These days, there’s an ever-present pressure to be continually responsive and available. After all, thanks to today’s technology, with email on our smartphones and calendar reminders pinging us throughout the day, we’re more connected than ever. But that doesn’t mean we should be.
Not only do we feel a padded sense of accomplishment when we respond quickly to others’ concerns, needs, and questions, but we also relieve ourselves of a smidge of burden. The ball is back in their court, lobbed back into their own inbox or to-do list. Whew, another responsibility crossed off for us.
Yet, then they inevitably feel the same way and hit it right back to us. And so the cycle continues on and on and on. When does it end? This perceived responsibility to be so available at every beck and call, in some way, feels like we’re alleviating stress every time we respond to another email or invite. But in truth, it does the opposite.
The problem with being so reachable
In fact, the constant back-and-forth actually adds to our busyness. We’re truly never done for the day, unable to conceptually clock out and enjoy life. A 24/7-work life is a notion so many people wear and strive for with pride, but in reality, it deters our productivity and leads to burnout at a faster rate.
We might “feel” more productive when we stop to respond to every last person as soon as possible. An empty inbox gives us a sense of relief and achievement. However, this behavior is actually interrupting the true productivity—the innovation, the problem solving, the idea curating, the project finalizing, the management, development, and advancement.
Of course, the fear behind needing to be constantly responsive is wondering what might happen if we DON’T respond. What fires might blaze on and storms might prevail?
Funny enough, my husband used to work in IT for a Fortune 500 company and often had to ignore some problems while he took care of others. More often than not, the ignored issues worked themselves out as people found resolutions when he was unavailable.
One tool for boosting your productivity
My tip for you to break out of the availability conundrum is to make yourself look busy. It’s almost a small brain trick because most of us truly are busy, but by responding right away to others, we look available.
Choose a block of time—3 to 4 hours—and turn your phone and email off. Yes, off! Don’t respond to one thing during the time block, and your productivity will skyrocket. (Check out this article I wrote a few years ago that lends more insight into the detriment of relentlessly checking our emails.)
You might feel some tender gut swirls of anxiety at first, but more often than not, your team or colleagues will inevitably learn to figure some things out without you. For the most part, everything else can be on hold until you are back online.
A side benefit is that teamwork will vastly improve, as well. Taking the time to step away and let others step in empowers the team to feel trusted and enabled, even in your absence. In an odd way, our constant connectedness and availability is a form of micromanaging others.
It’s not your job to be available all the time
We’re constantly there to say yes or no, to explain, to reason, to fix, to resolve, to decide, to make the move. When we’re not at the mercy of someone else’s email to us, others can have an opportunity to step in and find solutions.
Taking a few hours to step away and focus on the true work will allow you to feel ready and recharged for the required communication and responsiveness parts of your work. Your mental health will thank you, and ironically, you will likely get more things done at a faster rate, and feel more satisfaction in the process.