Your future is at stake. So is mine.
Every day a bit of it is squandered by a culturally prized attribute: our responsiveness.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How many emails can be in my inbox before I begin to feel guilty?
- How frequently do I check social media accounts?
- Do I interrupt periods of concentration (or even a meeting with another) to answer the phone, respond to a text, or check email?
This is not a post to protest the perils of modern technology. Far from it. I’m a technology enthusiast. Instead, those questions are symptomatic of a deeper cultural value: instant availability—and it comes in the form of responsiveness.
America is a service economy. There are more service-based companies in the Fortune 500 than ever before. And the prized responsiveness of service businesses has become one of the highest prized attributes of its workers. An article in Inc. Magazine, for instance, describes responsiveness as the “difference between those that succeed and those that don’t.” And with the recent trends to work from anywhere at anytime, healthy boundaries are getting harder to maintain.
There is no doubt responsiveness is a valuable, dare I say, necessary attribute—save for the unwitting habits it forms. Never have there been so many ways to distract us from our purpose by someone else’s agenda. As Alvin Toffler points out, “If you don’t have a strategy, you’re part of someone else’s strategy.” Few of us, if asked, could articulate our strategy.
The problem is that strategy is a product of thinking—the very thing that is often sacrificed in an effort to impress others by our responsiveness. How many times have I said “yes” to a request, only to regret it later? (I can tell you it’s more often than I like to admit). The famous chess Grandmaster Max Euwe said, “Strategy requires thought, tactics require observation.” And that’s the rub. When was the last time you had good “think time?”
If you’re like most of us, you may be scratching your head trying to remember. Even now, withdrawal anxiety might be tempting you to jump to your inbox as an escape, looking for the next morsel to devour—the next email to delete with delightful accomplishment. Resist that temptation, for that is nothing more than the unwitting habit formed by your prized responsiveness. What’s next for you won’t be found in your inbox. Only more distraction to the really important work.
What you and I need is what I call “strategic margin”—the capacity to think and design our future. With it we can become less reactive and more creative. We are more apt to discern whether an inbound request is an opportunity to pursue or a distraction to avoid. And we’re more likely to be less anxious about our own level of responsiveness. For while our prized responsiveness is something to be honed, the real prize is what we bring out of the storehouse within us. And that requires intentional think time.
What are some of the ways you reserve “think time”?