Communicate Smarter Not More

, 2019-05-13

I recently installed Microsoft Teams. Not because I wanted to, or because Redgate is abandoning Slack, but because Microsoft requires it for some MVP calls. This replaces Skype for Business (S4B), and while it worked OK, I'm not sure it worked better. In fact, for the use cases I have, Teams feels like an abandonment of the Skype codebase for a newer version of the same thing. That's fine, and I don't really care. It's slightly annoying as I have S4B for internal stuff at Redgate and didn't need another tool, but with a modern, quad core, 2.xGHz CPU and 32GB of RAM, one more application isn't going to break anything. It is, however, making me less productive.

We have lots of ways to communicate. In fact, I have Twitter (social media), Slack (work comms), Outlook (email), S4B (calls) and a mobile phone all running as I write this. I don't get too caught up in any of them, and I have most notifications disabled, precisely for the reasons outlined in this article: the tools can be a productivity drain. I know this, and most of these tools actually live in the background, behind the various tools I use to get work done. I check them at times, but try to stay off most of the day. I need to focus, and having more communication methods is distracting.

There was a day not too long ago when I needed to find a person that had missed a meeting time. Messages went out through Slack DMs, Twitter DMs, text, Skype IM, and email, hoping that a notification would pop up for someone on some app. I know I've used Slack like a PA system at times, pinging other people to go find someone that wasn't responding to messages. For someone working remotely, it's frustrating to try and reach out to others, but I've seen people in an office take the same tactic, reaching out electronically, which often creates more interruptions and distractions for others. I don't know if this is that much worse than walking around an office and physically interrupting others, but I do think it can be more pervasive as too many of us have constant notifications on devices that don't go away when the workday ends. We also do it more, because it's so easy. Getting up to walk around is a bar that deters some people from interrupting others.

What might be even harder to deal with is the linkage of various applications together. Now I see GitHub messages in GitHub, Slack, and Email. It's a barrage of items that aren't hard to handle, but they each take away a little bit of time and attention.

That's the downside of communication methods. Each requires a little time, even if just to click/swipe/eye roll at a notification. Those little bits of time add up and don't necessarily help us be more productive. Some things require too much time as I've watched people look through and consider just the right emoji to use for a reaction on Slack. Most of the time I think there should just be a couple choices, because the richness of the variety equates to the decline of quality time spent on work that needs to be done.

We constantly hear that communication skills, those soft skills of relating to others and exchanging information clearly, are important. They are, but I think there is another element to communicating well: brevity. Learning to communicate effectively, in a way that allows you yo get your message across quickly, while also being able to focus for long periods of time is a skill  more of us need. Being able to turn off distractions, or delay responses when quickness isn't needed will help you be more productive and efficient. I think one of the interview questions I'd ask in the future would be around how to deal with the constant barrage of Slack/Teams/Skype/Outlook/Github/whatever-comes-next messages.

Do you know how to reduce the overload of communications in your job? Let us know today.

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