Blog / Turning Down the Volume – Digital Noise Distracts Users from Thoughtful Reflection
In Alberta – at least – we’re back into semi-Pandemic lockdown mode, which means that many of us are back Working from Home (W-F-H.) Virtual meetings, hundreds of text messages and chats, along with an increase in Email traffic, are now the norm for the next four weeks. Countless volumes will be written about the wholesale disruption of 2020, but that’s not helping anyone right now.
It’s also a time as Christmas and the year-end approaches, that many managers, business owners, and senior officials pause to reflect on the past year and think about the year to come. Budget preparations, strategic planning, new initiatives, expansion plans, and capital expenditures could all be part of this process. It’s important work.
But thoughtful reflection is hard when the Digital Noise volume is rising. The Tierney of the Urgent blocks-out these key thoughts, as the inbox fills up and everyone wants your attention. And if you think your stress level isn’t rising, you can add self-denial to your list of issues.
I found myself facing this dilemma about 2 weeks ago, as we geared up for W-F-H transition at TRINUS and our year-end approached. In past years, I had a simple solution; work more hours. But that only served to deal with the urgent requests for attention and it compounded another issue. I became cranky (my work colleagues will smirk knowingly at this confession.)
So, what to do?
My first step was to look closely at the messages’ content and requests coming my way. I discovered something that most of us know, but few put into practice: not every message deserves or requires an answer. Some are just information, and much of it isn’t that important. It’s part of the Digital Noise.
My second discovery was that the passage of time makes many issues less important, and some tend to disappear altogether. A few minutes, hours, or even days can make today’s Important Issue tomorrow’s Nice to Know. To test this, I purposely kept several Emails in my inbox that I never responded to – only to read them a week later. To my surprise, most issues had already been dealt with – either by a colleague or by the sender, who figured it out themselves. There were only two that needed my input. It was more Digital Noise.
My third revelation was that I was addicted to the fast pace of the instant message; especially, the many platforms of Social Media and related audio/video feeds. It made me feel like I was hyper-productive – always on top of the latest issues and information. Instead, it just made me hyper. I was self-generating my own Digital Noise.
I’ve been making a conscious effort to reduce my Digital Noise – and it’s working. Here’s what I did:
– I’ve restricted my interaction with Social Media to once a week – and then only on the weekend.
– I listen to two radio news broadcasts a day – one in the morning and one at supper time. I avoid commentary and editorial “features.” I want news, not someone’s opinion on it.
– Where possible, I avoid immediate responses – especially to Emails. I let at least 30 minutes go by, before considering an answer. I aim for a one-day delay if I think it is appropriate. Family Emails are the exception.
– We’ve restricted inter-office communication to Microsoft Teams Chat and Voice Calls. We use Email ONLY if it involves an outside party. Teams is far more efficient with casual inter-office connection. We’re using Chat with one or multiple users, but if we get more than a few messages in a thread, we stop and make a Teams Call. Voice is much faster than typing and it’s one click away in the Teams interface.
– I don’t answer anything after 7:00 PM, unless it’s urgent. I turn my Phone OFF at 7:00 PM and my home computers and tablet at 10:00 PM. I turn them back on in the morning when I get up.
– I set my browsers to delete history, cookies, and passwords when I close the browser. I also log out of Google. This helps reduce tracking and directed advertising.
– I use a VPN Service on all my devices to prevent device and location tracking. A VPN service hides your true digital location (IP address), by creating an encrypted tunnel to another server somewhere in the world. Digitally, I can be in Toronto, Hong Kong, Seattle, London, or any of a dozen different locations. This also reduces directed advertising and protects privacy.
Why all the fuss about directed advertising? Simple; if something appeals to me based on past Internet activity, I’ll be more tempted to click on it. But if I see something random that’s of no interest, I ignore it.
What impact has this had? So far, I have a LOT more time. I feel more relaxed. Life seems slower, and I have more time to think about important issues that affect me, my family and my work. I don’t miss the hyper-activity and don’t crave the constant flow of digital feeds…
Here is the take-away: Notice how I have chosen to use technology to help reduce the Digital Noise, not increase it. Maybe it’s time we managed the technology we use, instead of it managing us (thanks to Nigel from our office for this catchy truism.)
If you have some tips about reducing your Digital Noise, please share them with me. It can always be a bit quieter…