Years and years ago I read an excellent little book (more like a booklet) called The Tyranny of the Urgent. This was in the days before cell phones, email and text messaging. I remember being struck then by its simple message about how we should stop diverting our attention from the important to take care of the urgent, but now I think it’s one that could possibly be a lifesaver.
If you struggle with always feeling behind…
If you feel like there’s more to get done than time in the day…
If you multi-task all day and still can’t keep up…
Here’s what I see happening in our culture where we allow people constant access to us through cell phones, email and text messaging: we stop respecting our priorities.
When your phone rings do you jump up to answer it as long as it’s physically possible?
When the incoming text-message signal sounds, do you immediately check to read it?
When your inbox alerts you to a new email, do you open it?
If you’re like the average person who receives 10 to 40 text messages and 12 phone calls every day, that means you’re allowing others to interrupt you 22 to 52 times every single day (not to mention interruptions from the dozens of emails you’re likely to pause for). And probably only two or three of those each week are truly urgent.
The thing is, it’s not like we all plan to be interrupted all the time. I’m sure almost every mom would prefer to go through her day checking things off her “to do” list one by one. But without a plan in place to protect our time, we fail.
Why not create your own “policy” related to your availability to others? Establish times and occasions for when you’ll respond to others reaching out to you. For example: if you’d like to have uninterrupted family time during dinner three nights (or more) a week, set a policy of not answering any phones during that time. Institute a “no phones at the table” rule for those nights and have everyone deposit their phone in a container during that time.
Set another policy for email – then communicate it to others to get yourself off the hook for feeling beholden to answering every one immediately. Tell those who contact you regularly something like, “Please understand I will be checking emails between x time and y time each day. I may not be able to get back to you that day, but will do my best to respond within x amount of time.” You decide the time frames. You control the access.
Create a similar policy for text messages, saying something like, “During the hours of x and y, I won’t always be available to respond to text messages. I will do my best to get back to you within a few hours. If you have an urgent need, please leave a message on my house phone (or whatever mode you choose as your emergency contact).”
Then follow your policies – not to be a dictator over anyone, but to provide freedom for yourself. Most importantly: use that freedom to attend to those things that are important to you.
By setting and following a few simple policies, you can overcome the “tyranny of the urgent” and begin having the time to accomplish those things you value most.
Photo credit: “Chained” by Colin-47 (Creative Commons)