I love reading books written in the early twentieth century, because they give a glimpse of the attitude of the people of the day toward the amazing, almost daily changes in technology. New inventions that had been just a dream, or the stuff of Jules Verne became realities.
But these advances were not without a down side.
In several books, characters commented on the introduction of the new-fangled telephone, and what having that device installed meant for them.
The phrase “living at the mercy of the telephone” summed it all up.
A shrill bell began to dictate that they drop whatever they were doing and respond to whoever wanted to talk with them.
So modern life began, an era when anyone can get in touch with us at almost any moment. For some reason, a telephone caller became more important than the person sitting in front of us. Or the work we were so diligently trying to complete.
Now there are a myriad of ways for people to find us, to interrupt us, to distract us.
Which isn’t good for getting things done. No wonder there’s a new productivity guru every day, with a new system or magic tips to help us.
When I boil down all their advice, it comes to a few simple things.
Get rid of distractions, they all say. Facebook, twitter, the football game, even the cell phone. Turn them off, mute them, remove them from your reach. All those annoying pings that tell you someone has sent you a message? Either turn them off or put your phone somewhere you can’t hear it.
Banishing distractions is just the first step.
The next one is to figure out what’s important.
We know the distractions are not. That’s why we call them distractions.
But we respond to them because they are urgent. Those tones, beeps, and chirps all signal us to think if someone is calling, it might be important.
What we fail to remember is that what is urgent is not always important.
The truth is whatever the caller wants, it’s rarely so critical that it’s worth stopping what you are already doing. You can make your weekend plans later. Or chat with your sister later. Or even answer your financial advisor at another time.
Whatever it is, it can probably wait the hour or so it will take you to finish what you are doing, or at least come to a good stopping place.
And this is the trick. We’ve all become so accustomed to instant answers, we subconsciously feel we need to provide them.
We don’t. We need to learn to screen out the tasks that are screaming “I’m urgent! Pay attention to me!” and listen to the tasks that more quietly request our attention, the ones that truly are important.
I write this for me, as I try to schedule in time to revise my novel. Hope it help some of you finish what’s important in your life, and to put off the merely urgent.