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a blog by Chris Barrow

On being incredibly selfish with your time

There's a lot of online talk at the moment about the difference between "synchronous and asynchronous communication."

Here's a quick definition:

Synchronous communication happens when messages can only be exchanged in real time. It requires that the transmitter and receiver are present in the same time and/or space. Examples of synchronous communication are phone calls or video meetings like Zoom and Teams.

Sadly, another example of synchronous communication is that tap on the door (or the shoulder), followed by "I know you said not to be interrupted but....." In this case, the transmitter is someone who wants your help (or to dump their load) and the receiver is you.

Asynchronous communication happens when information can be exchanged independent of time. It doesn’t require the recipient’s immediate attention, allowing them to respond to the message at their convenience. Examples of asynchronous communication are emails, online forums, collaborative documents and channels like WhatsApp, Slack and Asana.

Another example of asynchronous communication is you taking yourself off to get some privacy - whether that's working from a local coffee shop or at home - frankly, just hiding from the synchronous stuff, so that you can get your own work done or find the time and space to think.

Here's what Covid-19 did to us:

  1. An increase in the amount of synchronous communication we are expected to be available for, so that risk burnout;

  2. Pressure to treat asynchronous communication as if it were synchronous - the "PING" of an incoming message that we delude ourselves into thinking requires our immediate attention - when in reality it doesn't;

  3. A decrease in the amount of asynchronous communication that we allow for ourselves, so that we don't suffer burnout.

I share with you one of my pet dislikes (and a great example of 2. above) - the WhatsApp message that reads "I sent you an email yesterday - did you get it?"

I'm going to give away one of my big secrets of success - the fact that I ruthlessly minimise my availability for synchronous communication.

This is going to sound terribly pompous (and I'm sorry) but "NO - I haven't got a minute" (unless it really, really is a genuine emergency - and there are very few of them) and so if you want my attention you either have to book a slot with Phillippa (my synchronous communication guardian) - or send me an asynchronous message and I'll answer it when I'm able to.

My advice to anyone reading this who is in a leadership or management position is simple and stark (and I paraphrase the late, great Thomas Leonard, father of modern coaching):

"Become incredibly selfish, so that you can best serve those who need you."

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