Communication Crisis

I have reached a personal communication crisis. Too many channels. Too many messages. Too much noise. Too much guilt.

My Twitter exchange with Jeffrey Zeldman this morning pushed me over the edge. Jeffrey sent me direct message on Twitter which I tried to reply to for hours on wednesday constantly getting an error message. I eventually sent a public reply and also an email the next morning. Today I find out that nothing reached him. Oh you modern world! (No, I didn’t have his phone number, otherwise I would have also sent him a text or imagine this, called him!)

What’s the problem?

I am inundated with messages! (And I am sure I am not alone, my case might be just a little bit more extreme!)

I get a ton of email. To the point where email has become my primary source of guilt.

The world also sends me tweets, direct messages, texts, chats with me on skype, sends me Facebook emails (!) and actual mail and also calls me. I am just waiting for messenger pigeons to show up on my window sill in my studio. Responding on all these channels is a full time job, extremely distracting and exhausting. I feel constantly behind. And guilty. In fact, GUILT is the word that comes to mind when I think about my state of communication. And I don’t like that. Not one bit. Life is too short too feel guilty.

Beyond just feeling overwhelmed and wanting to change the way I communicate I am also wondering about etiquette. What are the appropriate channels on how to approach someone? I had one of my readers call me yesterday morning at 7am asking me to edit one of his comments. I am sure he sent an email to my ‘submissions’ email address that I didn’t get to yet, so he felt entitled to call me.

While this is a bit extreme, I still wonder when is it ok to call someone? When do you DM someone vs emailing? When is appropriate to send chat messages?

I know that I need to drastically simplify how I communicate. Less channels. More focus. The question is how? Which channels do I cut off? Do we maybe invent an entirely new channel that combines all of the existing? Or do we need to redefine the rules around communicating? (e.g. When inquiry is strictly business, stick to email. When you’re friends with someone, you can DM them. etc)

My question to you: Have you taken drastic measures in the way you communicate? Do you have personal rules in terms of what channels you use for what purpose? Do you have a vision for how we can simplify the way we communicate?

I will try to convince my studiomates to talk about this topic today over lunch. We have quite some visionary spirits in our space and I hope I’ll be coming back with some good ideas. I’ll make sure to follow up this post… But until then, I’d *love* to hear your thoughts on this topic.

UPDATE: The99Percent posted a reaction to this post. Amazingly insightful!

86 Comments leave a comment below

  1. Ben Barry just posted a great explanation of his email organization system. Not sure if its what you want or need but its a definitely a great look inside another designer’s thought process

  2. This can be tough, I definitely understand. While I’m not nearly as popular as you, Tina, I have found myself wondering how best to get a hold of someone, and trying to soothe them by using their preferred medium without destroying the message. (For example, can you talk about work and business via text message? I don’t think so.)

    I definitely have Twitter apnea, feeling compelled to the point of addiction to check it constantly. Having a smart phone hasn’t helped this. Luckily, I’m constantly trimming my list and removing people who haven’t said anything useful lately. (or ever.)

  3. I just sent you an email about this, because comments are way too impersonal. Maybe I’ll send a DM in a few.

    Seriously now: someone calling you at 7am (or calling you at all) is very far out of the normal zone. You can hang up without a comment when this happens. You’re practically a media company without administrative staff, so you get the whole brunt of crazies, people who’d like to have a sentence edited somewhere, people who send you the latest thing (that you’ve posted about months ago), and so on.

    While I do enjoy your nice replies on Twitter and wouldn’t want to miss them, I’d completely understand if you wouldn’t answer. Email is my primary channel for important communication, and I think best suited to the kind of messages you NEED to get read by your counterpart. I’d rather you’d ignore DMs from Randos like me than forget to answer some email that could potentially be much more important.

  4. It’s a very interesting point, and I can imagine your communication mass is far more extreme than your typical swissmiss reader, but considering the channels you use, I am not sure which one(s) you could sacrifice. All have benefits and some are necessary depending on whom you are communicating with. Minimalist is best in my opinion, but not so that it becomes frustrating to find people.

    Personally, I stick to Email, Twitter, Facebook, Phone & Skype. I’ll never need to add to that, but at the same time, I’m not sure I could sacrifice any either.

  5. now that’s an excellent post! i completely identify with that feeling. unfortunately i can’t give you any sugestions on how to make it better… once you figure it out, please make an app for iPhone, iPad and desktop out of it! ;)

  6. I saw the exchange with you & Mr. Zeldman in recent days & the person who called you out on it this morning. That was unfortunate.

    Back in 2000 when I worked at Knowledge Strategies Group in Manhattan, we had a professor (from Columbia, I think) study how we used each communication channel. Here’s what I remember:

    If the person is in the same room as you, speak with them in person.

    If the person you want to speak with isn’t near your location, pick up the phone.

    For casual, short messages, texting works fine.

    Instant message works great when you need an instant reply.

