Today is a thought of the walk on being always available. What is the thought of the walk? Well, every so often I take my dogs for a walk. This clears the mind and opens me up for thought. These short, one-topic episodes are simply my way to share thoughts with you and invite your feedback.

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Main topic of today’s show: TOTW on Availability

The text message comes in and my notices are off for the night. I have no idea it happened. The next morning when I wake up, what has started as an unanswered question has ended with an apology for offending me. But I am not offended – I was just asleep. I reply with that information.

This happens to me about 4 times a week. It is why my phone has silent hours programmed into it. It happens when I do not answer emails immediately. It happens when I do not pick up the phone.

We have come to expect the people we are seeking to reach immediately and if we do not, we tell ourselves a story about why. We allow our insecurities to taint the story toward the other party either being angry, offended, or dead.

Our story is usually wrong. 

Always Available. The expectation is of always available. This unhealthy culture fostered by tech giants, buy the devices that were supposed to set us free, and by an increasingly entitled population.

Saturday night at midnight, you realize something you bought on Amazon is broken and you hop online to return it. You use their customer support chat feature and someone processed the refund right away.

You post something for sale on Facebook marketplace and someone sends you a message at 2 in the morning. By the time you wake up, Facebook has reminded you to answer it multiple times.

Being always available is an expectation for some but it is also at the root of the following things:

  • Taking too much time to do something due to multiple interruptions
  • Inability to sleep/get to sleep at night
  • Loss of closeness in relationships with our children, and pretty much anyone we spend time with
  • Inability to create space for mental and spiritual development
  • Getting fat
  • Car accidents
  • Neglecting that which is most important

It is one thing to be the person who is paid to be “always available” on night shift for a set period of time. It is quite another to be always available in every moment of your every day.

We sometimes look fondly at the past and romanticize how it was back then. But on the topic of being always available, the 80s had something going for them: the person you were trying to reach had to be home to pick up the phone. If they were on the toilet when it rang, it was unlikely they could finish and race to the wall into which the phone was plugged in to answer. We pretty much were accustomed to waiting for a callback without being offended. 

And there was a negative aspect to this: When the phone rang, you pretty much dropped everything to get it.

And that set the foundation for an expectation of being always available as cell phones became ubiquitous in our lives. We took a thing that needed an immediate response to connect us to loved ones and information — or you had to take more action to connect — and we made it possible to carry said item in our pockets everywhere without removing the expectation that we immediately respond to calls.

Then we added text.

Then email.

Then calendar notices.

Then chat apps and social media.

The cellphone is basically a tiny, mobile computer at this point, not really just a phone and the expectation is that because we can carry it around, we should respond to any of the 20 or so ways people have to reach us.

And this is causing a terrible communication problem. If you can reach someone in 20 ways, you might as well not reach them at all because you are now depending on their built-in computer — the brain — to remember that chat you had, or the text you sent, or that long email they skimmed, or your comment on facebook.

Always available has transformed into — always available on all ways. This is not reasonable. This is not good for you or me. This is one of those places where you can redefine the expectation in your lie and find yourself with more time in the garden, better relationships with those around you, and fewer dropped balls.

Just stop being always available.

Change it to reasonably available. Let those closest to you know how you set it up. Then enforce the methods. Eventually folks will no longer expect a returned text at 2am or 9pm or whenever you go into silent mode. Eventually folks will catch on that you do not have email conversations via SMS. Eventually people will learn more efficient ways to interact with you — and from there with others.

But it is a retraining effort and the retraining starts with no one other than you.

Today, I joked with the rednecks that I was scheduling my daily breakdown for 4pm today and that I would keep them informed of my breakdowns which will happen for about an hour a day between now and April 25. This is because the to do list is overwhelming to get ready for the workshop — it is also totally doable, just overwhelming. And while they took it as a joke it really isn’t. I have to find a way to release the pent-up emotions of this large project. So at 4pm today, I will drop everything, turn off all notifications for an hour, demand that no one talk to me unless talked to, and I will rhinoceros through some seemingly non-important task that is very important to me.

I will not be available during this time and if the Pope dies, I will have no idea it happened. If there is a family emergency, I will not know it until the hour is over.

And you know what? Any action I would take because of those two examples will not really change because I find out up to 60 minutes later that there was a problem — even if I miss my change to say goodbye to someone in their last moments. If that person and I are close, they will know I love them and I will know they know and while I will feel a pang of regret, that fear of that pang should not keep me from creating a more balanced life by turning off the expectations of being always available.

And if you are at a place in your life where there is one person for whom you really need to be available, program that into your phone.

You see, I lied a little. There are a few people who if they sms me when my phone is in do not disturb mode can get through anyway. And they know it. And they love me and would not abuse that power.

And that is how you can take technology that is harming your ability to focus, your productivity and your sanity and USE IT to create a balance between availability and performance.

And that is the epitome of the problem is the solution, isn’t it?

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