Digital overwhelm is something that a lot of us deal with on a daily basis. The number of ways that we can be reached — e-mail, Skype, Slack, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn messages, Basecamp, text message — feels limitless and keeping a handle on all of them can be difficult.
Over the past fourteen years of working completely remote, I’ve devised a number of strategies to ensure that I (a) avoid digital overwhelm and (b) don’t forget the important things that I need to do for both myself, my business and my client’s businesses.
Here’s what I’ve put in place that has helped immensely. You may find some of the things I do helpful or you may want to integrate a few of the ideas into what already works for you. Or, you may have something else entirely that works for you and if you do, I’d love to know what that is!
#1 – Limit Your Incoming Sources
The first thing that I’ve established are strong, clear boundaries across all of my incoming channels. My clients know that they can chat with me on Slack, Skype or by text message but they also know that no work should be delegated there and nothing important should live there.
The quick and easy platforms are good for a quick check-in but they shouldn’t be used as a means to communicate important deadlines, to-dos or anything worth remembering.
I’ve also set up an autoresponder on my Facebook Page that tells people that e-mail is the best way to get in touch and that I rarely check my Facebook Page. I have an assistant who reviews my LinkedIn messages periodically and who forwards me anything important and/or asks the person messaging me to get in touch by e-mail.
In limiting my incoming sources, I can keep a much better handle on my digital overwhelm. You don’t need to be everywhere so long as you set clear boundaries and communicate that out to your audience(s).
#2 – Strive for Inbox Zero Every Day
Striving for inbox zero (aka, answering every e-mail in your inbox each day) doesn’t mean providing an actual response or completing every to-do in a single day. It simply means organizing your e-mail in a way that leaves you less overwhelmed and with systems to support your workflow. Here’s what I do:
- Every day I review my e-mails and answer anything that can be done in two minutes or less. This way, I’m not sitting on responses that only take a few moments and I am also not keeping them in my inbox. The visual of a full inbox is enough to send me into a panic-induced state.
- Then, I look through the remaining e-mails and I process the e-mails that have come in from my project management tools. These e-mails link to a message thread or to-do thread in the project management tool that we’re using (Basecamp) and they are often dated, so it’s easy to add those to my digital to-do list tool (see next step) and move it out of my inbox.
- Finally, I move anything that’s non-urgent and personal to my “Social” tab in Gmail to be responded to later and I batch response the rest of the e-mails by client (billing my time as I go) and then by category (speaking requests, etc.)
- Final tip — unsubscribe from newsletters and unnecessary e-mails using Unroll.me. Such a fantastic service!
You may not get to inbox zero every day but if you can come close, you’ll feel way less overwhelmed. I also wrote a free guide on how you can reach inbox zero (especially helpful for Gmail users as I show you how I organize my inbox) and you can download that for free right here.
#3 – Get a Digital To-Do List Tool
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is this: your brain is not a storage system. When I received this info and realized that I can’t rely on my brain to remember everything (and, at times, anything), it allowed me to lean much more heavily on to-do list tools.
Now, I use Wunderlist on both my computer and my iPhone. Wunderlist is a fantastic tool that is super simple, super streamlined and helps keep the focus on the important part: that which I need to do.
Since I work with numerous clients and have on-going projects for all of them, I manage a lot of to-dos. To keep them all straight, I leverage Wunderlist to set up anything that’s dated. I typically add the to-do into Wunderlist in the following format:
Where I have “client” in the example, I insert the client’s name there and then follow it up with the task and often a link to the Basecamp thread that is related. Each to-do is then dated appropriately (either with the deadline imposed on me by the client or with a deadline I set based on my current workload) and then is ordered by date.
Once I add a to-do in here, I archive the e-mail from my inbox, which helps with e-mail overwhelm.
I also add in my own to-dos here that are both of a business-non-billable nature and that are personal and have nothing to do with my work at all. All of them are sorted and organized so that I have a clear visual of how full my plate is and so I can estimate timelines better with my clients.
#4 – A Project Management Tool is a Must
Finally, leverage a project management tool so you can look at the big picture of what you need to do and when as well as break down individual tasks into to-dos and conversations. I love and use Basecamp across all of my client projects but you may have a preferred tool to use.
Here’s an example of what our Basecamp calendar looks like with a bunch of completed to-dos. As you can see, it keeps us organized and on target to meet important deadlines.
The trick is to keep it simple and in as few containers as possible.
I avoid keeping to-dos and notes in paper notebooks or on Post-It notes or in little places around the Internet — instead, I make sure it all goes into my ONE established system to help me stay organized and on point.
Digital overwhelm is something we deal with on a daily basis but it’s something we can overcome with a few great systems and some conscious focus and effort on clearing out the digital clutter. Feel free to share this post if you’ve found it helpful or leave me some of your ideas on reducing digital overwhelm.
Also published on Medium.