    Use email when you need an information trail if you need to refer to it later.

    Those were the days before Twitter or Facebook, but based on what we learned about other forms of communication, I try to only ever use those for casual communication.

    These strategies work well for me, but it only really works when other people you communicate with use the same approach.

    Good luck no matter what you decide.

  7. Divide the people you communicate with into layers, like this:

    * Know who your essential or core sphere of people are that you must communicate with. It will always be a very short list. Those are the people you must respond to. They could be spouses, children, doctors. Life and death people. They will not be clients, no matter how important the client is. Clients come and go, but the core people will not. Always block time to communicate with them, and respond to them. Also let them know when you are very busy and that you need them to be brief.

    * The next sphere outside your core is your list of important people. They can be clients, family, friends, suppliers: anyone you have important dependencies on. After you take care of your core people, you talk to them.

    * Outside that sphere are contacts that you are independent of, but provide value and meaning to your life. It is good to communicate with them, but not at the expense of core or important people. People tend to move in and out of this layer.

    * Finally there is the sphere of people you will communicate with who provide a little value. If you find you are spending any more time communicating with them that the first three spheres, you need to change things.

  8. Hey Tina,

    I think it’s important to organize your contact into classes and then associate a means of communication within that class. For example, all my business calls go directly to my Skype voicemail account rather than my cell phone voicemail. I leave that channel open for emergencies and personal use. Email is for business contacts only. Twitter is for more light communication and branding. These 140 character, micro-interactions are perfect for getting your point across without spending too much time writing it.

    If I meet a business contact on Twitter, I direct them to my email and give them my Skype address. This assigns a level of importance to my email and Skype verses my Twitter account. If I have an email and a DM, I will check the email first since I know the DM is something of a more friendly nature and I can get back to it.

    I’m almost positive I don’t receive anywhere near the amount of messages as you do per day, but (so far) this has helped me keep sane.

  9. These ways and means to communicate are meant to serve you, not to become a master. When they stop serving your needs, they need to go. Easy for me to say, I guess. I don’t have the same high profile that you do. But it’s the reason why I refuse to own a cell phone (because I don’t want people to expect instant access to me 24/7), have a home phone with no features (call waiting, etc.), and use an old-school answering machine I can only access from home.

    I see many blogs writers add a little piece somewhere that says they read and love comments, but can’t reply to everyone. And I think that’s totally fair.

    If the input is important to your life and work, creating a community you can visit (but don’t need to manage) might serve the need. If the input is drowning you or making you feel guilt (kills!), then it’s not serving you.

  10. Tina, I sent you a tweet, an IM, a Facebook message and email with the solution to all of this. Did you not get them? ;-)

  11. Hello, I’ve been reading SwissMiss for a while and I’m a fan! Just wanted to say that, also because I think this is the first comment I’ve made on this site.

    I likely don’t nearly get as bombarded with e-mails, etc. as you do, but I still can’t imagine just turning myself off from any of my outlets for good! Each serves a slightly different purpose, and maybe with each comes a slightly different etiquette.

    Is there a way you scale the personal connection you feel when communicating via various media? Maybe that’s how you determine who in your life gets your phone number (only some), e-mail (maybe some more), your twitter account (everyone).

    Rather than cutting out outlets, I’m a fan of your “e-mail bankruptcy” idea. I think it’s good for people who are plugged in to be more understanding and comfortable with the idea that sometimes, it’s just too much. We’re connected constantly for good reason—because we know there’s a lot out there and we don’t want to miss out the first time around. But there should be less shame attached to being late on the game (I guess this is not so easily done as it is said).

    I just wrote a lot D: I’ll be following this comment thread!

  12. I know I don’t have your influx but I run a full-time business as well as volunteer work as a community organizer and I almost always feel behind and guilty.
    My advice is family first, career second (by career I mean the stuff that pays the bills), everything else in tiers of importance that you get to when you can. People who don’t respect those limits get cussed out or swept to the curb. You can’t stop people from being obnoxious but you can stop it from reaching you.
    It doesn’t stop the guilty twinges, but it stops me from dwelling on them.

  13. Sadly, the 7a callers of the world are always going to be there no matter how much etiquette you put in place or how you limit the ways they have to find you. I worked in a temp agency finding people jobs to work in warehouses. One of my associates didn’t get their check so she called me on my home phone on a Sunday night. I asked how she got it and she said she just hopped on google and just kept searching until she found it. I asked her why she called and she said “I didn’t get my check and you are so nice I thought you would want to help me even when you aren’t at work.”

    You need to find what works for you best and do what makes you most comfortable with reaching out to people. You can also add in your profile on various websites which way is the best way to reach you.

  14. Ironically, i’m sure you’ll receive feedback on this subject through a lot of different channels… And i think that’s the problem: too much channels. I have a Facebook profile, a Twitter account, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Deviantart, Cargo Collective, Behance, mail, mobile phone,etc etc… Maybe we should all start to reduce the amount of communication channels we use. Not only the input channels, but also the output: how many of us feel the urge to share something through all of those channels?

