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From the Desk of Mike Fowler: Communication Overload

From Led Zepplin we learned…  “Communication breakdown, It’s always the same. I’m having a nervous breakdown.  Drive me insane!”

If you try googling communication overload, you may see this…

“…employees suffer from the modern workplace malady known as ‘communication overload,’ a productivity-killing infirmity characterized by too many meaningless meetings and an excessive number of emails, notifications and alerts that are devoid of importance, context or urgency.”  

Back in the 90’s I remember having a weekly staff meeting with my boss and co-workers.  Our boss walked us through notes from his boss’s staff meeting, reviewed interoffice memos (not emails) that he received, and gave an update on other issues of the week.  Then we went around the table and we each got a few minutes to justify our existence (provide an update) and to ask for help.   This was the only regularly scheduled meeting I had.  I know my boss had more meetings, but unless I was asked to join a meeting on a specific topic, that was it. 

Another form of communication back then was our written policies and procedures.  We had huge binders of procedures to follow.  We also sent formal interoffice memos and had to stand at the photocopier to make copies for everyone on distribution.  We also had a company newsletter that told us about things that happened the previous month.  The boss would walk by every day or two and say hi, maybe ask a question or two…

Today we have meeting after meeting, Teams, email, text messages, SharePoint sites, 15Five, Traction Tools, and cell phones that are constantly interrupting us.  Communication is not top down anymore.  It is blasted from all directions, from people we hardly know, often informing us of some life-saving process improvement that we must implement today.  We have so much coming at us we don’t even comprehend what is being said.  In fact, we have created an attention deficit disorder that dumbs us down, limits our comprehension capabilities and leaves no time to get the things done that we were just asked to do.  And we all know it is the hard stuff, the stuff that needs to get done, that gets put off because we cannot stop interrupting ourselves.

Consider some of this info I learned from a brief google search:

  • The average knowledge worker “checks in” on email and IM every 6 minutes
  • Of 6 e-mails that are ignored for a day, 5 are then ignored for good.  
  • Knowledge workers switch tasks every 3 minutes.

We switch tasks every 3 minutes?  Think about how much time is wasted from that alone.  I am not saying all these communication tools are bad, we are just not being smart in how we use them. 

Since time is our most precious asset, here are 9 changes you should consider making in your workday:

  1. Plan your day and stay focused on your top priorities.  This has always been an important attribute of successful people.
  2. Stop checking email and teams posts throughout the day.  Perhaps check 2 or 3 times a day.
  3. Important process and policy changes need to be documented in SOPs and should not live solely in emails, lest they be ignored or forgotten.  While you may think your email is important, it is critical to remember that recipients may not need the information you are sending till later, maybe never.  Make it easy for the recipient to find the information later.
  4. Use staff meetings to communicate important information.  Did you see something important?  Help foster communication by reinforcing important initiatives with your team at the next staff meeting.
  5. Keep correspondences short.  Especially emails.
  6. Limit correspondences.  That’s it. Just stop sending anything that isn’t necessary.
  7. Reduce the number of people on an email.  Reply only to the sender unless everyone on the distribution list needs to know what you are about to say.
  8. Cut out or reduce the frequency of meetings and only invite those that must attend.  Be gone with the days of including everyone.  It’s too hard and unproductive to make decisions with so many people involved. 
  9. Make a freaking decision.  Stop having 10 meetings with 10 people to work out a problem.  Maybe have a discovery meeting with key stakeholders to discuss the issue then one or two of you develop the plan. Once complete, you can reconvene key stakeholders to explain the plan.  No changes?  Good.  Now document the plan, write a procedure, and implement it.

If each of us works on these suggestions, we can make a big impact by helping to reduce the stress caused by overload.  Plus, I think by reducing communication we will be improving communication. 

For the Icons with access to the iconosphere, we have a document called “Iconic IT Communication Strategy” that has more guidelines.  In particular there is a new section called “How to communicate important information” that might be of interest.  As always, if you have suggestions for improvement, correction, or clarification please send me an email so I can ignore it.  (Just kidding, I will add it to my list and make the changes.)

Thanks for all you do…

Mike Fowler
O: 585-546-4120 |


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