Voice Over - 8 March 2018

Continuing from last week, let’s unpack what we can do to counter the rampant inability to say no with a challenge to learn how to “Just Stop Asking.”

Now this isn’t entirely a burden of leaders. All of us are time vampires. Despite the utter commodification of our time and attention by social media companies, we don’t instinctively understand the value of that time either for ourselves or others. I think it’s like the plastic water bottle problem. Most people don’t understand how truly bad it is to purchase a bottle of plastic water because they can not wrap their heads around how many bottles are being produced, used once, and disposed of. But what if I told you that the planet is now producing and disposing of 1 million bottles per minute? Your one bottle creates the demand for a man-made disaster of plastic refuse. Similarly, your one question breaks my flow state, derails my thinking and loses my company 5 minutes of my productivity.

We do this to ourselves with phone app notifications, slavish devotion to our email and social feeds, smart watches. We used to answer the phone all the time (some of us still do). Yes Virginia, we used to actually use phones for *gasp* talking to people. Before that it was the endlessly circulating memos, bulletins, and circulars piling like snowdrifts on the corners of the desk.

We do this to each other… when we spin a chair around to just ask one question. When we pop by a desk, write a quick email, send a text, call from the living room into the home office.

We do this to the people we lead when we fire off a question, plunk down on the edge of the desk, stop in the coffee room for a quick chat.

These interactions are not bad per se. In fact, there is a really strong argument to made that many of them are literally the grease that makes us human cogs work smoothly in a very large system without grinding each other into dust. But are they all strictly necessary? The challenge to each of us is to find ways to reduce our distraction footprint on others. Just choosing to not purchase a bottle of water is helping to reduce that 1 million by a tiny but real amount, so too choosing not to ask that one quick question reduces the total volume of lost concentration. If all 5000 some odd IAG employees refrained from asking one distracting 5-minute question per working day for one year, we’d save about 12 magical man years of focus.

As a leader your every action has a consequence, make sure it’s the one you intend.” ~ Katherine Bryant