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Instant Responding Must Be Managed to Work


We can email someone anytime, anywhere. We can instant message or text people in real time. We can conduct virtual meetings from our home office. And we can receive a myriad of updates that concern our lives from small portable mobile devices. That should make our lives easier, right? Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and this was recently highlighted in a story in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The reality is that these technological advances put much more information at our fingertips. They provide opportunities for people to connect with us at a moment’s notice, and they can improve our ability to navigate the different areas of our lives.

However, these tools also have to be managed if they are to work properly. When the desire for (or demands of) constant connection start to drive our behavior, we begin to burn ourselves out. We continuously shift our attention from one thing to another, which can actually cause performance decrements. It takes time to get into a productive mode. You cannot simply sit down and be automatically engrossed in whatever it is you are doing. You have to develop momentum. And every time we shift our attention away from what we are doing – to respond to a text message, to check and see who just emailed us, or to post a twitter update – we lose some of that momentum. We end up engaging in constant multitasking, which is nothing but a shifting of attention between competing activities. And that has negative repercussions for our performance.

So, we have all this terrific technology that can make our lives easier. Like a child with a new toy, we become engrossed in it, and it becomes integrated into the way we live our lives. The upside is that we can have immediate access to the myriad domains of our lives, but the downside is that others now have instant access to us, too.

And that’s when we need to remember the importance of ground rules. We need to proactively manage that instant access (when possible). We can then grant instant access when we have the resources (like time and energy) to do so, while minimizing that access when we do not. Set blackout periods, especially when trying to engage in something that demands your full attention. These don’t have to be rigid in their scheduling, but when you need or want to be truly focused on something, take the steps necessary to allow that to happen. Turn off alerts (like the obnoxious noise that Outlook makes when you get a new email) that can disrupt your flow and focus.

There are times when instant access is necessary and important, and times when it is not. Getting a better handle on technology involves figuring out how to have the best of both worlds. And that means being proactive, not reactive.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ewige / CC BY 2.0

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Matt Grawitch published on September 27, 2012 4:30 PM.

Six Degrees of Bringing Home the Bacon - Part 3 was the previous entry in this blog.

Teamwork and Trust Take the Edge Off a Ruff Day is the next entry in this blog.

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