Dealing with the Communication Debt

Dealing with the Communication Debt

Hi team, Mary here! After almost a year of living in the pandemic, many of us are still finding ourselves burnt out, exhausted, and maybe even unmotivated. I’ve been asking myself how I can be feeling more burnt and stressed out than when the pandemic began, when I read an article discussing the communication debt. Communication debt isn’t a new concept, but it’s become much more severe as we have all entered working spaces that are far more digital than they once were.

Communication debt is, essentially, the negative emotions you feel when you are unable to respond to communications, whether they be emails, texts, direct messages, or even group chats. “Communication” refers to the various types of communication you receive throughout your day, and “debt” refers to the growing mound of responses you have to get to at some point. This can usually create feelings of anxiety or avoidance and can cause issues in productivity. Dealing with your personal communication debt will take some time, practice, and willpower. Below are our top tips for dealing with your communication debt.

Put the “No” in Notification

By this, I mean, turn off your notifications (I just couldn’t resist the catchy sub-header). You don’t always have to keep your notifications on. For me, it really disrupts my deep thought work if I see a message bubble pop up on my screen from Microsoft Teams or I hear an email come into my inbox. We discuss the issues of multitasking a lot on The I in Team Series, but even if you’re not intending to multitask you can experience the same issues of multitasking because of the communication debt. If you become distracted by a group thread, either on your phone personally or one you are included in at the office, that line of communication is forcing you to multitask as you either think of a way to respond or worry about having to respond to that later (adding a task to your to do list).

The best way to combat this issue is to silence your notifications! Utilize the technology you have to work with you and not against you. If you have children or those who depend on you for emergencies, set a special ringtone for them to go off only if they call you (and set this expectation that calls during business hours are for emergencies only). Use Do Not Disturb on your phone and anywhere else you can (I love DND on Teams). You don’t have to be available for everyone 24/7 and you shouldn’t be! This is where communicating healthy boundaries comes in.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Setting boundaries so that you can deal with communication debt more easily is better for everyone. When you set boundaries, you protect yourself and ensure you are getting what you need to be your best self. One example of a set boundary that is universal is the closed door. When someone’s door is closed, you know they are in Do Not Disturb mode. However, we don’t have the luxury of closing our door when we are all working from home and connected solely via technology. One way you can offset this is by either blocking time for yourself to answer emails and only answer emails during that time, or by blocking time for yourself to do deep mind work and then alerting everyone to those times. Be sure that if you block time for yourself to do deep mind work that you also set reminders for when that time block will end (or, ask someone to get you at a certain time).

Again, set the expectations you have with those around you. Healthy individuals will respect these boundaries and work with you to ensure all needs are taken care of on everyone’s terms. Sometimes you might have to sacrifice a little bit for the sake of your own comfort, but that’s okay! As long as those around you are doing their best to respect and acknowledge your boundaries, you are in good company. Plus, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is always encouraged to promote personal growth!


You might already have a system for tackling your communication debt, like zeroing out your inbox or unsubscribing from junk emails, but you’re always going to have more communications to respond to. Therefore, you need tactics to lessen the severity of the negative influence of the communication debt. First, you need to know yourself. Who are you and what do you need? Second, you need to love and respect yourself enough to set boundaries, including saying no to notifications. Finally, practice self-love. The world around us is becoming increasingly more demanding as we all work harder and longer days to keep up with that demand. If you practice self-love, know your worth, and strive to have a positive influence, you can tackle the negative effects of communication debt.

The Benefits of Slowing Down

The Benefits of Slowing Down

Hi team, Mary here! I think we can learn a lot by watching animals. Or, at least, we can better ourselves and find new standards to reach by comparing some of our behaviors to theirs. For example, my dog, Bilbo, is extremely loyal. He is a pack-dog through and through. His personality makes it seems like he is much bigger than he is! The love he shows, even to strangers, amazes me. Once someone is in our “pack,” he will protect and defend them. (I mean, he’s seven pounds. But he tries, which is what counts!) I think the trait of loyalty, love, and devotion is something to admire.

