The harm of immediate response expectations
What do you do when you receive a notification while you’re working? When a chat message comes through, or an email hits your inbox, do you feel obligated or pressured to acknowledge the message right away?
As the pace of our world picks up, an increasing number of things are becoming instant. We can buy with one click and contact anyone from anywhere at any time.
This instant access is great, but it brings challenges. For many people, a notification or new message dictates a need to immediately respond. Work cultures can inadvertently create an expectation of immediate response.
This has become the new normal in so many businesses, with many employees saying they feel pressure to respond right away to instant messages and notifications from tools. Yet in almost all situations, a response is not really needed immediately.
Here are four significant issues with immediate response expectations.
1. You can't reach deep work
Deep work allows you to work in a state of distraction-free concentration, and push your cognitive capabilities to their limits. It’s when your best work happens.
To achieve this high quality and powerful work, you need depth and focus. You need to be able to go all-in on a project, harness your creative energy and direct it toward your work. With every message and notification, you pull your focus away from your work.
When you feel the need to respond to these messages, your focus dissipates and you’re not in the same 'zone' when you come back to the work. These quick messages seem harmless, but they prevent you from operating at your highest level.
If you are constantly switching between apps and messaging threads you’ll never reach the depth required to truly do your best work.
2. You never truly take a break
If you feel an expectation to always maintain inbox zero and provide immediate responses to incoming messages, you’ll never disconnect from work. This is unhealthy and you’ll continue to drain your energy.
A good rhythm for work is to be present when you’re working and when you're not, truly stop and let your mind go somewhere else. When you take a break, you should be present in what you are doing now (not the work you'll be doing after the break).
You're not actually taking a break if you are still receiving messages, checking them and sending quick responses. Your mind is still at work. This means you won’t return to work refreshed and refocused. Instead, you’ll feel like you’ve been going the entire time you were away.
3. Anxiety increases
The combination of distracted work and never taking (proper) time off results in increased anxiety. And this goes beyond work. Studies are showing the amount of screen time and digital distractions are contributing to higher levels of anxiety.
The sheer volume of time people spend online, coupled with the fact that the digital world is full of distractions, has made distraction the norm. You're always connected, always communicating. The speed and volume of it all is exploding, and it's dividing your attention further and further from whatever task is at hand.
It also causes your time-management skills fall by the wayside.
At this point, you may be wondering how it’s even possible to manage your time when a constant stream of consciousness demands your unwavering attention.
Anxiety is a byproduct as the day never ends and you never feel things are fully complete.
4. You are not in control of your day
To succeed in work, you need a plan of attack for each month, week and day. You should approach your day with a to-do list with key priorities.
Immediate response expectations strips away your control over your own day. Instead of playing offense and dictating what you’ll focus on, now you're playing defense.
To succeed, you need to be proactive. When you respond to every message and email immediately you are reactive.
As Greg McKeown says in his book, Essentialism, “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
Instead of a clearly focused day knocking out important tasks, your day ends up getting sidetracked by messages and other people's priorities.
Creating a healthy work culture
These issues fall on leadership. If you are a leader or manager, make sure the company's focus is on priorities and the work itself. The focus should not be how quickly responses come through.
Encourage employees to truly take time off. Tell them that when they are off, they need to be really away so they can come back refreshed.
The always-on habit is not easy to break and may seem harmless. But the effects are far reaching, sapping productivity and energy from the team.
A great place for the team to start is to review the culture and reset expectations.