Thursday, 22 December 2016 20:51

Tips to Avoid Communications Overload

It doesn’t seem that long ago that the daily tools of communication in the hardwood lumber industry were a phone call and a facsimile. But now it seems so different!

I bet it is a phenomenon common to everyone in business—from the front-line receptionist to the chief executive officer, there’s just too much information flying around and not enough time to take it all in and process it correctly. New channels of information open up all the time, including the proliferation of apps, social media platforms and many other digital innovations designed to save time but which often add yet another layer of information to our already burdensome load.iphone in the forest quote

At Baillie, we feel like we deal with mountains of industry data all the time. Daily hardwood lumber stock lists, offer requests, hardwood lumber export reports, new housing start data, hardwood market pricing, etc. The list can be endless. So every day we try to determine what is most important to share with our global workforce and then communicate that information in ways that are efficient, productive and don’t overwhelm the recipient.

Here are a few best practices we find helpful and some suggestions on how to avoid communications overload, both for yourself and your employees:

Get a handle on email. Without a system for checking and prioritizing emails, it’s easy to feel swamped. Time-management experts suggest creating a schedule—for example, taking one hour at the beginning of the day and one hour near the end of the day to review and respond to emails. Generally speaking, most incoming messages can sit for a few hours before being reviewed.

In addition, urge your team to develop a culture of email creation that helps save time. Do things like discussing the importance of when and when not to copy others, update and change subject lines when appropriate and include “the bottom line” or key message up front so readers do not miss the key message.

Become more proficient at communicating with your team. Remember, your employees and team members feel as deluged by information as you do. Set a good example by improving the structure and content of your communications with them. As you compose your message, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the best method to deliver this message? (Phone call, email, text, letter, other…)
  • Have I included more information than needed to get my point across?
  • Can I include a link or an attachment that takes employees to a page with more information they can review at a more convenient time?
  • Have I included the call-to-action I want readers to take?
  • Am I sending this to the right recipients?

Make it your responsibility to be clear and direct in your communications, so you’re not contributing to overkill.

Guide employees to writing more efficiently. We suggest a five-step process for composing efficient memos, reports, emails, etc. which is popular among many companies. The process includes:

  • A one-sentence description of the main message (like a newspaper headline)
  • A brief summary of any relevant background information
  • Key details for the recipient to know (details concerning what, who, when and where)
  • Highlighting key benefits of taking proposed action
  • A precise description of the email recipient’s next steps

The objective is delivering key information clearly and succinctly, without a lot of fluff or company jargon.

Adopt a disciplined approach to social media. Some CEOs and business leaders spend more time on social media than others, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the activity going on in cyberspace. As with email, look for ways to schedule specific times to check your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts (as well as more specific industry-related sites), rather than clicking on them multiple times throughout the day.

Put your mobile device aside. Smartphones are a great tool. They can also be a distraction if not used properly. I recently heard a statistic that the average American looks at their smartphone 51 times a day! Texting may seem like an efficient means of communications, but chances are you spend way too much time responding to texts that have little to do with business matters. Explore other ways for people to reach you with urgent questions or concerns, so you’re not checking your device all the time and getting sucked into back-and-forth text exchanges that, in the end, contribute little of value to your work-day.

Coping with communications overload is not a new issue. It is, and has been, an ongoing challenge in business. But with some discipline and structure, it doesn’t have to feel overwhelming either to you or the many people with whom you communicate every day.

What other suggestions do you have on this subject? Let us know!

Tony Cimorelli
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