Life with Liz: Stop the madness
30,451. That’s the total number of emails currently sitting in my two primary email inboxes. That’s not counting the emails or Facebook pages that I administrate or the Messenger app that’s also a message hoarder’s paradise. And, that’s definitely not counting the innumerable text messages that I have piling up on my phone.
A few weekends ago, the information buildup did me in and I spent the weekend unplugged and blissfully ignoring my many forms of communication. In retrospect, I probably should have informed a few key people that I was “going dark” for a few days, but otherwise, it was a very liberating weekend for me. To my friends who suspected something catastrophic had happened, I do apologize for the stress I caused you.
If I just filter advertisements from the stores I shop at, I’m sure I could eliminate about 2/3 of the email clutter, but then I will also probably delete my various earned rewards from those stores as well, so until I use those up, I have to hang on to the garbage. If I could somehow delete the 15 emails requesting my response to the first email that was sent, I could also eliminate a lot of the e-clutter. I probably have about 70-100 legitimate emails that I need to respond to or follow up with, but I have no idea how to sort them out of the quagmire.
And, then, there is the group text message morass. Ugh. Initially, group texting was the ideal solution to the phone chain. Remember those? Every team and organization came with one. The coach would call three families, those families would call three more families, and 45 minutes later, everyone was up to speed.
The other day, after setting my phone down on the charger for about an hour, I came back to 37 responses to a group text. 37! There are about 14 kids on the team. As I started to scroll backward to find out what the original text was, I got confused and distracted as parents asked questions about future weeks, practices and random comments. Finally, I sent a message directly to the coach and ask what she had asked originally.
This season, I have three kids involved in two different sports, and each team has a group text. Do the math. How many text messages can I possibly keep up with and sort through to keep track of whose practice was canceled, whose was moved to another field, and whose game is being made up on Thursday?
In a day and age where communication is always literally at our fingertips, it’s getting harder and harder to effectively communicate. I confess, texting is my preferred method of dealing with people. Writing gives me the opportunity to see what I’m about to say. It slows me down and allows me to think through my immediate response. Texting or messaging has allowed me to avoid countless conflagrations when my first response may not have been the most appropriate one and may have caused antagonism.
Responding to a text message allows me to review a calendar, check with the Wonderful Husband, take a deep breath and be sure before I commit to yet another activity. Answering in writing also holds me accountable for what I’ve committed to and what I’ve said. For a person that always has eight or nine hamster wheels spinning in her head, it’s helpful to have a written record.
If someone calls me to tell me that a lesson time has been changed, I will either need to write it down immediately, or I will forget as soon as I hang up the phone. I set aside a minute or two every morning and another one every evening to scroll through messages just to double check what I’ve agreed to or what changes I need to anticipate in my day. But when I scroll through 89 more text messages to find the information I’m looking for, that few minutes can turn into a lot more time.
I’m also as guilty as the next person of reading the first few lines of an email, deciding that I will come back to the rest of it later, and completely missing the last sentence that asked me for a response or directed me to do something. Three weeks later when I’m finally catching up on my emails, I’m dismayed to find out I’ve missed a deadline or left someone hanging.
So, how do we stop this madness? I know I’m not the only person affected by it, and I know I do my share of contributing to it. I’m trying to implement my own guidelines to navigate this issue. First, I ask myself, “Would I pick up the phone to share this information with a person?” If the answer is yes, then I need to formulate a response. Next, after I’ve written my response, I ask myself if I answered the actual question that was asked. For example, if I was asked if my child will be at a game, I try to answer with my kid’s name and a simple yes or no. Frankly, the coach probably doesn’t care if your third cousin on your mother’s side’s stepdaughter from her third marriage is getting married and you just can’t miss the wedding, so it doesn’t need to be included in the answer.
If there is another reason or more information that I feel a coach needs, I try to direct that text back to the coach alone. I don’t need to share personal details about my life or my child with 20 other team parents. Recently, a parent responded to a text with their entire vacation schedule and days they would be out of town. You don’t always know who is accessing someone else’s text messages, and I would not want that information shared indiscriminately.
Finally, I ask myself if what I’m about to send is going to make someone laugh, or at least smile. If that answer is yes, I always hit send.
Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.