Feeling overwhelmed by communication? – Donna Thistlethwaite

Do you ever find yourself feeling bad or apologising that you haven’t replied to someone’s message? It seems like many of my recent conversations start with such an apology, sometimes mine and sometimes someone else’s.

The number of communication channels vying for our attention has grown exponentially from the days when we had snail mail and a home phone.  I have a freakish number of communication channels currently with a letter box at home; a post box for work; multiple active email addresses; two Facebook messenger accounts including my business page; a LinkedIn inbox; phone text, several Whatsapp groups and then there are social media comments. I’m guessing you’ll have quite a few of these too.

Is it any wonder that occasionally I cannot find a message or conversation that’s in progress? Staying across all of the communication channels can sometimes feel overwhelming. And then there’s the pressure to reply instantly – I’m not sure whether it’s perception or the expectation of others.

Let’s face it … in real life conversations are sometimes left hanging. I recently went away with some girlfriends on a cycling trip. There were so many conversations that were left part done as a result of rolling into a food break, a magpie swooping, arriving at a technical part of the track, a photo stop, getting distracted. One of the crew said at the end of the trip “We have to do this again soon because I have way too many open loops”.

Sometimes such conversations get picked up and sometimes they don’t. I reckon that’s how it should be in other communication channels. It’s ok to miss replying to a message unless of course we’ve indicated we would reply or there’s an action required of us. I think we need to lighten up on ourselves and on those around us.

How will we ever find time to focus, to be productive and to do what we need to do to THRIVE with all this frantic activity and expectations?

If you’re looking for some ways to calm it down a bit, here’s a few strategies I’m either successfully using or am contemplating:

  • Create an out of office reply on your email to say that you are engaged in projects, or the like, and will get back to the sender within a certain time. A great one I’ve seen is:

       “Thank you for your email. I may not respond quickly this week as I’m xxxxxx. If you need to speak to someone urgently, please feel free to phone xxxxxx.”

  • Communicate to your friends that a slow, or no, reply is not an indication that you don’t love them, just that you need to manage your energy and attention levels.
  • Set aside a time of day to review and respond to emails. I choose the afternoon because my energy levels are higher in the morning. I also send people quick messages to say that I will get back to them by a certain date so that I can manage expectations.
  • Turn off notifications on your devices. I did this a few years ago because I know how easily distracted I am. It has allowed me to take control of my time but it does mean that I sometimes don’t see messages until many hours later. I tell people who are trying to contact me they’ll have a better chance on the phone.

For anyone who knows me, or wishes to contact me, please know that I’m no longer going to be a slave to technology. I like the way things happened in the old days and am focused on returning to them because I want to slow the pace of my life down and create more time in my life.

Here’s to technology being our servant rather than our master!

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Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.

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