The Tyranny of Now
What Are the Rules of Your New Ecosystem?

Dealing with The Tyranny of Now

Last week I wrote a post about the "Tyranny of Now"--the always-on society we live in and how we're pressured to monitor and respond to it 24/7. I got a lot of great advice and comments on it that deserve to be elevated to a post.

Ken Allen suggested that dealing with multiple demands on your attention is a little like playing tennis:

I raised this in conversation recently - the 'nowness' as you coined it though I didn't call it that - and someone said glibly that it's just like playing tennis, "you return the ball from which ever direction it comes, that's the skill."

But it's more than just that.

It's more like playing tennis with several players, all of them on the other side of the net, and all serving with a different ball.

For a satisfactory return that leads to something useful, one has to simply ignore certain serves, and find ways of doing this. It's not easy.

That way, however, you have prioritised your interactions, for you are in control.

Use whatever means, when necessary, to freeze that incoming ball in mid air while you deal with the previous one, otherwise you end up missing both.

Ken Stewart reminded me that there's a difference between immediate and urgent:

I must say there is a difference between immediate and urgent. This phenomenon seems to underscore 2 very fundamental oversights:

1) Lack of planning
2) Lack of respect for other people

I work in a customer service business - a very high tough company. Many of us work in service - of some sort or another, and each of us have varying degrees of pressure we face. I do acknowledge this fact.

Past this, someone else's poor planning should not become my emergency. It sometimes does, but I have learned to build that need to my day.

As I read through your post, I found myself tensing up, unconsciously even - recoiling from the on-slaught of this "Tyranny of Now". My 2 cents would simply be that we must each determine where our boundaries are, and in so doing - establish rules of engagement so as not to allow others to rob us of our sanity, of our calm, and of ourselves.

Catherine Lombardozzi offered additional advice:

#1 - Sunday night is off limits. I have found that I have gone from my work week, to a busy weekend working on my faculty and other professional commitments, and left no time for taking a deep breath. I've tried to commit to after dinner on Sunday as time to sit by the fire and read, or to reflect in my journal. It's worked wonders on my sense of calm when I've actually stuck with that plan... so I intend to make it permanent and immutable.

#2 Cut back. - In 2008, I asked my employer for a 30-hour work week and was stunned and blessed when they said yes. I took a pay cut, but wow, what a difference it has made!! Now I can work a steady job, teach some evenings, and still have time for friends and family.

#3 Schedule time and set time limits. - I admit that I love to get lost in blogs and reading news on the internet (like now, for example)... so when I'm really busy, I set myself time limits. In an upcoming experiment, I plan to set aside specific time for reading and responding to blogs... I find that by doing it as part of my daily routine, I don't have time to comment and so it gets away from me. I'm hoping by setting time, I can better retain what I'm getting out of reading them rather than let them blow by. Most posts aren't time-sensitive anyway.

Kim McCollum shared her tips, which are very similar to the strategies I've been using lately:

When I find that I feel too pressured to do things "Now" and like I don't have enough time, I try to cut back. I stop reading blogs for a week and clear everything out with a press of the "Mark All As Read" button. Then I go in and get rid of some subscriptions. I realign priorities and drop some personal projects (usually to be picked back up later, when it is more convenient). After whittling down my commitments, I tend to have less things pressing for my time "Now".

And Virginia Yonkers offered one final bit of advice:

I think you need to overcome the tyranny by saying, "in a minute". I have found that even my students are patient if I just give them a plan or schedule (I'll have it done by X date, and yes I received your e-mail, communication, etc...). You just can't rush us tortoises, but you can count on us to deliver!

Great ideas from everyone--thank you! Any you would add?


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As much a problem as it is that other people place unrealistic demands on our time, another problem is that we fail to place limits on our own expectations. We've grown accustomed to the idea of instantaneous everything and therefore expect it at every level.

I ranted a bit about this recently on my blog. Cell phones are a prime example of how we overuse technology. There's a big difference in being able to do something and needing to do it. For example, there's a mindset that if you don't have a cell phone - and aren't text-messaging constantly - you must be some kind of throwback Luddite. I think it's more a case of being practical & realistic about your needs. I don't - and I suspect few do - have any real need that justifies or demands constant, instantaneous communication.

And we're breeding this mindset into each new generation by succumbing to our whims to do things just because we can instead of evaluating the actual need to do so. Take note of how commonplace it is to have DVD players in cars. Many children can't tolerate a 10-minute ride in the car to the grocery store without firing up the on-board DVD player. That's not progress!

Hi Michele!
I miss you.
Thank you for your post!
I've been under the grip of the "Tyranny of Now" for a while, since mid September, as we started our school year implementing new ways of assessing students oral presentations and as I had some issues to deal with during the beautiful students blogging competition that happened to be a "première" to my kids.
Meanwhile, I found great help in the book
"Slow Down to Speed Up" by Lothar Seiwert. While reading this book I managed to put in practice its advice: I allowed my self to enjoy some free time doing the things I love most - such as going out with friends, writing about my readings or walking by the sea - precisely when I was totally surrounded by urgent demands. I also understood better how I tend to be caught in these sort of "tyrannic traps" and how I should avoid it by planning my activities in a way that matches a largely "right side brain user" as I recognized to be.
In this book I also rediscovered some ancient and simple practical advices to deal with daily issues in our "speed up" work environments, that I had simply forgotten, as the benefit of assessing the effective accomplishement of our weekly planning and how the latter stands between our daily planning and our long term goals as a strategic mediation, linking our humbler daily actions to the wide horizon where the meaning of life unfolds at ease.


I have been drawn to the distinction between chronological time and kairological time (through Jay Griffiths' writing). I have thought that your posts exhibit all the characteristics of kairological time!

Thank you!


Tēnā koe Michele!

Congratulations on using your post and its comments reflectively. You are a true advocate for your commenters. I admire this.

Some people garner their advocacy and wear it as some sort of a brooche. You can wear what you've garnered as a medal!

Catchya later

Rob, so true that we bring it on ourselves--that's one of my issues right now.

Ines--I'm going to have to check out that book. I definitely need to do some better planning AND stick to those plans.

Keith--I'm intrigued by the idea of kairological time. I never heard of it before and will have to delve into it some more. Thanks for teaching me something new. :-)

And Ken--thanks for giving me such great stuff to work with!

Thanks for the shout out, Michele. This just popped across my radar. I enjoyed reading your post as it evoked a very strong reaction. Great writing and I look forward to reading more!

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