    The solution would be reduce and focus in less channels, but if you have a network / audience of hundreds or thousands, it gets harder to make yourself reachable for everyone. Maybe one centralized, unified channel (like Facebook, that has mail, wallposts, DM, Places, etc ) is the solution, but that can be a little constraining.

    So i guess all that mess is the price we pay for having so much choices of communication channels.

  15. For me, email and linkedin is for work and clients, Twitter for keeping up to date with the industry, Skype and Facebook for friends and family and phone for my mum.

  16. A little more mindfulness to overcome the madness may do the trick. I feel this article by my friend Ethan Nichtern contains sound advice:

  17. Your thinking and feelings are right on. And, unfortunately, GUILT does seem to most easily work its way into the fabric and outcomes of daily communication and living. I’m sad to say I have little to offer in the way of suggestions at present, as I am activly thinking about enhancements and improvements to methods myself. I’m interested in making discoveries I will inevitably adopt in some form to serve as my “new” approach to communication.
    If it helps any, I’m aware of countless examples of professionals and celebrated thought leaders who are thinking about the same questions you pose here. Technology – advancing at its amazing pace – has given us more communication “tools” than perhaps any of us thought possible. Exciting, indeed – but overwhelming to manage without deliberately reducing choices, picking favorites and informing others of your chosen communication guidlines or requirements.
    Sounds a bit icky and un-fun, when each day there’s seemingly a new method or platform upon which to communicate. I would, however, promote the notion of less is more and end with the idea most of us in the creative space (and otherwise) have earned the right to choose our own preferences…communicate our preferred methods to others (clients, customers, friends, etc.) as being the most effective and arrive at a new day without missed messages or guilt. Best of luck to us all!

  18. I actually saw someone who had an autoresponder for all of their incoming email. It said something to the note of: if your email is longer than 5 sentences I won’t read it or respond. Please shorten and try again.

    Ask friends (and anyone really) to append certain messages with NNTR (no need to respond) if they are just sending FYI type of email.

    Sounds like you need to get rid of a few channels as well.

  19. A recent Talk of the Nation segment on NPR covered this topic. I forget the woman’s name; she just published a book about it. It is particularly stressful for today’s teenagers who are growing up with this and feel they have to keep up with it all all the time. And it is impacting their maturation process with emotions, etc, and it is very stressful for them. It is also a big problem for families where parents have their nose stuck to the screen while they ignore their kids.

    Set boundaries and rules, be clear about your boundaries and rules and stick to them.

    And declare email bankruptcy!

  20. I treat tweets, DMs, Facebook etc. like the computer’s equivalent to texting. That is, keep it short, keep it casual. I move business and administrative stuff to e-mail or even snail mail as quickly as possible. This usually gives me the opportunity to go at it in my own time and in a concentrated fashion.

    I check my mail regularly, but then “process” the inbox according to that funny Eisenhower grid thingy: Only messages that happen to be both important AND urgent are answered immediately. Things that are important OR urgent I flag and try to answer in bulk twice a day. (I reserve “mailing hours” to that purpose.) Stuff that’s neither important nor urgent I label with “someday” and answer, again in bulk, after a couple of days.

    So far, nothing important has fallen through the grid. Keeping fingers crossed.

    It took an effort to regard DMs, chat messages et al as “irrelevant enough” to be acted on when I feel like it and don’t have “more relevant” things to do. Mark the “ ”, though.

    Sometimes, people react comically violently when not receiving an answer inside, say, 70 seconds. But quite frankly, if it’s so super-important you need an answer NOW, you have my phone number. Otherwise, where’s the problem in waiting a couple of hours or perhaps days?

    I do find, though, that the pace seems to have quickened, especially for the 20-somethings. Always-on seems to be regarded as the bee’s knees or something. Not my cuppa.

  21. The problem can be alleviated, if not solved, by the addition of a human assistant. It’s time Tina ;)

  22. I think all of us have had a communication meltdown and one point or another. With so many streams of communication available it can be impossible to keep up with them all. For me, I feel obligated to respond to messages quickly and contribute if I’ve joined something. I struggle with this all of the time and I think a lot of the digital natives have ranted about it at one point or another. Your teuxdeux app has helped me organize my offline activities, perhaps you can create a version for organizing communication streams. I think there are some devices out there that begin to do this, but don’t quite get there.

    Sometimes the best thing to do is silence your phone, only have one tab open on your screen and not worry about it!

  23. Declare email bankruptcy thanks to the suggestion of Biz Stone, one of the founders of twitter.

  24. Sorry to hear about all the drama, Tina.

    As you are in the public eye, and since you do directly connect with those we can categorize as your followers/readers/fans/what-have-you, I believe that no matter what ultra-efficient communication system you have in place, there are three undesirable things that (A) WILL happen, and (B) you will really have no control over:

    1. The system will, on occasion, break down at a technological level.

    2. Other people will abuse said system, knowingly or unknowingly, and will cross your own personal etiquette boundaries in order to get your attention, be they sincere or trolling.

