It’s Hard to be Present When You’re “Always On”

Alex Pollock

A recent USA Today headline caught my attention…. “2010 The Year We Stopped Talking.” Texting and emailing are now our preferred way of communicating.  While being breathlessly, deliriously busy has been equated with commitment and value generation, I sense people are starting to push back against this pressure to be “always on.”

One of the ways people are planning to “take their life back” is by re-evaluating their use and dependence on e-messaging tools. How do these devices affect our workplaces and how well we serve as leaders?

Please allow me to fuel some conversation by sharing some observations:

  • As humans we need and thrive on our connections with others. Relationships are built through contact…the spoken word, the tone and the expression are vital. Electronic media can help maintain meaningful relationships but they can’t create them. In the extreme, e-messaging can be a cowardly way of sharing information.
  • To be effective leaders we must focus on these people under our sphere of influence. Being all things to all people is a foolish pursuit. We must be available to those we have a responsibility to shepherd.
  • Too much information of little or no value is passed around. Break the cycle. Lead the way by cutting your e-messages by at least 50 percent and help others do the same.
  • Multi-tasking doesn’t work. Dedicate a portion of the day to exclusively reading and answering e-messages. It’s rude and insulting to have one eye ball on a colleague and the other on your Blackberry.

What do you think about our use of e-messaging tools: Have we mastered these devices or have they mastered us?  What are your watch-outs with communication technologies? Please share ways that you have found to harness the power of electronic tools. We can learn from you. Thanks!

About Alex Pollock

Alex Pollock has been studying leadership effectiveness for more than 30 years. A former leader in environment, health and safety, and public affairs at The Dow Chemical Co., he learned that we all have leadership roles to play. He enjoys discussing new ideas and sharing practical ways we can all become better leaders.

View all post by Alex Pollock »

  1. Judi Fox

    January 7, 2011


    I saw that article and it helped inspire a life purpose and mission statement that focuses on people (see the website above).

    It is a very hard habit to break. Once you are in the electronic message, TV watching, game playing cycle, it is hard to push out and realize that so much of what you are spending your time looking at – has no immediate purpose and does not further your work or personal goals.

    Ask yourself “why” are you doing what you are doing and try to stay focused on your goals and purpose.

    If your answer to the “why” question is vague – you might just be shuffling information for information’s sake.

    Thanks – Judi Fox

  2. Tamara De La Fuente

    January 10, 2011

    I only share or post information that I find valuable on our company FB and Twitter accts, which ensures that our friends and influencers receive something of value. I do believe there are some messages that don’t work with social media channels. Thanks for this posting, very relevant.

  3. David Williams

    January 10, 2011

    Very good topic for consideration and discussion. The ability to be “present” and focus on a single important interaction or activity might be one of the most valuable capabilities an individual can have. There is a quote that says “never confuse motion with action” and the same applies in the digital world. All of the “connections”, communications and instantaneous interactions do not necessarily equate to action.

    I am a big fan of Seth Godin and his blog ( In his book “Linchpin” he talks about the “lizard brain” – a primitive part of the human brain that drives the “baser” instincts, such as revenge, survival and the need for safety. He argues that this lizard brain and its drives are big part of why people don’t succeed in their personal and professional lives – because they are always seeking safety. He asserts that one of the ways the lizard brain does this is through letting in constant distractions – emails, Twitter posts, IM messages and all of the other channels of immediate inputs/outputs that can consume one’s day.

    He just put up a blog post entitled “Lost in a digital world” ( that discusses this very topic.

    For me the key take-away is to be brave and ignore the information barrage – at least for a while each day – to focus on a few really important interactions and activities so I can accomplish something meaningful.

  4. Alex Pollock

    January 10, 2011

    Thanks Judi. You are sharing a timeless message. I’ve found the work of Tony Schwartz (The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working) and Jack Groppel (The Corporate Athlete) helpful to me.

  5. 4granted

    March 16, 2011

    I think it was Jack Groppel (whom Alex mentioned above) who said that multitasking is the enemy of the extraordinary! Good leaders know this. I’m enjoying Mark DeMoss’s new book, The Little Red Book of Wisdom. He makes the case for hand-written letters; his company phone is answered by a real live person during business hours; he makes sure he allows his employees time for “just thinking.” He also writes that focus brings freedom. It’s a great little book that explores a lot of what you’ve mentioned in this post.

Leave your comment