10 interview questions for Jeff Davidson related to his book Breathing Space
Question 1. You say that nearly every gainfully employed adult in America today faces unrelenting information and communication overload. How did this come to be?
Answer: Actually, a little at a time. Introduction of cable TV, followed by faxes, then email, and of course instant messenger, the web, and all the technological and communication devices that have come our way, have made it so easy for us to gather information, stay in touch with others, and end up filling our days so easily that we actually have to take precautions in the face of information overload. I know career professionals today can find it a challenge to stay focused on their work, in other words, to do the job for which they were hired and to engage in their livelihood. There are so many distractions that it’s impacting all of us, all of the time.
Question 2. Why can’t they just pick up a book or attend a seminar?
Answer: Everyone reading this right now has already read his or her share of time management books and articles on time management, stress management, work-life balance, productivity, and career advancement. The issue is not one of reading the book or attending the seminar, for there is already plenty of information available on how to stay in control.
The real problem is that the level of distraction and sheer volume of unrelenting information and communication flows are unprecedented in our history as a species. Thus, tried and true methods for carving out the time and space that you need to be effective have gone by the wayside. Techniques and approaches that once worked marvelously well fall far short of being effective today. Applying traditional time management techniques, for example, in the face of all that comes our way is like putting a band-aid on an eight inch gash.
Question 3. You say that powerful social and cultural forces are turning each of us into human whirlwinds, charging about to get things done in “fast forward.” What are these forces?
Answer: In a free market society, and we wouldn’t want to live any place else, the competition among vendors to keep giving us the latest and greatest in terms of products and services conveys a wonderful benefit, and at the same time, a great burden. Each of us is continually bombarded with new products and services with new benefits and features, more guidelines, more instructions, and more options than we can handle.
While we have seemingly more control over our personal environments such as our offices, our homes, etc., oddly, we end up having less control when the options before us proliferate. For example, in your car, you may have a combination radio and CD player which generates fabulous sound. Still, you might not know how to work a lot of the features and it’s not likely you’re going to learn. Each new device that we bring into our lives has the potential to enrich us and confound us.
Question 4. What are some of the principles you teach for having more breathing space in one’s life?
Answer: Breathing Space principles include managing the beforehand, which is taking care of activities in advance of a known event, conditioning your environment, which involves setting up places and spaces in your life to accommodate the way you work and live, and taking advantage of multiple stations, which involves assembling the variety of small, inexpensive, commodity-type goods that you frequently use so that you don’t have to carry them, but they’ll simply be in the places that you frequent, ready for your use. These type of maneuvers add up to an effective interruption management system.
Question 5. What is multitasking and how is it harmful?
Answer: Multitasking essentially is an unvoiced strategy for functioning today in the face of too much competing for your attention and proceeding as if you can somehow “save time” by doubling up and tripling up on activities. It is harmful because our constitutions are simply not designed to multitask for anything other than low-level activities. Anything that commands your sharp attention, such as driving down the road, cannot successfully be combined with anything else that commands your sharp attention, such as speaking to someone in real time on a cell phone. The two in combination add up to danger.
In the workplace, while you’re not barreling down the highway in a 4,000-pound vehicle with your life and the lives of others on the line, multitasking remains harmful because one, you’re experiencing internal stress, whether you realize it or not, and two, you’re subject to making more errors or poor decisions. Believe it or not, you’ll be most productive if you tackle the number one task confronting you to its completion, then go on to number two and so forth. When I speak at conferences and conventions, I have simple experiments I do with audiences to demonstrate why the multitasker is not as effective as the person that tackles one thing at a time.
Question 6. What are some of the things people can do immediately to cut down or more speedily attack the paper piles on their desks?