    3. BECAUSE you are in the public eye, there is a certain type of person that, for whatever reason, loses the understanding that you are just a human being like everyone else. They feel that they have license to easily lose patience with you, get huffy with you, publicly condemn your choices, and judge you more quickly than, perhaps, someone they might pass on the street… not because of who you are as a person, but because of what you might represent to them. Yes, the internet is a wonderful thing. It has made this amazing world much smaller and much more accessible. This wild world of typography, robots, rainbows, & mustaches can also, unfortunately, bring out the very worst in people. Overall, people seem to bite their tongues much more easily than they halt their typing fingers.

    So perhaps the real fight won’t be in thinking up some helpful solutions to the never-ending cascade of communiqués… You and the @studiomates can certainly figure something out I bet! The REAL challenge might be to somehow build up that patience and the “thick skin” towards the above problems that are outside of your control, all while remaining warm towards all these people out here that honestly value what you do.

    Don’t sweat it, Tina!

  25. So many great recommendations here for communication organization and synthesis so i’ll keep my thoughts simple and to the point:

    – Edit what contact options you give out/publish, so everyone doesn’t have access to all points of contact

    – I am forever in search of tool that creates a communication dashboard, so I can transform my daily overload into an easy view of all of my incoming. This would take me from reactionary to one of action which I can then control. This neatly organized view of all my communications, can be sorted by tool, and offer labels for importance (i.e., twitter, email, FB, skype, etc).

    – Turn this around and tell people how you use all the communications and how you don’t (a sort of SwissMiss Manifesto for Messaging). It may seem harsh but managing the expection for what you respond to and when might relieve some of the stress and put you back in control. Communication is good, but even better when it’s not running you.

    Good luck ….and please don’t stop tweeting:)

  26. Simplicity is to key to me. I only limit myself to text, email, and FB. I have no other accounts and I’m very thankful for that. But since you’re in the public eye, I can see that it can be difficult for people to get in touch with you or vice versa (besides a phone call *gasp*). You need those communication channels and there are some really good suggestions on this comment page. Good luck!!

  27. You already know what to do. You need to set boundaries. But mostly you need to embrace the fact that you are not an asshole for doing this. Find someone who is very matter-of-fact about boundary setting and learn from them.

  28. Have you seen this clip from Portlandia called “technology loop” cracks me up everytime!!! YOur post reminded me of that.

  29. oh darn, it doesnt let me post a LINK But, look up “portlandia technology loop”

  30. Tina, Minimal Mac has a pretty good answer to that problem. Or at least some food for thought

  31. I am using Awayfind for quite a while and it takes away the pressure! Great!

  32. I agree with Nick Snyder about organizing contacts into classes. I don’t use the same classes/media as he does but I think it’s a good way to not mix everything and keep some channels open for emergencies.

  33. While I don’t really think that I can do without Twitter and Email, I did make the conscious decision to ditch Voicemail! Best thing EVER. It’s one less inbox I feel compelled to empty and rarely do people question why they can’t leave me a message.

  34. You just need

  35. How I communicate:

    *Primarily by email (business or personal account depending on nature)
    *Instant Message (friends only, although my husband is opposite and is pretty much business only)
    *If someone messages me through Facebook, I typically respond with an email (unless I know Facebook is the only form of communication they use)
    *Text is friends only
    *Phone calls are on a person by person basis. (Separate business and personal lines.) I prefer email, but if it’s important, or a client is easier to contact by phone, I’ll do phone.
    *Skype is for family and long-distance conference calls only
    *I don’t do Twitter

    ***When making initial contact I prefer to go with email because it’s “formal” but not immediate, leaving the other individual time to consider.***

  36. Oh my god, I just tried to focus for a second to read this, but my phone started vibrating in my butt picket and then my google calendar alert flipped me away from this page.

    This is a crisis.

  37. A serious subject fit for serious comments. Also a hoot-and-a-half (especially the video tech-overload clip). After decades (an old programmer, early adopter, etc.), I unplugged – mostly.

    I still use my quiet netbook for on-line ordering a few things, occasional email, and creating/updating my original music and art web sites (free for everyone to download for personal use), and an occasional Google phone call (incoming calls are transcribed to text and sent as email; I can listen later).

    Otherwise, I unplugged. No phone (of any kind). No apps, television (radio… less and less), etc. More reading, writing, creating, face-to-face conversing, and very selective web surfing – this site included (also, just to keep a finger on the pulse of things).

    I know this wouldn’t work for most, especially young bucks/buckettes making their marks, still raising a family, etc., but let me tell you, for an old guy as myself, an ENORMOUS weight was removed from my soul.

