It is not uncommon for me to get business e-mails at 6:30 a.m. or 12:00 midnight. Until recently, it was also not uncommon for me to answer them. However, this year for my birthday I've decided to give myself the gift of balance.
We live in a culture of 24/7 work and it has become normal to many of us. We have raised the expectation of availability to a point that is unhealthy. Recently, a potential client wrote to me on a Saturday, then wrote back on Sunday wondering why I had not e-mailed him back. Another prospective client emailed me at 10:30 on a weeknight and by 8:30 the next morning had written again, a little frustrated, asking for a response. Another person asked to talk to me on a Saturday, and when I informed her that I don't work on the weekends, she was irritated.
I realized that by trying to always play catch up and accommodate the 24/7 expectations, I was feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and unbalanced. To get some solutions, I turned to an author who has written a book on the challenges we face at work today. I asked Tony Schwartz, author of "The Way We're Working Isn't Working," how to handle the 24/7 expectations. He said, "We can't control the expectations of others, but we can seek to manage them. Above all, it makes sense to try to invest your energy in what you have the power to influence."
What I am discovering is that living on this crazy cycle is a choice, being "open" 24/7 is a choice. We ourselves have set up these expectations. Everyone I know seems to be tired and overwhelmed because we are trying to stay ahead of the information overload.
And we are not alone. According to Daniel Patrick Forrester, a client and author of "Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking In Your Organization," "25 percent of our workdays are spent immersed in information overload." I asked him for some advice on how to tackle all of the information coming at us.
Information abounds and will forever compound as the world further connects. What we all can do is to force time into our habits and routines to simply think and value reflection as much as we value responding to the onslaught of data that will forever pour over us.
We are taking no time to think, to consider, to plan or to dream. All we are doing is trying to stay ahead of e-mails, Tweets, DM, status updates, LinkedIn invitations and more.
Seth Godin recently wrote a blog called Lost in a Digital World which was retweeted 952 times within 24 hours. He recommends that we turn off the noise and turn on the productivity.
One of the biggest disadvantages of technology is the lack of "thinking time." Forrester tells us that the reason we have so little time to think is because, "our habitual use of technology and bias for immediacy and rapid response has contributed to fragmenting our attention across many issues at the cost of allowing deep exploration around any one issue."
Many of us depend on multitasking as the only way to get everything done. However, there is a cost to all this multitasking, I worry that we are doing nothing to the best of our abilities. Schwartz talks about the myth of multitasking: "The brain can't do cognitive tasks at the same time, so you end up dividing attention between them, as your brain switches back and forth. The result is that you do an injustice to everything, and everyone your splitting time between. We're sequential beings, not simultaneous. One thing at a time: it's been around as a basic principle since the dawn of time!"
In the last six months, I have made some small changes in my life. Twice I took two weeks off completely unplugged. To tell you the truth it takes a few days to find a rhythm, a few days to remember how to "be" without the noise, but after that it is blissful. And you know what? The world did not stop, nor did anyone miss me. I just slipped in and out of the river of digital information with no consequences. I found that when I returned I had better ideas, more energy and fully formed thoughts. This year I plan to take more steps for creating balance in my life. Like anything else it's a choice and like anything new it will take some practice.
Why not join me? I say to my fellow workers, set some office hours and stick to them, take back your lunch hours and unplug during dinners, family times and vacations. We deserve our own time and even more importantly our own attention.
Fauzia Burke is the Founder and President of FSB Associates, a publicity and social media firm specializing in creating awareness for books and authors on the web. Founded in 1995, FSB's mission is to give authors an opportunity to promote their work to an eager, targeted audience online. Please engage with FSB on Facebook or Twitter. For web publicity and social media news, follow Fauzia on a new Twitter feed: @FauzisBurke