Hello, could you focus please?
Good day, followers and mooc alumni of #change11, #cck12, #ds106 and #fslt12. It’s hard to believe that I have been mooc-free and blogless for nearly three months. With all of the sunny summer weather we’ve been having since May, I’ve been spending as much time as possible at the beach. And, truth be told, I haven’t regretted spending more time offline than online lately.
As I dipped my toes back into the serendipitous pool of social media this month, I read some of Nick Charney’s posts, including his rationale for blogging weekly. He wrote about needing time to digest, rewrite, revisit and synthesize. In the same spirit, I would like to share some reflections that I have been pondering for the past five years while learning to ‘manage’:
* personal knowledge
I am also sitting a little taller in my chair because of this statement about conscious computing and partial attention:
“We have focused on managing our time. Our opportunity is to focus on how we manage our attention.” – Linda Stone
Thank you, Linda! This strikes me as a good starting point for what I’ve wanted to ask Jane Hart for awhile: “How can I convince others about the value of social technologies in an organization?”
I feel confident in saying that social technologies have given me more effective ways to use my time (see Harold Jarche on reducing email) and have helped me to focus my attention
I had to figure out how to make the best use of certain social technologies, through considerable time and practice, before they paid off any returns. I also had to modify or dump the ones that weren’t working for me.
Last year, for example, I invested several weeks of regular use on Twitter (with guidance from generous #change11 moocers on FaceBook) in order to decode the nature of hashtags, tiny URLs and acronyms that allow us to stretch considerable meaning across 140 characters. After figuring out the balance of noise and useful nuggets that Twitter can add to my information flow, I now only make time to pan its streams occasionally.
And this is where I hit a massive roadblock with most of the people at my workplace: the “I don’t have time” mantra, often coupled with the chant “I’m not very good with technology”. Insert sound of head rolling across keyboard. Repeatedly.
I’m calling shenanigans on those excuses. Do they think my knowledge and skills with technology fell from the sky? We all have time in our work days (a mandated 8 hours or similar). The question is: how do we choose to spend our time?
Uh, oh. There I go bringing up choices again. To which the token response is “…but I’m so busy! There are so many priorities! I don’t choose how to spend my time.”
That is bullsh*t. Poor-me-I’m-a-time-victim-bullsh*t.
I’m talking about adults, well-paid learning professionals, executives and knowledge workers, who make choices every hour about:
* how many emails and texts to look at
* how many disruptions from people and technology that they’re willing to tolerate
* how many meeting invitations they accept and then complain about
* how many collectively-bargained lunch hours and breaks they voluntarily give up
* how many fictitious deadlines they’ll work towards without negotiating a more reasonable timeline
* how many e-boring courses they develop
* how many deaths-by-bullet-point they create
* how much chronic overtime they are willing to work in their cubicles, on the road or at home
* how many times they’ll cover for someone else who is away and don’t get their own work done
* how much time they (don’t) spend learning something that will make work easier
At the moment, we don’t have much control over the reality that email is one of our biggest streams of information at work. That’s not likely to change anytime soon given the resistance embedded in the poor work habits that I’ve listed above.
Thankfully, I recognized a long time ago that I have to manage email very diligently so that I can stay on top of what’s happening. Email management takes commitment, patience, attention to details and focus. I believe that chronic mis-management of email is at the heart of most backlogs to productivity, even in the second decade of the 21st century.
Say I’ve sent a recipient three emails over the past two work days regarding projects x, y and z. This is good practice: I use one discrete subject per email that makes it easier to categorize, prioritize and search for the item later, if necessary.
The recipient (likely equal rank to me or paid an extra decimal place more than I am) might have skimmed through all three emails but can’t find the email about y anymore so asks me to send it again. Why can’t he or she find the original email? It’s part of an account with thousands of emails, hundreds of folders, links, attachments, ‘read later’ piles and archives. If the recipient is a bit more tech-savvy, that junk drawer is also cluttered with newsletters and RSS feeds and notifications and social media updates.
No wonder they can’t focus.
No wonder my work gets backlogged by people who don’t know which response I am waiting for because my email doesn’t stand out from the rest of the noise they’ve invited into their accounts. And then it falls upon me, originator of the well-articulated request, to keep track of their lack of response and resend the item in some fashion that might get their attention. How tiresome.
Reality check: no one is going to come along and give us less email, less information or less work to do. Very few managers are willing to say, “Take some time away from what you were doing and get organized so that you can focus.” We have to make that time for ourselves and treat it as real, honest-to-goodness work that is as important as anything else we do all day because it keeps us in check with what’s hot, what’s not, what’s on fire and what’s been laid to rest. Update: here are some tools and habits to help you get started.
I get the distinct feeling that I am part of a very tiny minority of people who are not stressed out by my own email and, consequently, not as stressed about my workload, my time or the status of my contribution to collaborative projects. So, to borrow from Jane’s lovely question, how do I convince others that using social technologies to manage email more effectively will give them back the very time in the day that they claim to be missing? Wouldn’t that message just get lost in their clutter?
From → Smarter worker