    Also, no car (an occasional rental will do), which reduced my monthly expenses (net) by one-third. The bicycle is fine. Also a motorcycle for outings when the weather is fine.

    These days I’m given to pen and ink hand written letters and journals. Also, I’ve relieved myself of the desire to convince anyone of anything (unless my opinion is solicited, and then only if a civil exchange ensues).

    Just a few thoughts. I have enjoyed (and appreciated) most of the comments re: this thread/site. I respect your intelligence (swiss miss, et al) and wish you well (and peace of mind).

  38. while not a solution to the overall issue, one thing that helped me was unsubscribing from all automatic email communication – newsletters, emails from amazon and other places i’ve ordered from, companies i’ve done business with, etc. the first thing i used to do in the morning is go through and delete emails, and while not a huge time suck, these emails do require some bit of my attention (even if it’s just for the act of deleting them). for those that i really want to keep up with, i’ll add them to my google reader. since i’ve deleted all automatic communication, my inbox is a lot more streamlined and focused.

    like another commenter, i don’t use voicemail. i changed my outgoing message to say something to the effect of: ‘i’m really bad at checking voicemail. the best way to reach me is by email at ___. i promise i’ll get back to you much faster that way’

    also it may be time to hire an intern who can triage and prioritize your communications – someone who wants to help run a small business, i.e. not necessarily a design intern.

  39. I just recently (purposefully) went off Facebook and just cutting that out made me feel a lot better. It helped filter out the people I didn’t really want to talk to – and, I think in your case, this would force people who really want to get in touch with you, to find another route.

    I agree with Leah, that it sounds like someone as busy as you might need an assistant/intern (someone who can tweet and post on your behalf) so that your own feed can get a break. That assistant can also help prioritize the kinds of messages that you get.

    Good luck! just know it’s because so many people love you/your site!

  40. A pet hate of mine is when people integrate one social network with another…eg I see their Twitter feed on my LinkedIn updates page or Facebook News feed. If I wanted to follow you on Twitter, I would…and if I did, I wouldn’t want to see your tweets on LinkedIn anyway!

  41. hire an assistant. it might sound expensive, but the reason every CEO has an executive assistant is that it SAVES money.

  42. The answer, set up a profile to signal how you use your channels. Share that with folks. No more guilt.

  43. Hi Tina – I was a speaker at Alt this year and met you for a brief moment standing outside the Grand America after your awesome keynote. Thank you again for that. I wish I could’ve talked to you longer. I will be sure to call you @ 7 am to continue our chat ;)
    Even though I’ve been a follower of your blog and your twitter stream for a couple of years, this may actually be the second time I’ve left a comment – because speaking of guilt, five years into my online art business, I now feel guilty because I can’t visit everyone’s blogs that I love and leave comments and follow everyone on twitter…and reply to them all…and…you bring up such a great topic – one that I continue to give a lot of thought too because I started my business to be creative. Little by little my time is being drawn away from creativity to managing, with what feels like the biggest chunk being dedicated to email and keeping up with all of my online platforms.
    I still try to answer every single email, reply to some comments on my blog, reply to twitter friends, return phone calls and if I fall behind on any of this, I too feel guilty. I’ve always wondered how those of you who have such a large following as you do can even begin to manage all of this and still find time to do the work that brought you the following. Oh, and how about spending quality time with our families and personal friends? Maybe it’s as simple as hiring an assistant/intern?
    However I still think that this is a topic that needs some serious thought, because really where are we headed with all of this? I anticipate that it will only become more complex as technology continues to expand. It would be nice if we all had an agreed upon etiquette in communications, but I think it really comes down to each individual and their personal priorities.
    I also left Facebook this year and do not miss it. This move alone definitely freed up some time and energy. I focus on keeping up my my blog and twitter, which are actually two creative outlets I enjoy staying up to date with. I also have an online shop that comes with it’s own communications that I manage. I have thought about posting a statement on my contact page that I can no longer answer all emails, or making a statement somewhere on my blog with the same message…and then the guilt returns.
    And then I go and spend time leaving a lengthy comment because this topic is just too compelling. Thanks as always for your straight forward honesty Tina. I’ve really enjoyed this thread.

  44. no the problem, not in this extent though. this blog is all about your subject:

  45. Aside from the irony of me leaving a comment when there are 45 above me you probably don’t have the time to read…

    Hve you tried any of the strategies from The 4 Hour Work Week? I’ve always taken that book with a pinch of salt but perhaps some of his strategies for dealing with email would be of use to you?

  46. Hi Tina. Greetings from a Swiss living in Swiss… I very much like your blog.
    About this channel thing: I think you first should find out how much time you can/want/must put aside for communicating. Besides work, private life, eating, etc. that only can be a relatively small slice of your day. So this unspoken assumption of beeing connected/responsive 7/24 is just a big illusion. So, don’t feel guilty, the system is broken.
    Next prioritize contacts/communications and only then select your channels. A good start would be to minimize to the bare minimum, whatever that is for you.

