How and why to be less available

May 28, 2015

We live in an age and culture of hyper-accessibility. Email. Twitter. Facebook Messenger. Mac OS Continuity (that thing where phone calls ring on your phone… and your laptop… and your iPad). And notifications for all these things. On all your devices. All the time.

Yet the challenge I’ve been posing to everyone lately — clients, family, friends, mentees — is to be less available. And every single person I’ve encouraged to do so has said it was the right move.

But that isn’t to say it’s an easy shift. It’s tough both logistically and emotionally: logistically, because we still want to care for people well; and emotionally, because (if we’re honest) it feels good to be needed.

Fortunately, there are a lot of good reasons to be less available:

1. It frees you up to be fully present with whomever or whatever is in front of you.

2. When you’re less accessible to everyone, you’re more accessible to the right people. (For example, if you’re less available to any kind of client, you’re more available for clients who are the right fit. Or if you’re less available to your whole group of acquaintances, you’re more available to your inner circle of close friends and family — the people you truly nourish and who nourish you in return.)

3. Intentionally creating a barrier to accessibility means that people who make an effort to call on you are really invested and engaged. In other words, it weeds out prospective clients who aren’t serious or friends of convenience or other people who are solely in the consumer mindset.

4. Self care. Solitude is vital to the emotional health of all people. Extroverts may need less solitude to recharge than their introverted counterparts, but constant connectedness isn’t healthy for anyone.

5. When someone has a question or a problem, it’s easier for them to ask you than to seek their own solution. If you’re always available, you become a human compendium of instructions and answers. Being less available is a way of encouraging and empowering others to learn and discover the way on their own. (It’s like how you may never remember how to get to someone’s house if you always use your GPS to get there. You aren’t actually learning the way; Siri is just dictating instructions to you.)

So how do you do it?

How can you make yourself less available without causing mutiny, disappointing everyone, and making them all feel abandoned? Here are some ideas that have worked well for me.

1. Manage expectations. This is the single most important thing you can do. People aren’t (usually) upset because they didn’t hear from you for a week; they’re upset because they expected a response in a day or two. I have an auto-responder on my email account that tells people exactly what to expect in terms of my availability, email response times, and office hours. It’s possibly (probably) annoying to people who already know what’s going on, but I decided that was a reasonable trade-off for setting expectations with my network at large.

2. Schedule time for engagement — and for disengagement. Less available doesn’t mean unavailable. I don’t check my email on the weekend, but I have regular times I do read and respond to messages. I don’t plan social outings on work days, but I am intentional about scheduling play dates and lunches on my off days. (Looking for techniques on how to schedule engagement? Check out The Intentional Day.)

3. Create your contact flow wisely. It doesn’t have to be easy to get in touch with you. But if it’s difficult, it should be because you made it that way on purpose — not the result of a poorly designed contact flow. Maybe this means hiring someone to handle your email — making your brand easy to reach but making you less accessible. For me, it means I don’t list a phone number on my website, and I point people toward a form instead of an email address for making initial contact. I’ve even had times that I took the contact link out of my main navigation altogether, so people had to read through (or at least scroll through) my services page before reaching out. When I had a contact link right on my homepage, I received substantially more emails from people who weren’t genuinely interested in working together.

4. Be socially selective. You don’t have to be on every social media platform in the history of the internet. Choose the ones that make sense for you and your customers. There will automatically be more time for solitude when you’re not covering as many access points.

5. Trust people to be both gracious and capable. At least a few times every week, someone specifically compliments my email auto-responder or time management — and almost as often, someone answers their own question before I’ve even seen their email. And it’s always a surprise, because I usually feel like I’m letting everyone down. People are much more gracious than I give them credit for, and much more capable too.

What about you?

How are you managing your availability? What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in the age of hyper-accessibility? What’s working (and not working) for you?

