Keeping on top of comms while social distancing
March 20, 2020 4:14 AM   Subscribe

I am social distancing, and getting a little overwhelmed by communications.

I have friends and family in many different countries, so I am used to conducting a lot of my relationships via whatsapp, Facetime, Instagram etc.

However now that everyone is social distancing, this number has doubled because it's not just my friends in other countries whom I have to stay in touch with via these methods. It's now all my friends in this country and my co-workers!

I get email and chat notifications constantly from colleagues during the work day (I'm working remotely). My team is so much more chatty and communicative now that we don't see each other! I'm picking up my phone and seeing 100+ notifications regularly and putting it down, exhausted, without reading them. I feel like the only way to stop things from getting overwhelming is to read/reply to messages as soon as I receive them, but then I'm basically doing that all day and nothing else.

I'm worried I'll drift out of touch because my brain is getting tired out from all the typing and messaging.

This whole situation has understandably exacerbated anxiety in a lot of my friends and if they don't hear from me they worry I am sick. One of my friends didn't hear from me for 2 days and starting ringing around my family to make sure I was alive.

I am not complaining about having friends and family who love me, I am very grateful. I live alone and this is a lifeline to me.

But staying on top of numerous types of communication is already exhausting me and the social distancing has only just begun. Any tips on how to manage communications while maintaining important connections?
posted by unicorn chaser to Human Relations (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Install Keybase, set up a big team with a #covid19 channel, then pin messages to your other services (on email, set up an out-of-office auto-reply for this) saying that that's where all non-employment-related comms with you is going to be happening until normality is restored.

The difference between communicating with friends and communicating with co-workers is that with friends you always have a choice of which service you're going to use to do that; you're not locked in by your employer's preferences. Shifting all your friends to a service they're probably not already using will cause them minor inconvenience at worst, cause a bit of a lull in the need to handle stuff from them, and pretty quickly give you a clean separation between work-related stuff you need to respond to fast and friend stuff that you can be a bit more relaxed with.

Keybase allows new arrivals to a team chat to read everything posted there before they arrived, so quite a lot of the reassurance burden will be shifted off you and onto your friends talking amongst themselves. When you're overwhelmed by work-related comms, just posting "I'm still fine" on your Keybase #covid19 channel every 24 hours will be enough to let everybody know they don't need to worry.

And try not to let this get you down too bad. In a few days the novelty of being forcibly required to use remote comms for work will wear off, your colleagues will all get fed up with the overwhelm just like you are, and everybody will just naturally settle back into a pattern where work chat is cut back to the essential minimum. Except for the boss, of course, because those people are ineducable.
posted by flabdablet at 4:53 AM on March 20

I feel your pain. There is so much input and so little structure to my day that it was necessary for me to set some hard limits and create a reasonable plan I could follow to keep everyone in the loop but not spend my entire day chatting, reassuring others or receiving reassurance from them. I am working from home and trying to get two teenagers to do their distance learning so I need to keep reminding my self that this isn't a holiday and I need to treat it like a standard work day.

So, here's what I'm doing.

1. Set specific times a day to respond to messages and check social media/news. I'm doing 15-30 minutes about every 3 hours.
2. Turn off your alerts to avoid getting distracted.
3. Let people know they should contact you one specific way if they have an urgent need to reach you. I've told people to CALL my cell if it's an emergency. Not that many people actually call me versus I can just have my phone nearby and feel okay that I can ignore it unless it rings.
4. Post a daily video update to your platform of choice. I'm posting a daily video to Facebook for my family and friends. It's just a brief chat about what we're doing and how my day is going. It seems to have really helped.
5. When I have lulls in my workday, I don't hop on social media or check the news, instead I do a much loathed and neglected project like cleaning out the junk drawer, organizing a closet or finally tossing or filing the huge piles of paperwork scattered around my house. This helps me end the day feeling very accomplished and helps me relax when it's actually time to chat and connect with folks.

Be kind to yourself. This is a strange new world we're in and any rules you make are okay if they make your life better and more manageable.
posted by victoriab at 5:11 AM on March 20 [5 favorites]

Just a thought, what if, with the close people, we all occasionally went back to saying "I'll call you later" or "let's (actually) talk soon"? Even if it feels new or uncomfortable. I think it's a muscle we need to exercise, especially now.

