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Government // Mobile & Wireless
07:35 PM
John McGreavy
John McGreavy

Always Connected, But Always Distracted

Take a step back and ask what's more important: taking in what's online or taking in what's right in front of you?

Since I first became an IT manager, I've taken pride in being reachable pretty much at all times. After all, I'm in the business of enabling fast, immediate and cost-effective communications of relevant information.

Today, our CEO, CFO and other senior leaders, as well as my direct reports, know they can email, call or text me anytime they need me and I'll respond. For instance, our email system had a short, unplanned outage a few years ago on Christmas Eve, and I already knew the ETA to a fix by the time our CEO left me a voice mail about it. His expectation was the same as mine: I would respond right away, which I did.

One day last year I took off to get some chores done around the house. I was out in the yard for a couple of hours and had left my BlackBerry in the garage. When I returned, I found an urgent email from one of our divisional presidents about a personnel issue I needed to address. I apologized for not responding earlier, and that's how I felt. Call me anytime, because I will respond. Count on it.

At a conference I attended several weeks ago, I planned to get some work done during the sessions. It's a conference, right? I'll just answer email while I listen and learn, I figured.

But the conference organizers had assigned seating, and everyone behind me would have been able to see me working on email. This was not the impression I wanted to leave, especially because most of the attendees were IT managers and supervisors, many of whom aspire to become CIOs. So I had no choice but to pay attention to the conversations of the moment.

One of the presenters echoed my fondest self-help sentiment: It all starts with me, not you or them. Stephen Covey's Circle of Influence vs. Circle of Concern and his Habit No. 1: Be proactive.

I was listening because I had put my laptop and smartphone away. My action to appear in the moment actually put me in the moment. It was an interesting experience. Change starts with me. I remember now.

A week later, I took a few days of vacation at a hotel in a warm climate. As my wife and I sat in the lobby bar, I noticed a couple nearby. They didn't speak to or look at each other for at least an hour because they were too busy staring at their smartphones. I noticed another young couple with a small baby, and while the mother kept the baby entertained, her husband was preoccupied with his smartphone. At one point, he looked up, waved at the baby, and then returned to his device. A half-hour later, both he and his wife were engrossed in their phones while the baby played by himself.

After making the observation to my wife about these couples' technological detachment, she responded: "It's very interesting that you notice this. You're looking at yourself."

It was an eye opener. I didn't see myself in these other people. I have a reason for constantly checking my phone, I reasoned. I manage technology for a living, so I have an excuse.

And then I thought about the conference session of the prior week. I realized at that moment that it's time for me to make a change. I tried to put my smartphone away for the next few days of my vacation. I still checked it regularly, but far less frequently than I normally would have. It was more difficult than I thought, but it was a start. I survived, and so did my company.

Find A Balance

The issue of the social and personal impact of technology is a bit above my academic acumen, so I'm not going to comment on that general topic. But for those of us who deliver and manage enterprise IT services, consider this a cautionary commentary. Being reachable 24/7 is critical for those in our profession, but there's a balance. I don't know where the right balance point is, I admit, but it's not where it has been.

If you're like me, it's time to step back and ask what's more important: taking in what's online or taking in what's right in front of you? I'm going to make a change, and I'm going to encourage the people I work with to do the same, because change starts with me.

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User Rank: Apprentice
3/21/2013 | 1:44:42 PM
re: Always Connected, But Always Distracted
I like the sub-head of this one: Take a step back and ask what's more important: taking in what's online or taking in what's right in front of you?

Baba Ram Das called it GǣBe. Here. Now.Gǥ The extra periods arenGt a marketing trick. Try it: Take a deep breath, and make each word a statement as you exhale. YouGll feel the difference.
David Berlind
David Berlind,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/13/2012 | 11:24:32 PM
re: Always Connected, But Always Distracted
Boy does this hit a nerve. John, I applaud you for saying that change starts with you and trying to figure out how to find the right balance for yourself as well as your team. But I agree, it's especially challenging these days. I can't help but think that smartphones -- blackberries in particular because of how they were the first to really keep us tethered --- have squeezed some people out of the workforce. Before the days of this 24/7 always on, always connected, constantly tethered mentality, we were bulked up to handle the emergencies. But wait, now that everyone is tethered, we don't need to bulk up so much. We're doing more, with less. Promise (of smartphones fulfilled).

Speed of information is another issue. Who would argue with the fact that we are insanely more competitive thanks to the realtime mode that 24/7 tethering puts us in. In the old world, we found things out the next morning, and reacted then. The playing field was leveled. Our competitors did the same. But today, our competitor learns something important at 8pm and is acting on that information by 8:15... we can't afford to wait until the next morning. Somewhere in those 12 hours is revenue or profit loss (or losses avoided). Consider the trading industry where millions of dollars are made or lost when one company is faster or slower than another by milliseconds. This is literally the chief selling proposition of companies like Arista Networks with their high speed low latency switches. They target traders saying the profit generated in the millisecond advantage will more than pay for the gear.

Oh, and you don't want to play in the realtime game? Your company will probably be happy to replace you with someone who does.

So, again, after thinking about how I was reading email last night while I was putting the kids to bed, I applaud anyone who can somehow find the right formula. When you do, please share it with me because we're only here for a blink in time. Life is so finite, so precious and to think that many of us are living to work instead of working to live is a bit of a tragedy.
User Rank: Author
12/13/2012 | 9:46:53 PM
re: Always Connected, But Always Distracted
If you as a leader have good lieutenants, you should be able to mostly unplug and let them run things for a few days while you're on vacation. It's healthy for you and valuable for them. What message does it send to the troops if they can't run their own show once in a while?

Laurianne McLaughlin
User Rank: Strategist
12/13/2012 | 11:38:48 AM
re: Always Connected, But Always Distracted
this applies 100x to the TELEPHONE voice call more so than the 'puter browser or text msg.

how many times have you been working with someone, the phone rings and pow! you're done

office cube. service desk. it doesn't matter we allow that damn phone to pre-empt our attention.

enough already . junk 'em.

what we desperately need is voice to text message converters. so we can get rid of phone calls and voice mail .

the important thing to recognize is that the text message protocol REDUCES distractions -- rather than increasing them.

they're quieter too. how many times have you been anoyed by a loud talking phone call in the next cube or across the bar during a football game ?

c'mon people now
User Rank: Strategist
12/12/2012 | 6:38:22 PM
re: Always Connected, But Always Distracted
This is a great article. I read it while at a restaurant having dinner with my wife.

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