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Thirty before thirty-one

January 5, 2015

Last year, I wrote about using systems to accomplish goals(See also: 2827262524, and 23.) And I still believe that systems are central to making progress on your goals and doing life on purpose.

But I also have to be real: this hasn’t been a good year for systems, lists, goals, or expectations. I knew my systems would need to change, but this year didn’t just necessitate different systems; it turned my systems completely upside down, kicked them around for a bit, and then spun them again and again like a kid getting ready for his turn to pin the tail on the donkey.

With that in mind, this list has a different feel than its predecessors. There’s less of an emphasis on new systems and more of an emphasis on reclaiming systems that existed before June 13, 2014. There’s also fundamentally less of a do new things! vibe and more of a yes, keep going direction. Because if there’s one thing I learned in 2014, it’s that you can’t say (or hear) you’re doing a good job, just keep on keeping on too many times or too often. This simple affirmation is the heart’s cry of motherhood.

  1. pursue faithfulness, my word for 2015. This is the word God gave me (with complete, indisputable clarity) and is definitely not the word I wanted (which is another post for another time). But if last year was about God’s faithfulness in making things new, this year is about his call to be faithful with what he has entrusted to me — whatever that means, wherever it takes me.
  2. make brunch at least twice a month (ideally every weekend)
  3. get back into my pre-baby workout rhythm, going to the gym 3-4 times each week (in preparation for Blue Lake in June and possibly the Open Water Swim Series in May… and if I completely lose my mind, the Portland Bridge Swim in July)
  4. get back into the husband-lunch-making habit, and make him something out of the ordinary at least once a week
  5. create a new meal planning system
  6. find a new devotions rhythm
  7. go to a movie or concert in the park
  8. catch up on all of my magazines and start reading new issues in the month they arrive
  9. continue writing monthly letters to Eva through her first birthday (and ideally for another year)
  10. once a week, purchase and prepare a cut of meat from our local butcher
  11. give generously of both time and money
  12. open one bottle of nicer ($25+) and/or special (purchased at the winery, received as a gift, etc.) wine from our cellar each month — with occasion or without
  13. try three “mommy and me” classes or activities (yoga, music, storytelling at the library, fitness in the park, swim lessons, meetup groups, etc.)
  14. make bread at least once a month (preferably yeast bread, but quick breads count too, as do from-scratch doughs like cinnamon rolls)
  15. host our annual Academy Awards party
  16. take the sabbath seriously (and prepare/plan ahead in order to sabbath well)
  17. do a turkey trot
  18. love in deed and in truth
  19. make an advent calendar (I bought myself a kit so this will actually get done after 5 years on my list)
  20. create a prototype of one of the physical products I hope to manufacture one day
  21. do something musical (possibly: learn to competently play no fewer than three songs on the guitar)
  22. get back to having regular date nights with my husband
  23. take Eva to Zoo Lights for the first time
  24. buy coffee for a stranger
  25. try two new Portland restaurants that I have tagged as “fancy” on Yelp
  26. stay in the habit of taking photos of Eva with the SLR at least twice a week
  27. slow down
  28. pray for my enemies
  29. have eyes to see good gifts
  30. hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection

Twenty-nine before thirty

January 5, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I read a fantastic article about using systems instead of goals — or, more accurately, using systems in conjunction with goals. As the author writes at the end of the post:

Goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress… Committing to the process is what makes the difference.

This is why I’m so passionate about creating systems in both work and life. And why those systems need to be systems you love — systems that are adaptive and individualized, flexible and prophetic. You may love your goals, but chances are, you only visit those goals a few times each year. Your systems are the things you use day in, day out — and if you don’t love them, it doesn’t matter how much you love your goals, because those systems are the means to get to your goals. Systems are the difference between wanting something and doing (or having) it.

