Remember the days before text messaging, cell phones, Palm Pilots and “Crack-berry’s?” Me neither, but it did exist didn’t it? I mean, we used to communicate face-to-face in entire sentences without someone reaching for their holster. Ah…those were the days. People actually listened to each other – really listened and focused their entire attention on the other person.
But those days are gone. Now we just have the illusion of focused attention. As soon as ring tones sound or the belt starts to vibrate, we’ve lost our audience. Even if they continue to pretend to listen to us, it’s obvious that their mind is on the incredibly urgent message that is just arriving. You can tell by the vacant stare, followed by the eye-twitch. If they don’t check their message soon, their eyes roll back in their head and they eventually lose consciousness.
What happened to us? It’s simple, but it’s serious. We’ve developed an advanced case of urgency addiction. It’s understandable. If someone needs us urgently, it makes us feel important. We love being the problem solver. And our teams, our peers, our bosses…they all love having us around even when we’re not around. We are the poster children for dedicated, selfless team players.
Unfortunately, we’ve overlooked an important principle, and many of us are paying the price for it. The principle is:
Today’s extra effort is tomorrow’s expectation.
In the beginning, everyone thought it was kinda neat that they could reach us whenever they wanted. They appreciated our dedication when we took their call on our way home from work. They apologized for contacting us during our training workshop. They thought twice before using our cell number while we were on vacation.
But over time, our willingness to be accessible whenever and wherever raised the bar. It’s no longer okay for us to get back with them after the meeting. Now, they expect an answer within ten minutes or less. If they can’t reach us by Blackberry, they call us. If we don’t answer, they e-mail the person sitting next to us in the meeting. If that doesn’t work, they call 9-1-1 and file a missing persons report. When they find out we haven’t been kidnapped, they are indignant: “Where were you? We ran out of paper clips, and work had to come to a halt until we found your key to the cabinet.”
This cycle never slows down. The more accessible we are, the more accessible they expect us to be. And like any other addictive disease, urgency addiction is progressive. Our expectations get higher and higher. We’ve developed a tolerance, and yesterday’s response time no longer satisfies.
And while we are busy being the hero, the dedicated team player, the always-accessible one…we don’t realize some of the negative side effects of our good deeds:
- Our direct reports are developing a dependency on us and becoming incapable of independent thought.
- Our boss, peers and customers (both internal and external) are making more and more invasions into our private lives.
- We are growing increasingly resentful of the demands on our time.
- We are actually creating more work for ourselves as we send out our responses that generate their responses that require our responses…
- We are polluting our time – never being fully present for any event.
We’ve got to slow down! The long-term prognosis for urgency addiction is not good. Burnout, fatigue, increased errors, disillusionment, resentment, damaged relationships… These are just a few of the ultimate consequences. The longer you wait to break the habit, the more difficult your detox will be (for both you and your enabling codependents). Good luck. (I’ll say a “Blackberry Prayer” for you during my next conference call.)