There used to be a time when only surgeons had cell phones and beepers.
Because their jobs required quick responses that involved matters of life or death, it seemed to make sense. After all, a couple of hours spent at the golf course could cost someone their life if they could not be contacted during a round.
We have come a long way since then.
Now, there are companies that are pressuring their employees to carry Blackberries, and to be available to answer email on a 12/18/24 hour basis. And these companies aren’t hospitals, army barracks or police stations.
Instead, they are employers of accountants, lawyers, bankers and other business-people of all kinds.
Without any planning or foresight, companies are using the Blackberry to change the way professionals use their time. Today, Blackberry users are answering their email, instead of doing less important things like participating in meetings, exercising, listening to their kids, giving their spouses their full attention and other such apparently unimportant activities.
These companies are causing professionals to continuously interrupt what they are doing in order to check and respond to a blind piece of email (it’s blind because they have no idea who it’s from or what it says.) In other words, they are responding like surgeons… except, the truth is, no-one’s life is on the line.
Try telling that to someone who is pretending to listen to you while they are checking their email on their Blackberry.
The reaction is often one of irritation, anger and even hostility. Their blind piece of email is obviously more important than the conversation that they are having with you, which is why checking it gains such immediate priority.
Their productivity (and yours) plummets at that very moment.
But what is it, poor manners aside, that causes a Blackberry user to grab their Curve in spite of what else they might be engaged in at the moment?
It’s not confidence, or skilled execution. Instead, the look in a Blackberry users eyes tell it all. The unit vibrates, rings or flashes, and they are gripped in that moment by a fear, or even a panic that “they might be missing something important.”
The panic, and its subsequent response, becomes a habit over time, until they get to the point where they cannot stop themselves from impulsively grabbing for their PDA. They cannot help themselves, and their behavior appears the have all the compulsion of an addiction.
But it’s not email that is the drug of choice. Instead, it’ s the driver behind the email — the “need to know” or, the fear of not knowing.
This is what wakes them up at 3:00am “just to check,” and to smuggle their device on vacations where they promised to leave it at home. This is what interrupts meals, conversations, projects, exercise, cooking and even “quality time.”
It’s a habit that a professional who finds themselves addicted would need some concentrated effort to break. one excellent course of action would be to use 2TIme approach to build their own time management and productivity systm.
With a greater degree of awareness, the Blackberry can return to its rightful place as a productivity enabler, rather than an unconscious dis-abler. We can all focus on developing habits that make knowledge workers really successful, and drop the surgeon-like, faux-urgency that we have developed.