In this connected world, today’s military Leaders may often find themselves distracted in a sea of technology. One moment we are turning on our first computer with excitement and the next we are juggling multiple unit-issued phones, tablets and personal devices, computer email on multiple secure open and private networks, and social media requirements that can all lead to “digital distraction.” We all know the importance of face-to-face communication and the soldiers and leaders of our organizations expect our presence at key and important activities, so how can we “Tame the Technology Demon” to allow us to complete our required digital tasks, while still leaving time to direct and lead our units?
The “killer app” and one of the biggest time sucks we are often faced with is electronic mail and text messages, with instant messaging not far behind. The allure of electronic mail is a double-edged sword because as effective and efficient that it can be to transmit and respond to information, it also can end up taking up a lot of your time both in and out of the office.
We as leaders often take pride in our abilities to understand, visualize, describe, and assess our operational environments, but it is the day-to-day things that we often times do without a lot of thought are not always equal to the amount of time and energy we commit to it. Maybe your digital activities are in need an energy audit to see if you are expending the right amount? I don’t know about you but I never really had much in the way of a formal class on electronic mail in any of my military and civilian education programs, I just did it and it wasn’t very complicated.
If after your own assessment you feel you could use a few tips to better discipline yourself then here are a few from author Dr. Geraldine Markel that she shares in her book Actions Against Distractions: Managing Your Scattered, Disorganized, and Forgetful Mind. I concur with her theory that when we find ourselves getting consumed by what she calls the “technology demon.” She seems to recognize that we do not have to be draconian in our approach but to create some rules and parameters around technology to help us try to gain back some of our time. A few recommendations that may prove useful to busy leaders are:
- Be ruthless. Immediately delete and unsubscribe from any unwanted newsletter or announcement feeds.
- Establish a decision-making system by deciding what actions are warranted for each message: e.g., delete, archive, and file by category for response at a later date, schedule as a work task, read and respond to immediately.
- Create a filing system and use color-coded tags to store or archive categories of e-mail (e.g., travel, legal, committees, or organizations).
- Be timely. Schedule fifteen- to thirty-minute periods to prioritize and schedule tasks first thing in the morning or the night before.
- Put low priority materials, such as newsletters, reports, or training, in a folder and schedule a limited weekly time to review them.
- Use the subject line to summarize your message to make it easier for others to process your mail. Ask them to do the same when they send you e-mails.
- Avoid using your e-mail inbox as a to-do list. Instead, as soon as you see a task that needs doing schedule time on your calendar to work on it.
- Use social support. Discuss the problem with peers and family; with their help, identity ways to deal with time-wasting e-mails.
In the end emails and text messages are not likely to stop, and the devices like cell phones, tablets and computers are too important to how we live. But instead of just showing up at a place we each should create our own individual plan by take some time to developing our own personal approach to taming the demon.