Ready To Conquer Inbox Overload? Focus On Your Core People

We’re drowning in communication. As messaging has extended from e-mail to a deluge of apps and social media sites, we now have Twitter, Face
March 23, 2011

We’re drowning in communication. As messaging has extended from e-mail to a deluge of apps and social media sites, we now have Twitter, Facebook and RSS feeds piling up like so many unread magazines. We avert our eyes as they go unread for weeks, or even months.


Yet, even as we throw up our hands in disgust and declare it’s all too much, another week brings along a new tool or service we feel compelled to try. So how can we find a way to manage this massive communications influx, given that the problem is only going to get worse, not better?


It can actually be quite simple if we can train ourselves to ignore the channels of communication pouring in and focus instead on the people we communicate with.


Try dividing the people you communicate with into spheres, like this:


Sphere 1: Core people.


Your essential or core sphere are those that you must communicate with. It will always be a very short list. They could be: spouses, children, doctors or your boss. In other words, they’re life and death people. They will not be clients, no matter how important the client is. Clients come and go, but the core people will not. You should always block time to communicate with them and respond to them—even if it is only to let them know that you are very busy and can only talk briefly or in a short time from now.



Sphere 2: Important people.


The next sphere outside your core is your list of important people. They can be clients, family, close friends, suppliers or anyone you have important dependencies on. After you take care of your core people, talk to this group. Sometimes these are the people easiest to overlook, often at their—and your—own expense.


Sphere 3: People who make life interesting.


Outside the above spheres are contacts that you are independent of, but provide value and meaning to your life. It is good to communicate with them, but not at the expense of core or important people. They could be colleagues who you are working with directly on your current projects, people in your neighborhood or teachers in the school that your kids go to. Even the people you buy coffee from every day or the bus driver you see on the way home will fit into this group. You will find people tend to move in and out of this sphere: the teacher who doesn’t teach your child this year will teach them next year, and the colleague you see from time to time may end up joining you on your next project.


Sphere 4: “Nice to have” but not necessary people.


Finally, there is the sphere of people you will communicate with who provide a little value. With social media, there are more and more people who fall into this category. It can be enjoyable spending time exchanging views and information with people in this sphere. They can almost feel like friends. However, if you find you are spending any more time communicating with them than the folks in first three spheres, you need to change things—at least until you feel that you have a grip on the volume of communication you have to deal with.


Sit down with a piece of paper and draw concentric circles with these four spheres, with “core people” at the center and “nice to haves” in the outer ring. Then, start populating them with the people in your life. You’ll also want to tag each person with the estimated amount of time you spend communicating with them. If you find you are spending more time with the people in the outer spheres and less with the people in the inner spheres, you’ll know you need to re-prioritize how you communicate.


Finally, draw a small circle in the very center. This is the amount of time you spend with yourself—be it thinking, relaxing, learning or what have you. If you find you spend little time there, you might want to consider re-prioritizing there as well.


Bernie Michalik is an technical consultant, writer, and speaker based in Toronto, currently working for (and following the social media guidelines of) IBM. He also contributes to, Behance’s think tank researching how creative professionals make ideas happen.