Thought Leadership

Time to Do Everything but Think

I am addicted to my Blackberrys, I will admit. Yes, I have a personal and a work Blackberry, each fashionably clipped to my waist. If I wore one on each side, I suppose I’d look like a cowboy from the “Wild West” ready to draw my weapons at a moment’s notice! As it is, when my phone rings, calendar reminder beeps or an SMS message flashes red, I tend to look like a mobile video arcade.

All kidding aside, I often wonder what we have lost in being so accessible. Have we found time to do everything but think?

An article from 2001 that highlights how wireless life can be addictive has hung on my office wall for the past nine years. It’s a constant reminder of how much technology has advanced and how it has changed our lives. Less than a decade ago, we could hardly imagine mobile phones that can download from the Internet, check scores and trade stocks, or an iPhone that fits in the palm of your hand and yet is capable of playing thousands of songs, taking vibrant photos and even finding the closest public restroom in New York City. Only a few years ago, I thought watching a movie on a portable DVD player while traveling was “cool.” Now, we can watch those movies on small, compact mobile devices, as well as carry Kindles instead of paperbacks. We can play with gamers from Ireland to Tokyo — and everywhere in between. We can perform hundreds of tasks anywhere, anytime. Never being out of touch, though, can also mean never being able to get away.

Sometimes I believe I have adapted to the tempo of wireless life. Every 15 seconds, there is some new thing to respond to. Sometimes, it feels like I have a mini-metronome in my brain that drives me to do everything fast — answer e-mails, return voice mails and even eat my lunch while on conference calls. While technology has greatly improved our lives in many ways, we certainly do live in an over-communicated world. There are too many websites, too many reports, too many bits of information bidding for our attention. I have become addicted to the perpetual flux of information and the need to respond quickly. I often crave the next “data fix” and, while I sometimes dream of turning it all off, I find it difficult not to think about what I may have missed.

The problem with all this speed, and the frantic energy that is spent using time efficiently, is that it undermines creativity. After all, creativity is usually something that happens when you’re doing something else — like when you’re in the shower and your brain has time to noodle over and create the odd connections that lead to new ideas. But if your brain is always multitasking or responding to techno-prompts, there is little time or energy for undirected mental play.

Furthermore, if you are consumed by the same information loop surrounding everyone else, you don’t have new material to stimulate you into thinking differently. You don’t gain access to unexpected knowledge. You don’t have time to read the history book or the science book that may actually prompt you to see your own business in a new light. Instead, you’re just swept along in the same narrow current as everyone else, which is swift but not deep.

Of course, I am thankful for the enormous number of new tools we use to communicate our messages. But, if we find the time to do everything but think, what are we really communicating? Do we sometimes forget that at the other end of our mobile devices is a human being?

Today, I’m going to take the time to think about the words I speak and the words I write. I will put down my mobile device and take time to have a face-to-face conversation with my colleague. Perhaps this undivided attention will lead to a new creative idea. I will take the time to read a few articles that have nothing to do with public relations. Perhaps this will help me bring new insights to my next meeting. And, I will take the time to send a real, handwritten letter to my mentor, Chet Burger, the founding president of the PRSA College of Fellows. He frequently reminds me of the old adage, “People may not remember what you said, but they always remember how you made them feel.”

I hope my reflections have made you consider putting away your mobile devices, if just for a moment. Take a second to reach out to someone on the other end of the phone — perhaps a meaningful someone from your past. Take time to let your creativity flow in its purest, unfiltered form, and perhaps capture someone’s interest as well as ear. And be sure, most of all, to put “think” onto your everything list.

Gail D. Liebl, APR, is a member of the PRSA Board of Directors and director of Communications & Branding at Travelers in St. Paul, Minn.

4 Comments

  • Gail,
    You’re absolutely right! I call it the “the myth of of multi-tasking.” Research indicates that when we’re working on tasks which require deep focus–and for those of us in public relations, that’s much of the time– but are interrupted, our brains need a substantial amount of time to re-focus. As such, the IMs, the “pings”, the e-mail alerts, which we use in an attempt to become more efficient, actually make us less so. PR pros should give ourselves the gift of “single-tasking” and real concentration on the important tasks at hand–particularly those which require creativity. And I couldn’t agree more about the beauty of a hand-written note.

  • This is some great food for thought! Technology definitely has a lot of benefits, however I think people have lost sight of the importance of reading an insightful book actually in their hands, brainstorming new business ideas over a warm cup of coffee, or chatting face-to-face with people about a variety of topics.

    Thanks for reminding us the importance of not always being tied to our gadgets!

  • This is so true. Communication technology has revolutionized our way of life. Relationships are no longer experienced through face to face interaction, instead we socialize with are faces glued to a screen. It has transformed us into a narcissistic, self-aggrandizing world. We sit anxiously next to the computer waiting for someone to respond to our meaningless Twitter or Facebook update. I agree that it has limited our ability to be creative and unique. I cherish my on-line social life and my various communication devices, but maybe its best I set them aside every once in a while.

  • Gail,
    I could not agree more with what you wrote! It is very important for us to remove ourselves from techonology at certain times just to power down and work on our relationships face-to-face. I often find myself following people on Facebook more than I talk to them in real life. When we overload our brains with thousands of messages flowing through the airwaves and media, we lose focus. It is important to sit down and remember the significance of focusing on what needs to be done rather than being distracted. As Ken said, I feel that a hand written note is very personable. Recently I received thank-you notes in the mail that have been typed and printed out. I feel that this is a way to mass-communicate rather than taking the time to actually sit and write a personalized letter.

    Thank you for this post. I really enjoyed reading what you had to say!

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