In Narrative, one of the things that I talk about is “the check-out” — when you look ahead to what’s next but also look back to what did (and didn’t) get done last time. If something didn’t get done, it’s almost always for one of four reasons:

  1. there were too many things (or too many big things) for the amount of time available
  2. the thing isn’t actually important
  3. there’s some kind of internal resistance to the thing
  4. the system for doing the thing didn’t work (or there was no system at all)

When it comes to annual (or quarterly) goals, the first one is rarely the culprit, unless you are much too ambitious in goal-setting or have an unexpected life change. It’s usually about importance, resistance, or systems.

As I make my list each year (previously: 28, 27, 26, 25, 24, and 23), I have to ask honest questions about my incomplete items from the prior year:

  • Is this thing not really important to me? It’s okay for the answer to be yes. It may be important later and appear on a later list. Or it may never be important to me, and that’s okay too.
  • Do I have some kind of resistance to the thing? If so, why? Is it my intuition? Am I afraid to fail? Do I need to break a habit that’s hindering the new thing I want to do?
  • Did I create a system around the thing? If not, how could I create one next year? If so, why didn’t the system work?

Of my 28 things from last year, 17 were completed (or are continual works in progress, like loving in deed and in truth). Of the 11 that weren’t done, three were no longer important and weren’t carried over to this year’s list; three caused some kind of internal resistance and were modified for 2014; and five needed better systems. I’ve marked those five (*) below and hope that, on the next January 5th, I’ll be able to tell you the story of those systems and how they made a difference.

  1. host another spring swap
  2. take the sabbath seriously (and prepare/plan ahead in order to sabbath well)
  3. keep two evenings open every week
  4. develop three new passive income streams and/or products
  5. do a turkey trot
  6. make an advent calendar *
  7. memorize one psalm and/or one chapter of a Pauline letter *
  8. read 36 of the 72 books that I own and haven’t read
  9. establish a mind+body+spirit morning routine
  10. have eyes to see all things new, my word for 2014. On the surface, this word seems like a rather obvious choice for the year ahead — a new baby, a new chapter, a thousand new things every day, every hour, every minute. And that is one aspect of this idea. But for me, this word has more to do with God’s faithfulness. That he has made me new. That he continues to make me new. And that I will desperately need him to show up and to make me new every single day that I’m a mother. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19 NLT)
  11. go to a movie or concert in the park *
  12. learn to competently play no fewer than three songs on the guitar *
  13. try a new vegetable or fruit
  14. love in deed and in truth
  15. have 15 date nights with my husband before the baby arrives
  16. write my first Kindle book
  17. try 26 new recipes, no fewer than 12 of which are desserts *
  18. handwrite at least one letter or card of encouragement every month
  19. buy coffee for a stranger
  20. establish a new Christmas tradition
  21. do something musical
  22. give generously of both time and money
  23. take a class in some creative or domestic art (cooking, sewing, drawing, etc.)
  24. document this year well (possibly through One Little Word, possibly using some other method)
  25. try two new Portland restaurants that I have tagged as “fancy” on Yelp
  26. get a new photography tool (reflector, Photoshop actions set, etc.) and learn how to use it well
  27. practice saying noespecially when my yes is for the wrong reason (wanting to please everyone, to be liked or admired, to project a certain image of competence, helpfulness, on-top-of-it-ness, etc.; not wanting to disappoint anyone, be difficult, inconvenience others, etc.), and sometimes even when my yes is for the right reason (genuinely wanting to help, serve, or show love to someone)
  28. pray Micah 6:8 and Luke 10:27 over my daughter every day
  29. learn to be okay with being messy — still, and probably from now on. The last four months have been a story of feeling messy in every way. Messy in my relationships, messy in my work, messy in my physical body, and uncomfortably messy in my emotions. Maybe some of that messiness will correct itself, and maybe it won’t. What I know is that my season of having (or seeming to have) it all together is over. I’m beginning to suspect that life is a story of becoming more and more messy. But at the same time, God’s story is one of giving beauty for ashes. If this year really is about all things new, it’s going to be messy, because new things always are.