I hope all of you will indulge me for a small moment, but I feel the need to express how I feel about something. Today I was having a phone conversation with someone. While we were talking I was asked to hold on for just a minute, and the person picked up his other phone. His other phone was his office line and he answered the phone through his speaker, so I could here the whole conversation. The first 2-3 minutes were about some various work projects, and then followed 3-5 minutes of catching up about what they did over the weekend. After this 5-8 minute conversation the person resumed talking to me.
Now I guess it possible that I was just such a boring conversation that the person felt the need to pick up another line to recharge before coming back to our conversation. But lets be honest, I find this unlikely because I am just awesome. What is probably closer to the truth is that society in general has most of us programmed to move on to the next thing so fast that we don’t finish what we were doing first. With cell phones, the internet, call waiting, email, IM, Twitter, and Face Book its become very easy to move from one item to the other without ever really focusing on any one thing.
Now I started this post thinking I would focus just on call waiting, but after some very good feedback from Face Book, an email or two, and one IM conversation I think its about more then just call waiting. This lack of being able to focus on what is in front of us, and the need to move on to the nest thing is very wide spread.
One that I am guilty of is interrupting phone conversations my wife is having. This is something I am working to correct, but in my family its very common to be having a phone conversation with someone, and a family member will walk in and ask “who are you talking to?”. If its someone they want to talk they will just begin talking to that person on the other side of the line either through you, or by screaming/talking loud enough for the other person to hear. Another common thing in my family is to just interrupt someone talking on the phone and interject your own question or comment. It really was not until I married Terra that I started to understand that this was not correct behavior. Breaking this behavior is turning out to be harder then I thought, but I am working on it.
Another example would be email. This is one I used to be VERY bad at! What I used to do was come into work in the morning go through all my email, replying to emails if needed, and then moving on to the days work. If I saw an email come through later in the day I would skip what I was doing and jump to the email. This made getting actual work done very hard. Several months ago I had a day that when quitting time came I realized I had done NOTHING but writing and replying to email ALL DAY! I knew then something had to give. I had been toying with the idea of only checking and replying to email once a week. It was a suggestion I had read in a book called The Four Hour Work Week. The problem was I did so much email that I really didn’t think it would work, but after i spent a whole day doing nothing but email I was willing to give it a try. So I set my day to Mondays. I am usually in the office on Mondays, and out in the field the rest of the week so it worked as a schedule. The first three weeks were tuff, but not on me. It was tuff on everyone else. They were so used to my instant email replies that people were starting to wonder if I was still alive. However I stuck to my plan, and it has been such a time saver. Today I spent about 30 minutes on email, and now I am free to work on other things. I turned my notification off on my computer so I cant even see if a new email has come in. I will check my inbox at the end of the day, but I doubt I will have more then maybe one or two replies in there.
Changing the way I did email and getting rid of that distraction has made my work life much better. When it comes to call waiting I have tried VERY hard to NOT pick up second line phone calls. Thats what voice mail is for, and I make sure I return phone calls in a timely manner. I have tried VERY hard to make sure that the person or task that I am doing gets my full attention. I have found that doing this I get more out of my day both professionally and personally. I think my Brother in Law Matt puts it best. It is up to each person to decide how they themselves will deal and react to distractions. Will you be the kind of person who takes the distraction and puts the person or task on hold, or will you change the way you do things and not accept distractions in your life?
2 thoughts on “25. Distractions”
Hi Jason — thanks for the post. I have noticed our family members do something similar to what you described with phone conversations, only we do it while folks are on the computer. For example, I will be sitting on the living room sofa with my laptop in my lap. reading or something, and someone will walk in the room and just start talking to me without saying, “Excuse me,” or “Can I tell you something right now?” Having people do this to me has made me much more aware of how often I was doing it to others, and I am working to break this habit.
I find it VERY difficult to live in the moment and get very distracted, so I love hearing about how you are working through it and setting up productive habits!
Social evolution is definitely incentivizing more multi-tasking, often at the cost of overall efficiency. As for the rest, my view is a bit different. Voicemail is for when you can’t take a call, call waiting is for when you have the option.
The intermediary person is the one who is best positioned to decide between the two. For example, if I was talking to Terra and you walked in to tell her that her car was on fire, that would certainly be a valid case where my conversation is likely to be less important. Call waiting, saying excuse me, and other such things are ways to ask the intermediary if they chose to reprioritize. It is up that person to handle all sides courteously. Barging in and expecting that whatever was going on is surely of lesser value than whatever you had to say, etc. is not acceptable behavior and definitely discourteous.
However, establishing a blanket ‘no’ to call waiting, or any other kind of interruption is a bit strong. I can think of many cases where such interruptions are necessary, and can be handled courteously by the intermediary. Unfortunately, there are far too many cases where that doesn’t happen.
Here’s how I think it should work:
Call originator: You have first right that person’s time. You also need to be aware that it might be right and proper for you to be put on hold if something more important comes by. You should expect that to either be brief, or to be called back.
Intermediary: Your job is to balance urgency, and treat people courteously.
Interrupter: You need to be aware something was going on before you arrived, and accept the reality that you might not have the most important thing to say. Be prepared to be called back and/or wait your turn.