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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