There are tons of animals we can learn from if we slow down and take the time to observe them and appreciate their efforts. Ants are hard workers and work well on a large team. Deer are cautious but still curious. And then we come to the three animals in our graphic for this blog: Turtle, sloth, and snail. All known for being slow, diligent, and mindful. There is importance in slowing down our fast-paced lives. If we don’t start today, our lives can pass us by in a blink. The way our world is currently set up is to make you fast paced. Get here faster. Send this faster. Give me what I want faster. But what if we just took a moment to breathe, be in the moment, and slow down?

Physical & Mental Benefits of Slowing Down

Slowing down isn’t just for your mental state, it’s for your physical state too. Sometimes I think we have a tendency to forget that our brains are part of our bodies and we need to take care of them like we do our body. The faster we are, the more likely we are to feel stressed and anxious. When we are stressed and anxious, our bodies create cortisol (stress hormone) and it ravages your body’s immune system and mental clarity—leading to anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, and more. If you want to learn more about how stress and cortisol affect your body, read this article from the Mayo Clinic.

The benefits of slowing down are as follows, but are not limited to:

  • Reduces stress
  • Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
  • Reduces chronic pain
  • Improves sleep
  • Increases mental clarity and thinking
  • Increased awareness, attention, and focus
  • Increased brain function

Techniques to Slow Down

Slowing down isn’t an intuitive task. It takes patience and willpower to learn how. For those that have never slowed down, it may be harder to silence your mind at first but slowing down requires dedication and practice. Although, anyone can slow down if they try! Slowing down is about getting out of your head, phone, TV, games, etc. and getting into the present moment. It’s all in your mind and you have the power to control it!

Start with taking a few deep, slow breathes. Try to focus on your breathing: Feel your rib cage and lungs expand and contract as you bring in and release air. When your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath. If it helps you, you can count your inhales and exhales. To calm your nervous system, make your exhales twice as long as your inhales. This may be as far as you want to go to slow down your mind and focus on the present moment.

If you want to go further, next you will want to do a sensory check. What can you feel, see, hear, smell, or taste? Don’t attach any thoughts to those senses, just observe them as they are happening to you. You don’t have to interact with the sensations; this is your moment to relax and let your brain take a rest. This exercise can be quick but give yourself at least five minutes to just sit and breathe. That’s only 0.34 percent of the time you have in an entire day! Easy, right?


Once you have dedicated yourself to slowing down, even just for five minutes a day (although, you should give yourself longer on the days that you can) you will begin to notice changes in your mind and body. You are allowed to put social media away, turn off the TV, and breathe. This is your life and your moment. Don’t wake up in ten, twenty, fifty years and realize you have nothing to remember. Start making memories now and that starts with slowing down. I believe in you and your positive influence! If you have any questions, feel free to message us on Twitter!

Make Time Management a Habit

Written by: Mary Smith
Original by: IA Business Advisors

Time moves at the same speed for all of us. That means that we all have the same amount of time in the day to complete all our personal and professional tasks. This can be a good thing if you are already proficient in time management. However, if you struggle with managing your time, over/under estimate the amount of time it takes you to complete tasks, or are always pushing tasks to the next day, then this blog is for you.

Starter Tips

When you’re first starting off trying to make time management a habit, there are a few things you need to note. First, it’s important to remember to have patience with yourself. It takes anywhere from fourteen days to more than two months (for some) to solidify a new habit. While there is some controversy over how long it truly takes to make a habit, it is generally accepted that the amount of time depends on the habit and the person.

Second, when starting your journey towards efficient time management, always overestimate how long it will take you to complete tasks. Generally speaking, when you first start to practice time management it will take you twice as long to complete a task than you originally think it will. If you predict it will take you thirty minutes to complete a task (one that you haven’t done before) it will take you about an hour to complete that task.

Once you are a few weeks into your time management process, you will be able to accurately predict how long it will take you to complete your tasks. Also, managing your time will get easier for you—making it second nature—as time goes on. You can start to practice a new habit any time you wish; it’s best to start when you think about it—now—as that is when you have the most motivation to see your vision through to the end.