  47. Great question. For me, I have consciously chosen NOT to have a twitter or facebook account. I DO have a phone and use email. My point is that at some point, for the reasons you clearly lay out, one has to make choices. I work in IT/software development so obviously I’m at the computer all day, but when I leave work, that is MY time and my time to be with FAMILY. Less technology = higher standard of living, in my opinion. There are so many reasons to eliminate some of the channels of communication via technology (including scientific research of diminishing returns and cognitive disability), don’t even get me started!!

  48. Everyone’s strategies are different but here are mine:

    1. Twitter is out of my personal boundary zone. For me for now, that channel would take away more from my life than it would add.
    2. I only answer cell phone calls from people who are in my contact list, so that the number is identified with a name. If it’s an unknown number, I let it go to voicemail and check it after the call. An unknown but important caller (like the hospital or something) would leave a message. If they didn’t care to leave a message, I didn’t need to talk to them. Non-core people get my business phone number, which is monitored ONLY during business hours.
    3. I turn off the automatic email push on my smart phone; the constant ding that I have a message makes me interrupt things that are far more important. I check the phone when *I* want to, not when it tells me to. Just this simple change helped me feel much more in control.
    4. I have a facebook account, but only so that people can find me, or to post events. Messages are sent to my email box. I pay very little attention to the feed…it’s just not a gainful use of my time to tell people what I had for dinner, or read what they had for theirs.
    5. My blogs are about first and foremost about their content, and I have to choose that over other communications. I really appreciate comments, but can’t let a compulsion to respond to them compromise my ability to deliver the content.
    6. I keep separate email accounts for ‘business’ and ‘blogging’. Both are overly full, but I found that mixing them together made it more difficult to prioritize.

    I constantly struggle with the influx of email, and probably always will! But I’ve pretty much limited the difficulty to that one channel only, which makes me feel generally more ‘in charge’.

  49. @Arcady Can I quote you on my Posterous blog?

  50. Sure! my own blog is playscapes:

  51. Dear Tina,

    your points are very valid and the situation isn’t getting better. The word ‘guilt’ describes best the situation I often find myself in. Getting things done is becoming difficult, people are waiting for you everywhere, times when the e-mail inbox is “more or less” empty are celebrated and there are always situations when you wish it had been different.

    What worked really well for me is restricting communication to Twitter for very quick questions or reminders, using email for long questions and use Skype for very important meetings. What also helps is separating the email influx into two sub-accounts: one for very important things and very important colleagues, partners etc. and one for less important work-related things that can wait. Obviously, you would start working on that emails from the more important to less important and if the less important remain in the inbox for over 10 days, I just delete them.

    Turning off IM completely over the weekend helps as well. Also, if someone is trying to reach me on weekend, I politely decline and ask to send me an email instead.

    I think it’s more a matter of discipline and saying ‘No’. Mastering it is difficult, but — unfortunately — necessary.

  52. The honest truth…

    You’re just to darn nice. There can come a point where it isn’t just tiring, but literally impossible to respond and catch everything. And you’re bound to have issues with the sheer volume of messages you’re trying to manage.

    I hear Gary Vanurchuck say he responds to absolutely everything, and I wonder what the point is. I for one (as somebody who did contact you recently) wouldn’t be offended to get an auto response. INHO, an email should be worth your time and when you start to get robbed of your joy, it’s time to change something.

    Since it’s so overwhelming, you may want to seriously consider a virtual assistant…or just hiring someone to help. I know that isn’t really your style, but clearly you’ve got more important things to do then act as your own receptionist 80% of the time.

    But look on the bright side, you don’t have to go to lunch with Zeldman now. Kidding.

    Thanks for being such an awesome resource!

  53. After doing a quick search there was a neat option for 1 collective client handling IM + Email + Social Networks.

    Only problem is that its a Windows desktop client only. For it to be successful their needs to be Mac and mobile versions.

  54. > Have you taken drastic measures in the way you communicate?

    I quit Twitter in January. I still get distracted by Facebook, but it’s easier to control one “noise generator ” than two.

    Not using Twitter makes quite a difference for me. You should try it! : )


    There’s a great post here from a chap who decided to give up Twitter altogether because of its addictive qualities and it’s ability to break the flow of creative activity

  56. At the moment, email or chat client is the best way to go. Both but more email is somewhat agnostic. There is no one company controlling and making the rules of the platform. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, etc., these are companies with the focus of making money and control everything, hence changing the rules regardless if it serves you best. Facebook in particular is getting WAY too big for this place we call the open internet. We an open P2P type social/communication platform that no one single person owns.

    If you insist on using the Twitters of the world, then they should be used promote a centralized communication point of YOUR choosing.

  57. 57 Channels

    Wow, you really got tongues wagging! The comments are being added faster than I can refresh the page, so forgive me if some of my points have already been made.

