The genie of hyper-connectivity is not going to go back in the bottle, and moving to a mountain deep in the woods is not a career enhancing solution (unless you are writing a novel).

The genie of hyper-connectivity is not going to go back in the bottle, and moving to a mountain deep in the woods is not a career enhancing solution (unless you are writing a novel).

All the activity that is generated in a hyper-connected world can lead to the illusion of progress, to an illusion of importance and to force ineffective multitasking. Trying to put the genie totally back in the bottle would be difficult at best, since hyper-connectivity can be useful in the right circumstances. Measured steps can be used temper the some of the more problematic attributes of hyper-connectivity.

  1. Electronics free meetings. Specify some meetings as laptop and cell phone closed. Remove the potential distraction of the texting, email and other work by using the nuclear option. Recently I participated in a meeting that had a diverse set of participants most with different cultures and first languages. All of the participants were asked to close their laptops. Participation in the group increased even though one or two “members” were very reticent. While there were exceptions for long meetings, such as more frequent break to check in with the electronic masters or allowing the person with a kid at home sick to have an exemption, cutting the cord in meetings seems to have merits. In response to the article Hyper-connectivity and The Illusion of Progress, Chris noted:

I’ve been saying (and promoting) this for years as well. In a previous role, with Software Configuration Management, Build & Release, and QA Engineers reporting to me, I mandated that our weekly, short, team meetings were spend untethered to smart phones and laptops, except for the person charged with taking team notes. Very effective!

  1. Twenty minute sprints. Turn off the connections (think airplane mode) for twenty minutes. At the end of the twenty minute period turn them back on, open Outlook and read/respond for 5 – 10 minutes then repeat. I will admit that I am a connectivity addict, but this has become one of my favorite techniques to reduce connectivity distractions. I have settled on the twenty-minute rule because the time frame is long enough that I can get real work done and short enough not induce panic from being cut off. Note, I have modified the rule to allow going to the internet to look up a fact or to find a synonym (if I am not in my office with a paper thesaurus). The sprint technique has been used at more macro level in some organizations with days without email or meetings.
  2. Don’t reply to emails after hours. Compartmentalize your work and home lives when possible. Some companies such as the Volkswagen, Puma and BMW have tried this technique in an attempt to reduce the burnout hyper-connectivity can generate. I have not found any data to suggest the technique has been effective and obviously there are a few issues that are critical enough to require a response (FYI . . . I suggest picking up the phone and calling someone in those circumstances). This technique help create separation between home and work life and slow down the the expectation of immediate actions and responses.  .
  3. The Two-Email Rule. If a discussion or issue spans two emails or text messages, call the person or persons involved in the discussion and talk. I personally have begun to try to implement this rule and have found it very effective in reducing text or emails being volleyed back and forth without resolving anything. When emails are being volleyed back and forth it seems like the progress is measured by passing the issue on rather than resolving it. The biggest issue I have found is that in some circumstances people are using the volley technique to avoid having difficult conversations.

The genie of hyper-connectivity is not going to go back in the bottle, and moving to a mountain deep in the woods is not a career enhancing solution (unless you are writing a novel). There are a number of techniques that can create an oasis in the communication storm. You can practice some of these  techniques individually and change your own behavior.  When you are working on a team, change will require a vision of the future and leadership to make even incremental changes to how work is done by the team.

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