Plan Out Your Day

The best way to practice time management is to schedule out your day with tasks in advance. Be realistic about how much time it will take you to complete each task. This will help you have a clear and concise vision for how your day is going to look, as well as helping you to keep your daily objectives high of mind. Also, be sure to read the rest of your schedule each time you complete a task.

Don’t forget about scheduling your social breaks! For every task, or for every hour you work, make sure to schedule some down time for yourself. This could mean checking your social media, text messages, taking a lap around the office or outside, doing some yoga, or whatever you enjoy doing in your down time. The key to these breaks is to refuse to engage in break-like activities during your scheduled task time. That’s why it’s important to schedule break time.


Make sure to practice your time management. Like all habits and activities, you can’t become good at something without putting effort in. Just like you would practice for a sport, you need to practice time management. This is something that you can teach yourself. With time, you will become better at it each day. Do your best to commit to planning out your schedule and sticking to it everyday as your daily practice. There will always be exceptions that you don’t plan for, but that is to be expected. As long as you stick to it more than 80 percent of the time, you will be able to make it a habit.

Slow Down

This may seem counterintuitive to practicing time management but slowing down and being deliberate in your tasks will actually make you more efficient with your time. By slowing down and focusing on your present moment, you allow your brain to be more receptive to ideas and information while you complete your tasks. We are pro mono-tasking.

If you slow down, practice, and put energy into making time management a habit, we are certain that you will gain several positive results. For one, if you are prone to anxiety or negative emotions when you are out of time to complete tasks, time management dissolves those anxieties. You will have more time for you, your family, friends, or whatever it is you care to do with your spare time. You will feel empowered at work. Take back the one thing we all share equally: time.

© Individual Advantages, LLC 2019

Scheduling Breaks in a Busy Day

Written by: Mary Smith
Original by: IA Business Advisors

Breaks throughout the work day are vital to all individual and team success. All individuals should aim to schedule one brain break every hour, or one brain break between every task, so that they can revamp and apply their best self to their next task.

Benefits of Breaks


It may seem counterproductive to take breaks throughout the day, but scheduling breaks actually increases your productivity. When you force your brain to focus without breaks for eight plus hours a day, your brain will eventually tire. Breaks allow your brain a little bit of time to revamp itself and prepare for the next task ahead. This makes you more productive because if you let your brain exhaust without breaks, it will take you longer to complete tasks closer to the end of your day. Also, breaks allow you to complete tasks more accurately, leaving less room for errors.


Stress can stem from many situations when you are at work; giving yourself some brain breaks can help ward off that stress. You can only take in so much information before your brain feels “overloaded” which can trigger cortisol (the stress hormone). Stress can lead to a number of issues such as fatigue, hopelessness, irritability, and other negative behaviors. You owe it to yourself and your team to keep your brain as stress-free as possible, so you can continue with your best influence.


Taking breaks helps your mind and body perform at their optimal self. If you work in front of a computer all day, it’s important for your eyes to take a break from staring at your screens. Staring at screens for prolonged periods of time can lead to headaches, dry eyes, blurred vision, difficulty focusing, and all-around eye discomfort. Getting up and moving a bit during your breaks can help your circulation and muscles stretch out.

Productive Break Ideas

Here are some break ideas that you start applying to your work day, now:


Physical breaks are important for your bodily and mental health. These types of breaks for individuals who find themselves sitting at a desk for eight hours a day will help ward off the risks of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity. You can just get up from your chair, do a little walk to the water cooler or outside if it’s a nice day, stretch/yoga, or any other short physical activity you can perform in the comfort of your office. Even just a five-minute break every hour can significantly improve your health and well-being.


You may decide that a good break for you entails moving your work to another location. Sometimes getting a change of scenery is enough for your brain to take a break and switch gears. You can go anywhere that has free Wi-Fi: libraries, coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, malls, and more.


It’s important to keep your body well fed with wholesome, good foods throughout your entire day. This ensures your body gets the nutrients it needs to feed your brain, and you get a break. This way, you can feed two birds with one scone! (Pun intended.)


