In a world where people tend to ignore deadlines and many tasks/projects are finished late, why do people continue to assault our time? Why do they interrupt us with urgent requests? Why do they need it now?
How often do our priorities get derailed due to some one’s immediate demands on our time?
I was recently intrigued by Chris Brogan’s “Anywhen Manifesto.” Due to his recent frustration with people demanding things now, he wrote a short piece where he defended his ability to respond “Anywhen.” His point was that except in true emergencies, today’s technology empowers us to respond “when we are able”… “when it makes sense for us”…and yes, “when it is convenient for us.”
Being Aware of Priority
Most of us have heard the proverb:
“Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”
We must not only encourage, but train our teams to manage priority. This means being out in front of issues in the first place with proper planning. But, it also involves be aware of the level of priority of an issue when we are requesting things of others.
I once worked for a boss who was in the practice of calling members of her team into her office whenever she thought of something she wanted to know about. All day long, she summoned team members to ask them simple questions without any forethought on what they might be working on. As you can imagine, her team was frustrated with the constant non-urgent interruptions that prevented them from getting their work done.
Is it an Emergency?
Recently, I had an important conference call interrupted by a colleague that walked into my office and asked me to re-send them a document they needed. Assuming they would not have interrupted if they did not need it right then, I leaned over to my computer and fired off an email.
Later that day, I ran into this colleague in their office. They did not have the document out. So, I guessed they had already addressed the matter. I asked them if the document had helped, and to my shock they replied, “I am not sure. Hoping to get to that later this week.”
The Power of Timeshifting
In today’s hyper-connected work world, timeshifting has become an important concept.
Timeshifting is the ability to allow others to act or respond at the time that is appropriate for them while still meeting our needs.
We often work with geographically distributed teams, whether it is cross-country or cross-continent. Just as you would not call someone on the other side of the planet anytime of day with a simple request, you should think twice before interrupting someone down the hall with a similar matter.
Email, websites, and new technology such as Google Wave and Twitter, have allowed us to increase our productivity by expanding the options we have to interact and effectively collaborate with our colleagues.
Email is the New Snail Mail
Do you need a document from me or a piece of information? That is great. I can help you. However, unless you need it to defuse a immediate situation, send me an email. When I am processing at 4AM, I will send you the document. You will probably be asleep. And that is the beauty of it.
An important point about email. It is no longer immediate. You didn’t know that? A few years ago, email was considered instant. I guess everyone was sitting at their computers just waiting for email to pop into their inboxes.
Email is the new snail mail. It has been pushed down the communication priority totem pole. Text messages, instant messages, and cell phones are all more immediate forms of reaching out.
If you send an email you should be allowing adequate time for a response. I would say 24 hours, but in some cases I would go as far as 1-2 days. As Chris Brogan pointed out, this does not usually apply to customers or clients.
5 Things You Really Don’t Need Now
Here are just a few examples of things that you really don’t really need right now:
- To Setup a Meeting for Next Week – You don’t need to verbally ask me to set up a meeting for next week. (This week is another issue). You have access to my calendar. Go ahead and send an invitation and ensure to include the details and agenda.
- A Document or Reference – Unless you are defusing an emergency, you do not need to to ask me for a simple document, reference, or piece of information right now. This is a perfect request for email. I will probably send it to you while you are asleep.
- Me to Put Out Your Fire – If you are on my team, I probably hired you to deal exactly with the types of issues you are trying to interrupt with. Ask yourself, is this something I should be taking care of? This does not mean to let things blow up without letting me know. If things have reach that stage, you probably should be contacting me immediately.
- Me to Do Your Work – Similar to the previous, but it deserves its own call out. How often do you encounter people interrupting your time so that they can push their work on you? (Great time to practice saying, “No.”) Again, ask yourself if this is something you should be doing before interrupting. This is not to be used as an excuse for not seeking advice or guidance.
- To Follow Up on Non-Overdue Items – You do not need to interrupt to check on something that is non-urgent or not past its deadline. Even if you are the boss, interrupting some one’s ability to get the job done is not increasing productivity. Try using a regularly scheduled status update.
Immediacy is Overrated
Before you start lighting off fireworks to disrupt your boss or co-workers’ day, ensure that you examine the true priority of the item at hand. Then determine how it should be best communicated. Can it be answered when it is convenient for the recipient? (Anywhen) If so, email or similar form might be appropriate.
If the project is on fire, and the customer is not happy, then yes, you might want to call their cellphone or walk into their office. :)
How does your workplace deal with interruptions and urgency?