In the eleven (11) years since the first iPhone (pictured) was delivered in 2007, the time spent on “collaboration” by office workers has jumped from 35% to 85%. Collaboration includes email, texting, messaging apps, meetings, international travel, audio-calls, video-calls, etc. During the same period, the “Happiness Index” survey shows that people in the USA have gone from 4th to 19th in the world. The current Harvard Business Review article “Collaboration Without Burnout” and the New York Times article, “You Could Be Too Much of a Team Player” both talk about the distractions, and the potential drag on productivity, by being too collaborative.
There is little question that social media, email and text messages have both positive and negative impacts. Easy access to our life during all our non-sleeping hours can consume our lives. It now appears to have reached the point where it is hurting us more than helping us do our jobs and live our lives. How do we save the good things and control the bad things?
Time to Think
One “life changer” my busy clients have reported is booking two one-hour blocks on their calendars to think, plan for meetings, walk, or do work that takes thought (not checking email). My clients report that most of the time they are able to maintain at least one hour per day. That hour or two of think-time makes all the difference in their ability to make right choices. Time to think about where they can provide the most value, and when they should say no to collaboration requests, positions them well to make good decisions.
For those who do not have a door they can close, find a place. An empty conference room, a coffee shop, a library, or time at home are all alternatives my clients have used successfully.
I am a strong believer in good collaboration. Being clear about where our contribution makes sense and is truly needed. Good agendas and meeting minutes make it easier to get value without attending the meeting, for example. Another example is a well run meeting that includes the right people; a clear agenda and clear responsibilities may avoid the need for several meetings on the topic. Modern communication tools make it easy to report progress to those concerned.
Just say “No”
Learning to prioritize and limit your commitments (in a gracious way) is a powerful tool. Many people, myself included, get a good feeling from helping others. Those feelings are the lubricant of society. They can also be the drug of burnout. The truth is, many of us try to ignore the fact that 24 hours in a day is not negotiable. Saying “yes” to one request will say “no” to something else in your life.
What is truly important to you? What do you not want to sacrifice by saying “yes” to the less important things. I am an exception in my choice to limit my television time to one hour per day with my wife, who enjoys that time together. Others find binge watching of great programs as very rewarding. The only question is, are you making the trade-offs you want when the 24-hour day is ended?
We are social animals who need others in our lives. Most people spend more time in their work community than their personal life community. It’s good and natural to do what is essential to support that community. Current studies indicate our society has probably gone too far on the collaboration continuum. It is not wise to close the door on collaboration, but it is wise to close your door on distractions for a couple of hours each day.