You can either meditate, try alternate nostril breathing, or take a few deep breaths on your break to center yourself and your mind. Check out the link above to learn about the benefits of alternate nostril breathing and how to do it.

When Not to Break

Given our information above, sometimes it’s not the best time to take a break, even if you have scheduled it already. You may find yourself working and in a good groove; if you notice this, it may not be the best idea to interrupt your groove and lose your train of thought. Instead, you should finish the task you have at hand and take a break immediately after. You can always rearrange your schedule a bit and improvise.

Breaks are a win-win situation for every team (employers and employees). It boosts employee morale, productivity, and all-around company culture. It’s important to not push yourself or your employees past their limits to where they can no longer perform at their optimal self. Everyone deserves to recharge their brain so that they can bring their best influence to their team and tasks. Make sure you are scheduling brain breaks throughout your day and remain flexible.

© Individual Advantages, LLC. 2019

Slow Down to Do More: “Do We Have Technology Induced Attention Deficit Disorder?” With Ashley Graber and Dr. Brian Smith

Written by: Ashley Graber
Interview with: Brian Smith
Original by: Thrive Global  & Authority Magazine 

I have been involved in information management systems for companies since the late 1990s. Back then, data was distributed person to person through direct communication via the phone, facsimile, or face to face. As technology advanced, we developed new ways to communicate. It was during the 1990s that we started to notice people in work environments expecting more from their peers, subordinates, and systems. In 2000, as the increase in data continued, we saw a rise in workplace stress and frustrations.

This was the foundation of my dissertation: Technology Induced Attention Deficit Disorder (TIADD). The evolution of technology and our ability to communicate more rapidly has created an environment where humans have a need for immediate gratification, high expectations, and low tolerances. In my opinion, these expectations and pressures have created generations of individuals who feel they must get more done in less time, making them feel rushed.

Asa part of my series about “How to Slow Down to Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Brian Smith. Brian resides in Algonquin, Illinois with his wife of twenty-six years, René, and their two dogs, Maizy and Moose. During the work day, Brian immerses himself in finding business solutions to help his clients succeed. His thirty years of business consulting expertise are why many companies seek his authority on their path to success. Raising a family, developing teams, and influencing over eighteen thousand clients in his lifetime has brought Brian prosperity. He is also the author of the book . When he isn’t traveling around the globe, Brian enjoys his time reading, grilling, being with his children, and spending time with René.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

I began my career as an accountant, something I wanted to be since I was a child. When I first entered the accounting field, I was tasked with counting parts in a warehouse in Arizona; needless to say, it was a horrible experience. However, it led me to my first professional passion: computerized accounting systems. That passion took me on a journey that began with installing PC based accounting systems in the late 1980s, to world-wide ERP implementations in the mid-1990s. It was during this time that I furthered my passion in consulting and solving human issues in the workplace. From those experiences, Individual Advantages was founded, and we have evolved into the global organizational change and consulting firm we are today.

According to a 2006 , 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed.” Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

As I noted, I have been involved in information management systems for companies since the late 1980s. Back then, data was distributed person to person through direct communication via the phone, facsimile, or face to face. As technology advanced, we developed new ways to communicate. It was during the 1990s that we started to notice people in work environments expecting more from their peers, subordinates, and systems. In 2000, as the increase in data continued, we saw a rise in workplace stress and frustrations.

This was the foundation of my dissertation: Technology Induced Attention Deficit Disorder (TIADD). The evolution of technology and our ability to communicate more rapidly has created an environment where humans have a need for immediate gratification, high expectations, and low tolerances. In my opinion, these expectations and pressures have created generations of individuals who feel they must get more done in less time, making them feel rushed.

Based on your experience or research, can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

When we are rushed, our minds have a much harder time focusing and staying focused. Typically, people who feel rushed are also stressed, which inhibits their ability to focus. Rushing can take on many forms: multitasking, consolidation, short-cuts, elimination, and much more. Multitasking splits your attention between two or more tasks, dividing your focus and sacrificing the quality of your performance. Consolidation of tasks or thoughts can produce issues where details are missed, and, for many professions, the devil is in the details.