    You asked for responses in this forum, so my first point would be – clearly identify the channel that’s open for a particular subject – ie state clear ground rules.

    By the way, the best comment so far? “I’ve relieved myself of the desire to convince anyone of anything” – there speaks a wise man. But assuming like most of us you’re not there yet, here are my observations. I could write a whole blog post in response (maybe I will) :)

    In a nutshell, we’ve mixed all the channels up too much. You need to unmix them, clearly label each one, and stick to your own rules. And the intern solution? only if the volume is still beyond you – if you build a highway, it just fills up with traffic.

    So I would say the first thing is classify the communication, and then assign the channel that (usually) suits you best for that kind of exchange. Here’s my attempt at some criteria:

    Direction – will it be uni-directional, bi-directional or multi-directional?
    Frequency – one-off exchange, intermittent, regular?
    Length – 140 or less, 3 paragraphs, essay?
    Complexity – attachments, links, brainpower required?
    Initiation – by you, by family, by friends, by colleagues, by clients, by strangers?
    Timeframe – done in a day, or ongoing for weeks/months/years?
    Relationship – real world, online-only, close, remote?
    Importance – life-changing, flippant, monetary?
    Longevity – how long should the information persist and be readily retrievable (by you or others)?
    Relevance – on topic, random, narcissistic, ‘other’?
    Topicality – will anyone still care next month? Why now?
    Influence – who (else) does it need to reach?
    Priority – this is not the same as importance – will it require action, and if so when and what kind?
    Value – how much do you care about it? I mean really care.

    I would say we all need one channel that is only open to those we really care about, the ‘red phone’ channel – and we should protect that from all other intrusions. For me that’s my home phone number.

    We should be honest about the new narcissism that pervades communication. Twitter is tricky because people can’t seem to segment their missives into categories I can manage – the hashtag would help there, but it’s been abused. I can’t think of a work situation where Facebook would work for me, beyond Pages.

    Blog comments are hard work, spam is an issue, and it mixes the known with the unknown, so you have to filter.

    With all these channels the Dunbar number is a real issue.

    My preferred solution would be that we devise a microformats / Creative Commons style “Comms Statement” that sets out what each of our preferred channels is – if you meet criterion X, use channel Y – abuse it, and you’re “dead to me”.

    Good luck, I think we’re all still trying to figure it out :)

  58. It’s easy to trick yourself into believeing that you need to be available on every channel all the time. The reality is this. If you’re in demand, the audience will find you via whatever means you make yourself available. Do what works for YOU. Business is about getting things done. Checking FB and Tweeting makes a very small percentage of the population any kind of income.

    My process is similar to Arcady above.

    1. E-MAIL

    Keep answers short and sweet. I don’t need to match word count in my reply. I turn off push/notifications and only check my account 2 times per day – my signature lets people know this. I control my time.

    I check e-mail 2 times per day. Once at 8AM and once at 4PM. If you require a more immediate response, please call me at XXX.XXX.XXXX.

    I process my inbox to zero…always.

    2. TELE/SKYPE:

    I love the phone. There’s still is no better way to connect with people when you need to get things done. If you’re in my address book I will pick up. If you’re not, I won’t. Please leave a msg. That’s why I pay for VM.

    3. TWITTER:(this will piss a few people off….sorry in advance.)

    Why? The majority of Tweets are garbage. Tweeting something you read somewhere online is not adding any value. Where is the original content? What’s the business case? Can you prove it? Is there a return on your investment of time? Does Twitter REALLY matter?

    People always say you can’t afford not to be on Twitter. Can you really afford to piss away that much productive time on a daily basis?

    4. FB:

    It’s not that I’m not interested in your life, it’s just that I have my own. I’d rather spend time with my own family than read about what you’ve done with yours. It’s nothing personal. It’s just my choice.

    5: LINKED IN:

    I have an account so I can find key business contacts.

  59. That’s pretty crazy, have you tried using Rockmelt? A friend just gave me an invite and I think it’s been pretty sweet so far. Anyways, I’ve always enjoyed your posts & Swiss/International Design is some of my favorite.

  60. I’d really like to find a solution to this problem as well (looking at you 37signals or google).

    I don’t have an answer but this topic a serious concern to me. I could literally spend all day every day answering emails and I don’t even get that much. I find that I ignore more and more messages of all types because I need to actually get work done. My friends hate me because I never answer, clients get mad because they asked me for their logo that they lost again and I don’t get it to them until 9:00 at night when I’m home and facebook messages aren’t even noticed until month later… so I miss a lot of social events. I defer most clients to my business partner who keeps them at bay.

    Things are moving so fast now that it’s scary to think what things will be like in the near future.

    One of the biggest problems is people are only concerned with themselves and the answers they are looking for so there is no across the board etiquette and I seriously doubt there ever will be.

