Opinion

Impact over Activity

Just this week, someone told me they feel guilty for being away from their email for more than 10 minutes during the workday. When I asked what she considered her “workday”, she paused for a minute and said “well, any time I’m awake, really.”

I hope you’re having the same reaction I had, which was: Holy moly! This woman – who has her own interests, likes running and reading, also has a family and kids – yet she’s checking her email every 10 minutes or less. For 16 hours a day. Every day.

My next question was “why”? What has happening at work that felt so critically urgent? “Well, I need people to know I’m committed. That I’m working, even though I’ve been home for almost a year.” I know she’s not alone. Anywhere you look, there are articles about workers being burnt out, along with the corresponding listicles of tips and hacks to manage burnout. Burnout is the topic for Harvard Business Publishing’s most recent “Big Ideas” series. I know fighting burnout complicated issue, especially as many of us feel increasingly isolated and are struggling through virtual or hybrid schooling.

Here’s the advice I give my “always available” friends:

Availability is not a contribution.

You were hired into your current job to make specific contributions and impact. Yes, this evolves over time and probably isn’t the same today as when you said “yes!” to a job offer. With some specific exceptions, like receptionist or customer service, your jobs likely is not to immediately answer phones or respond to emails. There is something you were hired to do that only you can do. Everyone around you was also hired to do something only they can (or should) do.

My recommendation is to revisit where your contributions at work make the most unique impact. Focus on that work first, every day. While a switch from “always available” to “conscious contributions” isn’t going to happen overnight, I promise that it is possible.

Here’s how to start:

  1. Establish “off email hours.”
    • Reclaim a reasonable workday: 6 AM and 6 PM emails should be the exception, not the rule.
    • Create “no email hours” in your work calendar: a true lunch break, a few hours for deep work.
  2. Tell people how to reach you outside of work hours. If it’s an emergency, call. With texting, ZOOM, email, chat. we’ve forgotten the telephone. No one likes making phone calls, so asking someone to call naturally creates the conditions for something to really need to be important to warrant a live phone chat.

Commit to contributions first, and your commitment will not be questioned.

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