Taking the shortest path, or short-cuts, creates potential risks. In some professions, this can be harmful to safety and risk physical factors, even death. Eliminating steps altogether typically results in failure quickly, due to the lack of understanding or completion of said task or requirement. All of these issues and more can lead to unhappiness as the stress of issues created outweigh the value of multitasking, consolidation, short-cuts, and elimination.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

By slowing down, we can create an environment where we are focused on a task with complete clarity. When we slow down, we eliminate mistakes often caused by going too fast; the time to repair mistakes made usually costs more than slowing down and doing the task in a focused manner. We can imagine all the time it takes to rectify the issues we create when we rush through things and don’t give them our full attention; this often creates one or many additional issues or tasks due to our rush to complete something.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers six strategies that you use to “slow down to do more?” Can you please give a story or example for each?

  • Plan Out Your Day: Stop and set aside a few minutes in the morning (or the night before) to look over the tasks you have at hand for the day. Slow down and think about these questions while doing so: How many tasks do you NEED to finish by the end of your day? How long will each of your tasks take to complete? What is the priority and importance of each of your tasks? Which tasks will require the most brain power? Then, prioritize your tasks by how much brain power they require and how important the tasks are.
  • Schedule Time for Breaks: When you plan out your day, make sure you plan out brain breaks for yourself. During your brain breaks, we recommend moving around a little bit. Even if it’s just a quick walk around the office to fill up your water bottle, keeping the blood moving in your body will help your brain tremendously. These short breaks may seem counterproductive, but you will make up for this time with the added productivity you have by focusing on one task as you slow down.
  • Empower Others: One of the goals in your workspace should be to empower others to slow down too. Use your peers, subordinates, or anyone with influence over you as a catalyst to slow down. By working together in effort to slow down, the act of slowing down will start to become more of a habit and ritual rather than something you need to be reminded of. By empowering your team, you can all influence your company culture to remain present and focused through slowing down.
  • Stay Present: Remind yourself often to stay present by using something as simple as a post-it that says, “STAY PRESENT.” When we stay present and don’t allow our mind to wander, we are able to focus (typically on the task at hand). Staying present slows your mind down so you don’t have to worry about anything else that is going on in your life. This type of concentrated focus allows you to complete tasks more quickly and efficiently.
  • Practice Patience: Living in a world that is so fast-paced and expects immediate gratification, it is important to practice patience. I say practice because patience is something that even the most mindful and focused person can have difficulty with at times. Having patience for yourself and those who you influence will allow you to slow down, remain calm, and (hopefully) influence others to be patient. When we practice patience, we slow down the need and pressure of immediate gratification on ourselves and team; in turn, your team will become more relaxed, mindful, and begin to slow down as you have practiced patience towards them.
  • Written Communication: For some instances, typing your communication is more efficient (like when you are reiterating a conversation or sending an email). In other instances, it’s nice to slow down even further and write out long-hand what you need to get out. This can be magnified if you keep a journal, write a note for yourself, or send letters. In a life full of technology and quick reactions, it helps to slow down and write things out.

How do you define “mindfulness?” Can you give an example or story?

To me, being mindful means connecting your mind, body, and present self through empathy and facts. Mindfulness stems from an understanding of yourself (your body and brain) and a connection to the world around you at a certain moment. It’s important to stay present through your connection. The present moment is where you have the power to make the best decisions for yourself.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

Integrating mindfulness requires you to schedule time to be thoughtful about yourself. It requires intent and an acceptance to be mindful of your current situation. Becoming mindful begins with slowing down for a few minutes of reflection each day. It also requires an understanding of yourself: your past, foundation, habits, willpower, and influence.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

Yes, my journal. I have journals at work and at home because I find myself needing an outlet to prepare myself for focusing on me and certain present situations. My outlet is writing, and I like to write long-hand. My journal at work is a Moleskin journal that integrates into my Evernote journal.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices?

