to collect his or her thoughts to compose a clear message. Don't text me: "It's Jane's birthday next week," followed 30 seconds later with, "What do you think we should do?" followed another 20 seconds later with, "Are you there?" Please don't ask me to respond, with a sense of urgency, to something that's not pressing.

On a low level, SMS text messages may be limited to 160 characters. But this is no longer an issue since wireless carriers can seamlessly stitch together multiple texts into a single message. So please collect all your thoughts on a single subject into a single text message.

I have a name for this type of texter. I call them the, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" texter. Or, more formally, I refer to it as the "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Look at me! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy. Pay attention to me! Daddy! Daddy!" texter.

There are some people who I don't even want to text with. Three texts, about the same nothing, all within 90 seconds is a bit too much. Take a deep breath and gather your thoughts instead of texting me your stream of consciousness.

E-mail Etiquette

We've all read an e-mail and forgotten to respond. But, some people are terrible at managing their e-mail.

Some people are notorious about going off half-cocked. Or, even more annoying are the partial and vague responders. These people seem to lack communications skills across the board. When corresponding with these people, I'm very careful to only put one action item per e-mail. When asking them multiple questions via e-mail, I list each in a numbered bullet format. Yet, still, they'll partially respond thinking they'll get back to my other questions later. But, they have no time management system for doing this. They'll read an e-mail now and neither respond nor write down the task, and then forget about it. You don't need to respond to every e-mail, only the ones you intend to.

As a general rule, when someone sends me an e-mail with multiple topics and questions, I'll copy and paste each item and write my response below it. This makes my responses clear and it helps me ensure that I didn't overlook any items.

Do you think we'll finish this product on schedule? What about the budget?
Have we finished the security and privacy evaluation?

My response:

>Do you think we'll finish this product on schedule? What about the budget?
Yes it'll be on time but the budget funding source is still in question. I've reviewed the schedule with the team and they're comfortable that we'll deliver it to QA by the deadline. I met with the comptroller and he had a concern about source of the funding. He'll be meeting with the CFO to ask for more direction on the funding and get back to us by Monday.

>Have we finished the security and privacy evaluation?
Yes. I've attached the approved risk evaluation. Both our security consultant and in-house counsel have signed off on it.


Remember in elementary school when we had to respond to a written question by including a portion of the original question in our answer? That wasn't sadistic punishment, rather it was to develop our communications skills.

Once last point is to consider is using the To and CC lines appropriately, especially if you omit a salutation in your e-mail.

Whew, now I feel better.

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