    What I would like is a learning system that can filter and organize messages across all channels. Think Mac mail + highrise + todo app + flipboard + an actual person that knows what’s important. There’s obviously going to be a need for this.

    One window that’s synced on all your devices… that color codes channels, groups people (so a phone call, text and email from bob is all together), and moves priorities to the top by user preferences such as time – person – work vs personal etc. Phone calls are automatically ranked higher than email which is higher than whatever… with facebook on the bottom. Ultimately I want to be able to look at and quickly determine how urgent something is… and wether I should sort it out now or later.

    Good luck and keep us posted on what you come up with.

  61. Have you read (or heard about) Nicolas Carr’s book ‘The Shallows – What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains’?

    He’s looking at how much of the internet is built to distract us way too easily, you end up trying to do everything at once but the result is that you don’t get anything done.

    I’ve a small summary of the book and my thoughts on my blog:

  62. Bin them all. Life is to short. Go outside more :)

  63. I wish I could be like Paul up there and bin them all, but as I’m an Internet marketer and digital media strategist I’m kind of stuck with all the accounts and pages and rss feeds.

    Here’s how I handle it all without going crazy. Filters. Learning to filter is tough and deciding how you’ll manage your time within that filter takes discipline.

    I use tools like Postling and NetVibes on my computer which handles the bulk of my daily correspondence. These bundle my social media/blog/rss feeds and Postling actually provides a bit of tracking for easy responses on the different channels.

    The thing of it too is…and this is the difficult part….unless you’ve scheduled a “follow the link path and see where it leads you” time then you’ve got to stop with all that clicking. Stay focused and it will alleviate guilt.

    Remember, if it isn’t “life or death” then it’s not worth the guilt. Take a deep breath. Go outside for lunch.

  64. I just quit using Facebook two weeks ago. Don’t miss it, I still have my email and phone like I have had the past two years of Facebook (ab)use. I used to be on Facebook every 5 min. everyday and everywhere, now I have more time for something else. I am loving it! We need to take back our lives! Seriously.

  65. Just came back to work after a week in the mountains. Had no internet, rss, twitter, facebook or anything else. Missed absolutely nothing, just wondered how I could have been so stressed out about all that stuff. I personally think that miss out on whats going on in the net is essential for all of us.

  66. You should read “The 4 Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferriss. That will tell you exactly how to filter out the noise and be polite at the same time :)

  67. This is one of the issues I’ve heard brought up in research concern the channels across which information flows on the internet. There seems to be a commmon thread that there is a lack of interoperability on the web and that this is a growing problem that will affect many aspects of human life as the internet becomes a basic of human life.

  68. I am so tempted to have an “out of office” reply that states something like “I’m currently working on my new website and I need to concentrate on that. I’m not ignoring you, I’m just feeling overwhelmed”

  69. Why dont’cha just get rid of all that expensive crap?

  70. Great, post, and a feeling that I’m sure is sweeping over many lovers of the information age. Also good feature on The99Percent!

  71. How about : DigitalSilence 26th-28th March! 3 days without technology

  72. I certainly don’t have as much going on since I don’t have a large business online but I do understand feeling overwhelmed with so many different sources, remembering passwords, and knowing who to contact where.

    Besides my work email, I forward all my other emails to one place and they get labeled automatically.. this has eliminated the feeling of “missing” something.

    As for other avenues, I still have Facebook for personal stuff (friends, etc) but felt incredibly free when I deleted my Twitter account.

    Good luck in your quest!

  73. I don’t think we have to be connected all the time. Or most of the time,or more than the time spent checking my Email once (once ) a day.
    To many musts in peoples lives now. (must respond, must be clever, must pay that fee to AT&T… nauseum). Exhale!

  74. I completely empathize.

    For me, it’s about my chosen channel – my chosen channel is email. I would really like everyone who wants to communicate with me and me alone to use email. Don’t FB message me, don’t call me, don’t DM me, don’t text me.

    For someone else, that might be the phone.

    I wish there was a place we could all designate our channel, and let it be understood that all other channels will most likely not receive a direct response. On our nametags, perhaps :)

  75. Which channels to cut? It would be probably great to make application that gives you statistics: where you give responses actually, where you put a big sense or just answering and so on.. Cut a half, maybe? )

    For me Mail is the main source turned on when I work. I use Herald plugin for – small black window for quick responses or passing unnecessary. And couple of the most important RSS-channels may go to too.

    Good luck!

  76. Have you seen Sherry Turkle’s work? Among many things, she talks about the very communication crisis you talk about. She finds hope in that people are realizing their own communication crisis.

    She just spoke at MIT and the materials will be up soon:

  77. I totally agree.

    I try and make sure people know the best way to get in touch with me is via twitter or email. I tend not to use the more bloated social networks simply because they are very distracting.

    Twitter is concise.

  78. I confess. After being very against all of these multiple ways to communicate and stay in touch i’ve caved and setup my own Facebook and twitter for a new project. So far so good!

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