Dot Calm: The Search for Sanity in a Wired World

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For millions of people, technology is making their lives harder, not easier. They're bombarded with so much information they can barely read it, let alone process it. They're tied to the office-through email, cell phones, pagers, voice mail and fax machines-24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their sense of balance is under assault from the relentless onslaught of data and the feeling that they must be constantly "connected." For everyone who yearns to simplify life, slow down, and get centered, all without compromising their career, Dot Calm offers more than hope-it offers answers. Based on the authors' in-depth interviews and survey results, Dot Calm outlines a wide variety of proven tactics that real people in all walks of life are using to cope with the ubiquitous problems of information, access, and work overload. This book provides an unprecedented chance to leverage the success strategies of people who have managed to sever the "electronic tether" that kept them constantly bound to their jobs. Dinnocenzo and Swegan show that you don't have to sacrifice productivity or efficiency to have a sane, balanced life. On the contrary-technology can so overwhelm people with data that they have a hard time focusing on those activities that truly matter. Unplugging will actually make you more effective.

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10 Slices

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1 Take Heed of Net Speed

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Imagine a world where noise is everywhere. Not just surrounding you, but following you wherever you go. Some of that incessant clatter may be pleasant—bursts of music, laughter, sound of water. And some may be jarring—atonal, harsh, discordant. The constant din and jumble of sound seems to press on us, creating a brooding sense of tension, anxiety, and overload.

For most of us, this world doesn’t really exist (although, as you walk through a busy city or a crowded airport, you may think so). If we substitute the image of noise for the reality of our daily lives, the accuracy of the image becomes clear. We live in an increasingly fast-paced, high-energy, constantly moving world where outside events intrude on our privacy and personal life. Everything around us shouts faster—faster connections, quicker service, and even faster fast food. No one is saying let’s work more slowly and take our time. Whether you work in a “new economy” or “old economy” firm, run your own business, work in education, operate in the public sector, or attend school, the demands to make every minute count, to eke out every precious second for maximum multitasking, are constant. We now live in a 24/7 wired world bombarded by information that reaches us at lightning speed.

 

2 Launch the Search Engine Within

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Most of us are affected by the frenetic changes that have occurred in our world over the last decade. This chapter is designed to help you assess, through self-diagnosis, how these changes impact your life. If you know you are overwhelmed and know why, you might want to move on. The remainder of this book addresses solutions and actions to help you get your Overload situation under control.

This chapter includes a series of short exercises and self-assessments (printable versions are available at www.dotcalmbook.com) designed to diagnose problems or concerns created by Overload. As you proceed, please keep the following in mind:

As mentioned earlier, we strongly believe in the value of feedback from others to help ground our perspective in reality. Complete the Keystone Questions and then use them to interview your spouse or significant other about your behavior.

As discussed in Chapter 1, balance is a function of choice. Your choices are based on what you value or what is truly important to you at a core level. Our suspicion is that too many people either don’t consciously examine their values or make choices based upon them. Use the following exercise to help you to explore and define your values.

 

3 How Organizations Help and Hinder

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The organizations most of us work for, support, or create are driven by the increasing demand to operate at net speed. Nothing can be done fast enough. Fear of falling behind or not being first to market is an obsession, and the expectation or need to operate in a 24/7 mode is pervasive. Indeed, it is a competitive mandate to go ever faster. Many organizations deploy extensive technology resources and solutions that enable a wired workforce to establish digital connections around the globe. Concurrently, expectations for productivity improvements continue to increase.

My organization does strive for balance as an ultimate idea, but realizes we aren’t there right now and won’t be in the near future. I got calls at the hospital while I was having my baby. Need I say more?

As a result, a dichotomy often exists between organizational needs and expectations in the age of technology and the struggle for balance and sanity at an individual level. Individuals are being pushed to do more at a faster pace by their organizations—and the organization continues to raise its expectations as new productivity tools and processes are developed. The conflict between individual choices and organizational demands must be reconciled to ensure the success both of the organizations and the people that comprise them.34

 

4 The Connection Conundrum

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Based on our research, there appears to be a growing backlash against the tyranny of 24/7 accessibility. With the exception of a handful of people who say, “I don’t” in response to the question of how they limit accessibility, the majority of our research responses indicate people do limit, or try to limit, their accessibility to others. We describe this as a backlash because more than three-quarters of our contributors report their action to limit accessibility is a recent change for them. The exception to this seems to exist at very high levels of the organization, where people feel the need to be accessible constantly. Even at that level, however, there are many who try to limit access based on personal beliefs and values, or because they feel the need to model the behavior for the rest of the organization.

I do not initiate or set up meetings, conference calls, etc., with people on evenings or weekends, and I discourage people from doing so. I try to model balance and reinforce balance. I leverage my travel time and do my late night paperwork, e-mail, and phone calls while I’m on the road.

