It used to be that my mailman came by the office at 11 every weekday morning. I would get the mail and sort it on the spot: Toss, keep, pay, answer now, answer later. There! That’s done.
Now, I’ve got mail coming in every 10 minutes ’round the clock. There are prescription drugs to buy, catalogs to peruse, nice ladies from Eastern Europe who want to visit me, fortunes to be made, questions to answer, bills to pay, and oh, yes—clients who want my services.
It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to update my MySpace account, see who’s responded to my new Facebook posting, and check out what’s happening via the RSS feeds … and post something on the three blogs we’re running … and do some recommendations on LinkedIn … and keep an eye out for Triiibes. The end result is that I don’t even have time to participate in online chats anymore. I’m so backed up that I’m getting yesterday’s Instant Messages today. It’s enough to send me Twittering. The bottom line is that it seems as if I could spend hours on my computer and not accomplish a darn thing.
A recent article by Michael Day in The Observer points to research by Piers Steel of Calgary University that indicates, "[T]he incidence of chronic procrastination has risen dramatically in recent decades, from one person in 20 to one in four, as new technology has come to dominate our lives." According to Day’s article, "Even the beeps notifying the arrival of email are said to be causing a 0.5 percent drop in gross domestic product in the United States."
Wow. A quarter of us now are afflicted with "chronic procrastination"! Worse, if we believe Day’s article, there’s a measurable drop in the GDP due to communication overload. Do you know how that affects you? If you could somehow invoice for the time you spend surfing the net, posting on blogs or forums, or sifting and sorting through emails, would you be wealthier than you are today? Would you be more successful?
In my newest book, Success Without Stress, I talk about the importance of time management. Some of the biggest time sinks nowadays are email, web surfing, and blogging. Granted, these things are often helpful, even critical, to our jobs. But is there some way to balance your time more efficiently? Indeed there are ways, and here are a few suggestions:
- Give yourself a time frame for blogging, surfing, and emailing. You could do this first thing in the morning for, say, a half hour, and then once again at the end of the business day. Just set yourself a specific time and stick to it. Then turn off Outlook or Pegasus or whatever other email program you’re using until it’s time for your next scheduled mail check.
- Remember, the second part of that chirpy "You’ve got mail!" is not necessarily "Read it now!" But if you just can’t stand all that mail sitting there …
- Treat email similar to snail mail: Immediately toss out what you don’t need and set aside what you want to revisit. Respond only to those items that require immediate attention—a client’s inquiry, bills, a note from the Pope, etc.—and plan on responding to less urgent emails during "downtime." Become well-acquainted with the delete (Circular File) key.
A little more than a year ago, in this column, I wrote, "it seem[s] to me that a lot of videographers are blogging simply because their videographer buddies are blogging, … [so] there’s a lot of ‘Gee, your blog is great! How’s mine?’ happening on the public videography forums." This doesn’t seem to have changed much.
My advice about using social networking—MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, ad infinitum—as a marketing tool still holds true. Each social network site has its niche audience, and it doesn’t hurt to find out what drives particular people to buy—or not to buy—your specific products and services. Blogs and chat rooms are also a good way to share successful marketing and business ideas with your peers. But consider this: If you only market to one another, does this bring or lose you business?
One word about phones when you’re heavily engaged in the creative process: Answer calls at your own risk. There are many people who would rather call a friendly, helpful person with a dumb question than take the few minutes necessary to find the answers themselves. It’s too easy to spend hours as an unpaid information desk officer.
Get people to email you with their questions or wants. I know this may sound counterproductive, but it’s a way to force them to clarify and document their requests, and you can respond when it’s convenient for you.
It’s human nature to want to communicate—to run to the phone when it rings, read email when it beckons and share our opinions when and where we can. It takes self-discipline and time management skills to balance that desire with doing what it takes to become successful in business. The next time you find yourself caught up in a chat, or lost inside your inbox, remember that your time is the only irreplaceable trade commodity you possess, and that’s why it’s such an expensive thing to waste.
Steve Yankee (syankee at opinmarketing.com) has more than 35 years of video production and marketing experience and is the founder of The Video Business Advisor in East Lansing, Mich.