Answer: First is to get real about your subscriptions – what do you really read? What do you really need to receive, and how much of what you take in do you really retain and then later apply so that it benefits you, your family, your company, your community, or the world? As a general principle, it makes sense to get your name off of mailing lists. Any time you receive something in the mail, or for that matter, by email, that you don’t want or need, you’re cluttering up your environment. No, don’t drop your business card in the chamber punch bowl unless you somehow want to be contacted by al kinds of vendors on a regular basis, offering you goods and services for which you may have no need at all.
Question 7. How can we all stay informed, but not be overwhelmed by too much information?
Answer: News summaries such as “The Week” magazine, or even a weekly magazine such as Time or Newsweek, will help you to stay informed without having to have daily or hourly updates. Think of it, most of the large issues for which it makes sense to remain aware don’t change that much from week to week. Whether you’re talking about health care reform, international relations, or environmental issues, a weekly update will work just fine.
Tuning into the nightly news offers some immediate gratification, but in many cases there is no context when it comes to what you’re hearing. The nightly news or a quick run through your favorite news sources merely offers a snapshot of what is happening at the moment. You want to put your focus on trends, not fads or one-time or isolate incidents. Work to see the big picture of where issues are heading, instead of the tiny, tiny picture of last night’s fire or a pileup on the highway.
Question 8. How can we make effective decisions faster and easier without getting bogged down by too much data?
Answer: Too much data is the quintessential problem of our time. Worse, you can find enough information that says choose Door A, and enough information that says choose Door B. So, you’re back to where you started. I say, trust your instincts. They’re there for a reason. If you’re 40 years old, you bring 40 years of intelligence to bear when you make a choice based on instinct. Instincts are not some hocus pocus phenomenon, but rather the emulation of intelligence at the cellular level brought to bear when you have to make a decision. Of course, consult experts, find out what they have to say. Is there a trailblazer? Someone who has already gone down the same path that you are, who had to make a similar type of decision?
Question 9. What do you mean by “the power of completions”?
Answers: To understand completions, first lets take a look at incompletions. Have you ever listened to a song on the radio, perhaps one that was not one of your favorites, then had that song play over and over in your head for the next day or two? Of course, we all have. What you may not have realized then is that if you had heard that song to completion, the probability that it would play over and over in your head thereafter is diminished. When you only hear a snippet of a song, there is an enhanced probability that you’ll replay it in order to achieve some sense of completion. As odd as that sounds, we can apply this phenomena to the tasks you face each day.
If you have many small items fronting you, and most of them remain incomplete, they psychologically weigh on you. Time passes, and perceptually, they loom larger than they are. When you get completion on one task, in other words, take it all the way to its end, mentally and emotionally that task is out of your system. You feel good. There’s a demarcation. You’re ready to go on to what’s next.
In a similar fashion, when you engage the power of completions, that is, tackle tasks in a manner such that there is nothing else to do, you’ve wrapped up all the loose ends, then acknowledge yourself for having finished that task completely, to have more focus, energy, and direction for what’s next. You have created a mental partition in your mind between one task and the next. It’s satisfying and highly productive.
Question 10. What parting advice would you like to offer?
Answer: There are many bits of advice I might offer. One is to keep your own counsel. Follow the beat of your own drum. So often we get buffeted by popular opinion independent of what we really is right for us. It’s time for each of us to stop getting caught up in society’s minutia. We don’t need to follow the gossip columnists writing about a handful of celebrities whose lives have no impact on our lives whatsoever. It probably makes sense as well, for most people to spend less. If you didn’t buy a new book, watch a new movie, or open up a new magazine for a year, still fill up that year with the books and magazines you already have on hand, the movies you encounter, and the other information that will come your way.
We have all become over-stimulation junkies, and it’s not healthy for most of us most of the time. We eat too much, we drink too much, we stay up too late, we spend too much, and we wonder why we can’t find peace of mind. Our credo has become “I overdo it, therefore I am.” Now and then, go for a walk, preferably without your wallet, so that you can’t spend a dime. Become comfortable once again with silence. Allow yourself a few minutes here and there to just do nothing. Take back control of at least moments throughout your day. You’re worth it, and you deserve Breathing Space.