My favorite book for mindfulness is Deep Work by Cal Newport. My favorite podcast is The Tim Ferriss Show, and another resource I like is Smart Briefs.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“There is no tomorrow and there was no yesterday; if you truly want to accomplish your goals you must engulf yourself in today.” ― Noel DeJesus

In the early days of my career I was always worried about what was going to happen next or what happened already, never really staying focused on what was happening in the present. As my life evolved I began to understand that I was always focused on what happened or what could happen because I never really paid attention to what was happening; when you slow down, you don’t need to worry about the past or future in a way that distracts you from the present.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That the influence we have over other people is the biggest responsibility we have in our lifetime. Our influence affects our own lives and those of the people we interact with daily. When we lose focus of the fact that our actions have consequences (good and bad), we take for granted the influence we have and forget about the accountability that goes along with our actions. Influence is not something we are taught to pay attention to, but there is influence in all things we do. We should be mindful of our actions, our words, and our thoughts as they can all have influence in our lives.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

Try Monotasking to be More Productive

Written by: Brian Smith
Original by: TLNT

Multitasking is how you turbo charge going too fast as a human. The American Psychological Association states, “Doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity.”

We use contrasting parts of our brains to complete different tasks. When one part of our brain is focused on one specific task, the other parts of our brain are, essentially, muted. When we switch between tasks, this forces our brain to “jump start” other areas of the brain for use. This reduces productivity and increases the amount of time needed to complete a task, because it takes our brain time to switch gears and access the knowledge stored in the different areas. Similarly, we cannot use our brain’s power to give an equal amount of intense focus to several different tasks all at once. Focusing on multiple things at a time diminishes our ability to access all of our stored knowledge for each specific task, thus, in turn, reducing productivity and diminishing the quality of the final product.

A good way to combat the turbo charge of going too fast is to plan out your day in advance. Set aside a few minutes in the morning (or the night before) to look over the tasks you have at hand for the day. Think about these questions while doing so: How many tasks do you NEED to finish by the end of your day? How long will each of your tasks take to complete? What is the priority and importance of each of your tasks? Which tasks will require the most brain power? By answering these few questions, you will then be able to plan out your day accordingly and will steer clear of multitasking (making you more productive!).

Brainy tasks first

Prioritize the tasks of most importance to be at the beginning of your day. The tasks that require the most brain power and that are due that day, or have a close due date, should be the tasks you do first thing in the morning. Next, do the tasks that have a medium amount of importance but require a good amount of brain power. You will want to schedule all your hardest and most challenging tasks closer to the beginning of your day and save easy, brainless tasks (like replying to emails) for the end of your day. This type of prioritizing will help keep you on task and will aid in productivity.

If it works for you, you can also try breaking up your day into segments once you have your task list for the day complete. Some people like to break their days up into thirty-minute increments, with one- to two-minute breaks in between to reset their brains. Others like to plow through the task and then take a short ten-minute break to give their brain a moment to switch gears to their next designated task. The important thing to remember is to give yourself small and short brain breaks to ward off exhaustion.

Find what works for you. During your brain breaks, we recommend moving around a little bit. Even if it’s just a quick walk around the office to fill up your water bottle, keeping the blood moving in your body will help your brain tremendously. And while these short breaks may seem counterproductive, you will make up for this time with the added productivity you have by focusing on one task and avoiding multitasking.

Fit the person to the task

It is imperative that you take note that every situation has an exception. When you work in a position that doesn’t allow you to focus on one specific task at a time, you need to have the capacity to work efficiently in that setting. You need to know that your specific job does not allow you to monotask. For example, as a receptionist you may need to be interrupted frequently and quickly switch between tasks as the phone rings or as people come in to speak with you. This is inevitable in this kind of position, but the people who work productively in positions such as these are unique in their ability to resume the task they were working on prior to the interruption. They are able to plan for these disruptions and schedule their work accordingly.

It is also important to note that distractions will happen. When you are focusing on just one task you may be disrupted. The point of monotasking is to not plan to do multiple things at once, to do your best to focus on the one task in front of you, and to understand that you may become distracted by things that are not in your control. Working on monotasking to become more productive at work will take willpower and creating new habits. It may take you a few weeks to get the hang of it, but once you are proficient in planning out your day and monotasking, you will become more efficient and productive at work.