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Dealing with The Tyranny of Now

The Tyranny of Now

Now_watch Lately, I've been ruled by "The Now"-- the insistent demands of the ringing phone, the urgent email, the client who needs me to do something IMMEDIATELY to solve her problem. 

What is demanded of me in the present moment has come to hold more sway over me than what I've set for myself as my longer-term goals. In fact, I have to say that I've completely lost sight of any actual goals. I'm too sucked into the screaming vortex of "NOW!"

I've been adding to this burden of "now-ness" (a word I've just made up), through my own uses of technology. I have my Gmail account open at all times, so that I see every email as it slides into my inbox. My Netvibes winks growing numbers of unread posts at me in another Firefox tab, urging me to check my feeds before things get out of control. And of course I have Twitter and blog comments and two phone lines, each calling for attention, too.

There's something to be said for living in the present. Isn't that what we're constantly told we should do?  But I'm not really living in MY present. Instead, I'm living in a present created by other people and what they say or want or need me to do. I'm so busy taking in new information and responding to it that I'm not actually doing much to shape it. There's too much to take in and I haven't been doing a good job of controlling that.

I  think that we have a very real cultural pressure to give in to the Tyranny of Now. We're expected to be responsive and adaptable, to take in large quantities of information and to DO something with it as quickly as possible. If you can't handle that, then there's something wrong with YOU, rather than with a system that demands immediate action. You need to get with the program, man. Figure out how to deal with the information tsunami or someone else will.

Seth Godin says that we sometimes overpay in our quest for the Now. I agree.

So how to break the tyranny and lower the costs? How to get away from "NOW!"?

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Hi Michele,
Our office is ruled by the Tyranny of Now, to the extent that we completely drop things sometimes because Now comes up in the middle of them, so I appreciate you blogging about it. Thanks also for the link to Seth's post. I'm going to close Outlook for a while and try to get some things done!

I have always been a bit of a ponderous, plodding person. My sisters always teased me because my pace was 3 or four steps behind them. My pace aggravates my husband who is a "reactive" person and moves, thinks, and just works at a different pace than I do.

However, one advantage I have is that I don't rush myself and am able to think things out before reacting. While I feel I am still the "Now", I don't let that pressure me into making decisions too quickly. My friends and colleagues know my usual response when they ask me a question, "I can give you an answer now. But it won't be good. So give me some time to think about it." Over the next day (sometimes even week or month) I will still be answering their question.

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!

Tēnā koe Michele

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.

Email and the phone and text-on-mobile are your servants. You're certainly not theirs. You could treat them like that which means you end up serving few or none.

I have voicemail. I use it but I also clear it regularly. I have seen other people ignoring the voicemail they received. Then they complain that it takes too long to clear it all. Hmph.

I let voicemail kick in if I'm having a F2F conversation with a colleague. When it's convenient, and as soon as it's convenient, I clear my voicemail.

I clear my email regularly too, but I don't use email alerts. They just distract me while I attend to other things - the phones are (bad) enough. Only family have my mobile number and they know to text me first - I've got my ring-tones on near silent, mainly out of courtesy to my work colleagues.

There are other measures I take. They are as simple.

When I discuss these things with work-colleagues, they throw their hands up in disgust and all I hear are excuses and complaints that they don't like leaving voicemail messages, so why should they expect others to.

I think, 'Get real! This is the 21st century. We developed all this technology to help us take the sweat out of life, not to get ourselves into a sweatball.'

Technology is a tool. We invented it to assist us, not hinder us. We have to learn to use the technology at our disposal.

Otherwise, we invent a fine knife to cut our food, and end up slicing our fingers with it.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

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".

Michelle, I can really feel the crushing rush of "now-ness" bearing down on me after reading your post ;-)

It is a great way to capture what all of us seem to be experiencing.

However, I have 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.

I feel your pain!! I'm continuing to work on this same issue myself, and this time of year is my time to reflect and make a different plan so I've been generating and recommitting to a few ideas...

#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.

That's my plan, anyway - offering these ideas to you in case they help.

I sometimes wonder if my daily goal to post a blog has limited my ability to respond to the nowness. On the other hand, blogging has energized my life and motivated me to express my opinions in a vital way.

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