Managing all of the inputs

It’s November, which is my academic corner is one of the most stressful months of the season! In this post I thought I’d tackle a topic that is becoming increasingly challenging for me,  managing the sheer number of inputs in my life.

What is an input?

To me, an input is any source that could provide me with information I need to take action on.  Typically, I like to go through all of these inputs when making my weekly plan, so I feel caught up and don’t worry about things slipping through the cracks.

Types of Inputs

To do this, I have a list of inputs to check off as the first step in my weekly planning routine.  It includes obvious ones, like email and texts, as well as ones I’m less likely to think about, but could be important sources of information.  For example, I like to look at my plan for the previous week to see if everything actually happened or if there are outstanding tasks. I’ve made many versions of this list over the years, but here is one from late summer 2022–as you can see the number of inputs is quite high (24 items!)

Input List

  1. Planner
  2. Previous Calendar
  3. Upcoming Calendar
  4. UNM Email
  5. Personal Email
  6. HDA Email
  7. ETC Email
  8. RPL Email
  9. Twitter
  10. Facebook Saves
  11. Feedly Saves
  12. Instagram
  13. FB Messenger
  14. Facebook
  15. Mighty Networks
  16. Slack
  17. Google Chat
  18. Voicemail
  19. Texts
  20. Work computer downloads
  21. Home computer downloads
  22. Notes
  23. Wallet
  24. Mailbox

The challenge here of course, is that it is overwhelming to check them all. In reality, I’d rarely manage to clear all of these on a weekly basis.  When I tried to work through the entire list in one session, I’d get through the first few top priority ones (email) and basically want to run away from my computer due to all of the incoming tasks and the constant switching between areas and projects of my life.  As a result, I basically stopped checking the lower priority ones on a weekly basis (social media).  This works (they are lower priority), but it’s still somewhat unsatisfactory as I do occasionally get important information through these channels.

Multiplying Inputs

The other challenge with inputs is how quickly they multiply! For example, last year I started using Microsoft Teams (because this is what UNM provides) for the Language Learning Center Staff, and this year I’m using it with my research team and two other groups.  With the current Teams setup, someone can contact me with a post, chat, or via tasks, which is essentially three new types of inputs to monitor (multiplied by each Team I participate in!). Similarly, many of the communities I participate in have separate social channels, across a variety of platforms–more things to check!

Management attempts

I’ve tried a variety of solutions to manage all of these inputs, and they seem to each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Making a list

While the complete list is overwhelming, I still find it helpful. Without a list, I’d probably always be worried about missing something, with a list at least I know where I’m missing it 😀. I do find the list needs regular updating as my life and responsibilities shift, and these updates always seem to add, rather than subtract inputs!

Rearranging the list by priority

While the list is exhaustive, there are also priorities within it.  Some inputs are sure to have important todo items (email) while others are more for social connection (although is this really less important?). When I’ve rearranged the list by priority, it makes it a little more manageable on a weekly basis, but the lower priority channels do seem to slip through the cracks.  This is fine in the short term, but I do wonder about the longer term consequences of ignoring community participation.

Rearranging the list by area of life

I’ve also tried grouping the inputs together by main area of my life. For example, my UNM email and Teams are clearly UNM inputs, my dance email is for dance, etc.  This helps with feeling like I’m constantly switching areas, but the challenge is that most of the areas of my life do overlap, so it’s hard to draw distinct boundaries. This is especially true of social media, where I belong to groups and follow people from all areas. I’ve tried breaking down this participation, by listing an Arabic teachers group under UNM, and a dance teachers group under dance.  However, this just ups the total number of inputs in my list, taking me back to the overwhelm problem!

There are also other solutions out there I’ve heard other people try, but that are not for me.

Check it regularly, but not systematically

This is usually the solution of people who don’t mind having 900 million unread gmail messages.  They let the notifications come in, and assume if it’s important enough it will come back if they didn’t happen to see if the first time. This appears to work great for some people, but would make me anxious.

Ignore all but a few channels

This is where you just decide you won’t check Instagram messages, or won’t reply, or similar.  For some people, I think this is a necessity due to their level of fame or volume of messages.  I can respond on all channels, so ignoring one completely would make me feel like a huge jerk.  My compromise is just a longer response time  if it’s a lower priority channel.

So, what next?

At the moment, I’m using separate prioritized lists for each area of life. I tend to switch back and forth between one list and separate ones every few months, usually thinking this switch will make things easier (so far, no, but that hasn’t stopped me from hoping that the next switch will be magic!).  I could also try to reduce the number of inputs, but since that means doing fewer things in my life, it’s unlikely to actually happen.  So, the best I can do now is work my list, and accept that lower priority channels will get later responses.

How do you manage all of your inputs in modern day life?  If you have any tips, send them my way!





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