Try these tech tips to avoid multi-tasking, distracted communication

By JJ Rosen April 6, 2022

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

In my last column I talked about “the busy signal.”

To review, for anyone not around before the 1980s, the busy signal was the repeating buzz-like tone that you would get when you tried to call someone, and they were busy talking to someone else.

With the concepts of call waiting, caller ID, and voice mail yet to be introduced, the dreaded busy signal meant that the person you tried to call was on the other line and not available to talk to you.  All you could do was hang up, wait a few minutes, and try back.

At the time, it was considered an annoyance, but sure enough technology eventually came along to make the busy signal a relic of the past.

In today’s world, the barrier that the busy signal created has been replaced with multiple ways to communicate with a person or business day or night. Not only can you call someone on their cell phone that is always in the hip pocket, but if they don’t pick up you can text, email, or ping them on their social media accounts.

Overall, especially for business, this has been a good thing. It enables us to communicate with our customers and colleagues in near real-time and it helps us all to be more responsive.

Nevertheless, every so often I miss the busy signal. Without it, there are times when it’s hard to regulate my own time and I end up multi-tasking—attempting to communicate in one form or another with too many people at once.  When this happens, I not only feel some stress, but I do a poor job of listening.

So, in my quest to always be improving, I decided to ask a few other busy people what they do. When I posed the question, “How do you let others know you are busy without being rude or coming off as unresponsive?” I received some interesting tips that I am now starting to use myself.

Here’s some highlights from the advice I got on how to manage your “busy signal”:

  • Schedule “focus time” on your calendar the same way you schedule meetings. Formally blocking off your calendar is a way to turn on your busy signal so you can knock out tasks without interruptions.
  • Use the “Do Not Disturb” feature on your smartphone when you are busy to avoid distractions.
  • Subscribe to an email management tool like Boomerang or SaneBox that help you optimize your email Inbox.  These tools include features like “Inbox Pause” and automatic prioritization of important emails to reduce distractions.
  • Turn on the “Out of Office” feature on your email not just when you’re on vacation but anytime you need to focus on other tasks.
  • Use text messaging autoreplies to let people know you are busy but will respond later.
  • Let calls go to voice mail if they’re from a phone number you don’t recognize.

Although none of these have the same power as the old-school repeating busy signal tone from long ago, implementing even just a few of them can make a real difference in how you work.

Technology can sometimes be both a blessing and curse.  Knocking down the barriers to communication has helped us to become more connected but it’s also caused us to be more distracted.  Finding the balance between being connected without being distracted has become the key to being productive. So, if you’re not too busy, try a couple of these ideas yourself.

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba. A Nashville custom software development and IT support company.  Visit or for more info.

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