 

5 Unplug to Reenergize

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When was the last time you completely left work behind? How frequently do you take work home, check e-mail or voice mail from home, or take your work with you on vacation? Do you feel you can’t afford to not do these things?

I had no strategy until I had a baby—a screaming or sleeping child will completely disconnect you!

The work many of us do is extremely demanding of both our time and energy. In many cases, you may allow the intrusion and justify the cost on a personal level for real or anticipated gains on the career level. To the extent that these choices are made consciously, based on enlightened awareness and endorsed by those who are also impacted, they may be reasonable for your particular circumstances and goals.

All too often, however, people come to realize that the trade-offs are not rational, and they yearn for an occasional and healthy separation from work. The ability to do this requires a combination of commitment and support that sometimes causes difficulty. Why? Isn’t it simply a Just Do It mindset? Well, no. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy for everyone. For one thing, the ability to achieve separation suffers from a form of atrophy if not exercised routinely. For another, physical separation on a short-term basis does not elicit the benefit to be gained from a true separation over a longer period of time.56

 

6 Techno-Triage

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Through a variety of movies and television programs, you may be familiar with the medical version of triage. Simply put, triage is the sorting of casualties in terms of criticality and urgency and, in the process, putting aside those who can’t be saved. While that approach to making decisions may seem callous, in reality that is what is required in times of great urgency, crisis, or overload. When you are making quick decisions in the midst of a frenzied work environment, you have to sort, scan, and filter as quickly as possible or run the risk of falling impossibly behind. If you don’t do that, you also run the risk of focusing on the non-critical events in your life rather than those actions and activities that make a difference.

You can’t stop it—you can only hope to contain it.

Earlier we discussed limiting access and disconnecting as ways of maintaining sanity. But, no matter how hard you try, information is still going to pour in. How you handle the information and messages that get through during “on” times is just as important as your ability to create “off” times, when information doesn’t get through or you are inaccessible.

 

7 Creating Community

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There is a common thread to our discussions of Overload. Specifically, when Overload exists—in whatever form—it interferes with our ability to interact with the people around us in a truly human way. While there may be varying understandings of what it means to interact with others, no one disputes its importance in our lives. How each of us connects with one another to share love, joy, and a host of other emotions defines us as human beings.

The connections we have with others create a richness in our lives for which there is no substitute. Our contributors suggest consistently that being connected to others and being engaged in a community are synonymous. Technology, overwork, the desire to be rich, and a variety of other dynamics in our society often conspire to work against the fabric of togetherness toward which many of us strive. This chapter explores, with a wealth of wisdom from our contributors, ways of staying connected to others and strengthening community in our increasingly wired world.

 

8 Your Digital Divide

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We’ve made a few assumptions about the readers of this book. Specifically, we believe the book is valuable to people in phases of their lives characterized by:

While people may differ in their experience of these dynamics dependent upon age, maturity, and experience, these factors are less significant than the way in which people become aware of and deal with the challenges that arise, whenever they occur. The timing of dissatisfactions in life may have more to do with the pace, demands, and type of work undertaken than with your chronological age. For example, there’s increasing evidence of significant reevaluation and reconsideration of choices and tradeoffs by those who were swept up in the intensity of the dot com world. Those who found the personal costs and elusive payoff not worth the sacrifice represent a wide range of ages. Any number of situations, circumstances, crises, significant emotional events, or evolving growth opportunities may allow the still small voice within finally to be heard: “Something is not right!” Whatever the precipitating circumstance or incident, people often reach a point where they describe feelings of being overworked, stressed out, bored with work and life, or out of balance.88

 

9 Reminders— For Those Who Don’t Own a Retrospectoscope

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For many of the people we talked with and surveyed, there is a common thread—a prevailing message runs through their stories and perspectives. Many of us have heard the suggestion that no one on his or her deathbed ever worries about the overflowing in-basket that’s being left behind or regrets not having spent more time at work before moving to the Great Beyond. Well, we’re pleased to report that more people than you might suspect actually believe this and are working hard to apply its wisdom before it’s too late.

The collective search for sanity and balance throughout our culture is gaining acceptance and momentum. Our society acknowledges the yearning within which our individual search is rooted; the validity of our desire to achieve sanity and congruence in our lives; and the elevated sense of urgency that characterizes our clamoring for calm.

The adage “Life is short” isn’t likely to arouse much disagreement. On a micro level, people are frustrated by the brevity of each day—exacerbated by the overload of information, the demands of near-constant accessibility, and the oppression of unending volumes of work. On a macro level, the precious and tenuous reality of our existence is becoming increasingly apparent.98

 

Appendix

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