It seems to me that just as our attention spans for information and learning have gotten shallow, so too have our ways of interacting. Of course responding a million text based messages a day isn't satisfying, reassuring, or even.. possible. It is my sincere prayer that one good thing that could come out of this very very bad thing is that it leaves all of us more comfortable with real time interaction than we have been in recent years, and with a deeper understanding of how much we, as a species, need it and are evolved for it. Depth over breadth .. we seem to be forgetting this in so many arenas lately. Let's pretend it's 1995. Except now you can have a zoom (or whatever platform) dinner date with say four mutal friends, et viola - four "comms" with one stone, and much more fun and satisfaction, and less distraction, than a hundred texts from all all four friends over four days because everyone's lonely and anxious.

I guess failing all of the above, at least use a pc/browser based client / environment for chat instead of tediously typing on a phone screen ..but folks are probably already doing that ..
posted by elgee at 5:52 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

First figure out who you really want to be in touch with, making a written list of names and categories. Make an additional list of people you really don't need to spend time in touch with, like the person in your hobby group you have never met who makes the interesting and amusing posts, but who isn't providing you with better information and support than other people. The second list is so that when you see there is a message from Mishka in the "Making Miniatures from Trash and Treasures" group you won't reflexively read it. Remind yourself that Mishka will only be talking about the situation in her area, not yours, or be talking about making miniatures and reading her messages will stop you from reading the ones you need to read. Unfollow people like this if you can, temporarily.

Put out a daily all channel status message letting people know your current situation and then designate times when you will not communicate so that you can work. During work hours ignore all messages from non work people, and after business hours ignore all messages from business contacts. Make a list of the people you want to be in contact with and make a schedule for contacting them and checking up on them. For example you can look at the messages from your friend on another continent on Monday, commiserate briefly, and write them a message giving them an update on you, telling them you will not be in touch again before Thursday, and until at least then you are swamped with working from home. Only give specific times that you'll next communicate to people who would come and pick you up and drive you to Emerg if you needed it. Everyone else can be told that you will be elusive and late getting in touch because you are so busy and if you they can't reach you it's on purpose and not ominous.

Ignore all pings and notifications by shutting them off when you need to get stuff done, and only seek out the messages you need during your current task window. Turn your sound off so you don't hear the pings. If you are waiting for your co-worker to respond, check if they have responded but resist the temptation to get sucked in to desperately surfing all your messages for general social contact and reassurance if their response is not yet in.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:14 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]

at least use a pc/browser based client / environment for chat instead of tediously typing on a phone screen

One of the reasons I like Keybase is exactly because it works equally well on Android, iOS, Linux, Mac OS and Windows. It's nice not to have to care about which of my devices I need to be using to chat with whoever.
posted by flabdablet at 6:51 AM on March 20

Greetings from the future (a.k.a. mainland Europe). We’ve been on serious lockdown for over a week now. I have *never* had so much communication on my phone as the first 72 hours or so. However, after that, things really calm down as people get used to the new normal. It may just be a question of riding the first few days out. For awhile I couldn’t go to the bathroom without coming back to dozens of messages. Now it’s at semi-normal levels.
posted by whitewall at 9:43 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]

Can you set up certain times of day you'll attend to certain communications? I am getting requests at all hours from my religious community and it was starting to overwhelm me so I have implemented a specific time period when I'll deal with those communications. If people know what a reasonable turnaround time is for a response, it can help them manage their own expectations. Here is the email I sent out, feel free to adapt it for your own purposes!

Re: my responsiveness and availability at this time - to maintain some semblance of boundaries between various parts of my life during this extraordinarily stressful time I am going to move to only responding to queries between 6-8 pm on weekdays and on weekend afternoons. Please do not expect a response from me outside of those times. Thank you for respecting my needs to compartmentalize various parts of my life right now for the sake of my sanity. [I also included a few more details about some of the various life difficulties I'm dealing with right now so people realize I really am mentally stretched, ymmv]
posted by mostly vowels at 10:37 AM on March 20

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