Bringing back the busy signal-ending immediate response

Remember the “old days?”  You know, when you’d call someones house on your land line phone and the old ‘beep, beep, beep’ would come on signaling that the person you wanted was on the phone?  Ah, the busy signal.  A forced lesson in patience, slowing down, and waiting to call back.

There is no more busy signal.  Now there’s ringback tones, call waiting, email dumping at all hours of the day/night, and an endless stream of ways to communicate.  This is what I’d like to call “too much of a good thing.”  As a young faculty member, you might feel like you HAVE to answer everyone right away.  Do you need to?  NO. Do you? YES.

Want some evidence about email?  Check out this neat graphic from mashable business. 147 emails a day: that’s about right for me as well.  Long gone are the slow days of 10-20 emails on my work account, now I get around 100-150 each day.  I can also believe the 2.5 hours we spend each day reading, writing, and responding to email.  It drives me crazy because I know that with each “reply” button I hit, I’m losing valuable time doing other things.  You know what I think the root of my problem is: CONTROL.  Yep, I’ll admit it, I like being in control.  Email is something I can’t control on the intake because anyone can email me at any time.  I’m also a big call screener.  If I don’t recognize it or it’s not in my address book, I don’t answer it.  Why?  Because I’m usually answering email 😉 (I kid).  The real reason: because it’s going to suck more of my time!  Dang it! When do I answer?  If it’s my parents, my sister, PIC, or someone I needed to speak to b/c we probably emailed that we needed to talk *shakes head in shame….*

How am I fighting my addiction/love-hate relationship to set some healthy boundaries?  I’ve started turning off my email on the weekends.  Turn it off?  Why?  Because I need to unplug.  As someone who works with technology, loves it, studies it, and basically immerses herself in it–it’s just too much sometimes.  Work email gets delegated to a check in the morning on Saturday to tie up anything residual from Friday and not again until Sunday afternoon/early evening.  Do I see it? Sometimes. Do I read it if I see it?  Sometimes, depends who it’s from.  Do I answer it? Rarely.  WHY???? I need the down time.  I need the busy signal.  And as a new faculty you do too.

What else can you do?  Go through and do a clean sweep.  You know all of those listserv’s you’re subsribed too?  Dump the ones you rarely pay attention too, filter the ones you like to a folder or re-route them to a different address.  Use an RSS feed or google reader to put all of the content you like to view in one place so it’s there when you want it, not bombarding you every 25 seconds.  Your digital life is manageable, but at first, it’s so overwhelming.  Default subscriptions you like to another email account–gmail, yahoo, whatever. I have a yahoo and gmail.  Both are used regularly and help me filter what I want to look when I want to look at it.  I still even use my cornell.edu account.  It’s there for me, why not use it?

If this is too much dot. anything., then make it work for you.  By all means though: turn it off and get some time for you in there.  I cannot stress it enough.  While we always feel that urge to answer everyone and please everyone as a young faculty, there are just times when we need to put up our own busy signal.

How can you discipline yourself to do it?  Step 1. Unysnc it.  Step 2. Find a distraction or something you actually WANT to do.  I hadn’t read a book for pleasure in…….a year?  I have been reading up a storm and enjoying it.  I love bad tv. My DVR and I spend a few hours each week together, no distractions, and double bonus: no commercials.  Step 3. If people think you need to get back to them right away, set some clear guidelines.  Odds are, you’re being reasonable.  I’ve heard it 100 different ways from different people, faculty and non-faculty, about their own rules.  I tell my students that while I try to be prompt, it can be 24 hours, especially if they send things in the afternoons, when I’m off campus. My boss knows I lay low on email on weekends and  he’s fine with it.  He knows I usually browse it and if I have time, I get to it Sunday afternoon/evening.  Step 4. Still struggling?  Find someone who will help you be accountable.  My best friend from home helped me stop working so much and we set rules that on Saturday’s (barring really necessary things), we’d always do something in the afternoon, even if it was just go to lunch and order dessert or sit and watch more bad tv we both love.  I like the structure and schedule of life-too much.  Step 5. Find something else to fill your time.  Hobby time?  More reading? Outdoor?  Pretty much anything? I started blogging 🙂 -twice over…..

Like I said, discipline. I know myself well enough now to know that I need to set myself some boundaries with my electronic life. Sometimes, I need a gentle reminder to unplug and sometimes I get rewarded with something that sounds like, “wow, you went for several hours w/o checking tonight, way to go.”

Taming the electronic beast can also serve as a humbling reminder of what’s truly important.  Turn it off, enjoy some time for you and loved ones, prioritize your life.  Avoiding burnout and letting go of that “I have to please everyone all the time at all hours” mentality is tough.

What have your experiences been as a new faculty?  What can you do before your new position starts to help yourself out?  What would you share with new faculty to improve their transition?

Up next: fender benders in academia and how to handle them….

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7 thoughts on “Bringing back the busy signal-ending immediate response

  1. […] like my email and other digital communications, that feeling that things are getting out of hand creeps in because […]

  2. […] 2. Stop demanding or expecting instant responsiveness at every moment of the day. I have cut way back on email at night. For good reason and for selfish reasons. Unless it truly is urgent or an emergency, it can wait. I have shut off email on weekends and separated what email account gets business vs. research vs. pleasure/life messages. […]

  3. […] you’ve gotta get rid of work distractions. I’ve made a conscious effort to give up pushing emails to my iphone, pick up hobbies, and spend time out with the people I enjoy instead of checking my […]

  4. […] dire, it got me thinking about taking time and how precious it has become. I’ve harped on technology use time and time again, but it’s not invading the worst situations in our lives, making it more […]

  5. I did something similar to this as an undergrad. I made it known to my friends and girlfriend not to text me during the hours of 9-3 (when I had class). I told them I wouldn’t respond, so don’t waste my time.

    I cannot even begin to tell you how productive I was during my senior year. Not only was class much easier (because I wasn’t checking my phone constantly), but I found myself finishing homework early and getting to hang out with my friends at night, which was much better than a “hey, what’s up” text message.

  6. […] feelings of burden don’t always correlate with deadlines. I’ve already mentioned that bringing back the busy signal is a good idea, but I would be so bold this week to challenge you (and me) to start feeling like […]

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