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Are We Always Connected But Always DistractedI tried to put my smartphone away for the next few days of my vacation. I still check it regularly, but far less frequently than I normally would have. It was more difficult than I thought, but it was a start. I survived, and so did my company. Always Connected, But Always Distracted, Informationweek December 17, 2012.

The Problem Of Always Being Connected …

My boss looked at me dubiously. I was going to be on a cruise for the week and out of contact. He said this was probably not a good time to be away. I told him the project would be fine and we’d get pretty good results. We did get good results, much better than anything we’d gotten in the past.

I was on my way out the door to attend a project management conference. In the hallway was a tight circle of folks talking intensely and urgently about the defects they were finding in our current software and holding up our product release. As I walked out I felt a bit guilty. I should be in that clutch and working those same issues.

A week later I returned from the conference and as I walked through the hallways there were the exact same people in almost the exact same location talking about the new set of defects that were now holding up releasing the project. Everything appeared the same, just the details — the current crop of concerns — were different.

I had hated to take vacations. One year I lost 23 days of vacation time because we had a use it or lose it policy. I just didn’t want to be away from the work. I loved the work. I didn’t like things happening that I was not in the middle of. Nowadays, the challenge is not about being away from the physical work location, that is often not a problem, but instead the need to be continuously connected to each and every detail as it happens.

Is Not Really A Problem …

When I took that cruise, I knew I had both a good team and a good plan in place. There was little fear, by me, that things could go very far down a wrong path while I was gone. They didn’t. It was all fine and when I returned good progress had been made and we continued on to what became a groundbreaking and successful project.

See for comparison the example of Managers Thriving On Defects

When I attended that conference in Houston, I purposely did not check in all the time. I understood very well how past projects progressed when we were in the refinement and defect removal stage. We were months from when the project would complete, even if others didn’t understand that. Seeing the same group of people in the same place and discussing how to quickly resolve a new batch of defects matched very well with how I knew the project would go over the next few months.

Contrast with Successfully Putting Your Project Team At Risk

After I had lost those 23 days of vacation, I had resolved to never lose vacation again. Instead I reached a point of using up all my vacation too fast (needed to negotiate for more — love those progressive companies that put no limit on vacation)! No organization I managed nor project I ran ever suffered because I took time off. I’ve even had folks “relieved” that I got out of the office and didn’t bug them with constant calls and messages.

See also How To Manage People Smarter Than Us

When Projects and Teams Are Well Organized and Managed

There is certainly a limit for how detached I can get from my team, organization or project. But it is clear that I can get fairly well detached in a good way when we have projects that run well. Since most of my career has been in organizations that didn’t do projects well (or IT management in general), I’ve intensely experienced the situations that do require constant 24×7 contact. I can also report that once we fixed these organizations, in particular got them to on-time, good quality projects, that this chaotic need for constant immersion goes away. Of course, I also had to let go my “need” to be in the middle of things, but that is just another bad management habit that any manager needs to let go. Note, the need for constant contact goes down, it does not of course go away.

The need to be in constant contact is often nothing more than one more symptom of bad management habits encouraging poor project management. Once the project environment is rejuvenated with good project practices and bad management habits are removed then, while we’ll still be busy, the level of “constantly connected” can come down to a reasonable and sustainable level. We can be connected as necessary but not distracted from what we should be doing, in the moment, right now.

See more about working in the moment: The Ultimate Project Management Tool

What have you done in your project to reduce the need to be always connected?

Thank you for sharing!