The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

The Immediacy Effect

A big reason why Deep Work on writing in that vein resounds with me has been a shift in our work culture. We can throw terms like “work culture” around easily, but perhaps we don’t fully grasp the intended meaning with verbiage of this nature. Let me attempt to give some concrete examples.

There are various activities I participate in each week. I’m reading or writing to Honey, our team’s internal documentation tool (think Intranet). I might respond to customer’s over email, or in live chat. I spend time chatting with a group of teammates in Slack discussing new features or a targeted promotion. Or I may have a private conversation with a colleague where we discuss strategy. Add in a small bit of Twitter and email in general.

Any one of those activities on its own is fine. Pleasurable even. They give me satisfaction. But when I have those days where two or more of those activities are happening simultaneously, or in rapid fire succession, one after another … this is where the term “stress inducing” fits nicely.

I find two issues in my life because of our modern environment. First, all that discussion, thinking, and strategizing leads to one thing: the need to act. But how can I suddenly slip into a state where I can focus on a single task for an extended period of time?

Second, the type of interactions we have feel as if they require an immediate reaction on my part. I might be drafting an internal post to my team outlining the results of recent initiative, when suddenly a discussion begins on Slack that pertains to an area related to my responsibilities. Without my participation, the conversation could be missing some key context (not always true, but it always feels that way). Shortly after, a customer comes into chat needing help.

Before you know it, my breathing is shallow and I feel a keen sense of urgency as I try to keep up and contribute to multiple conversations. The little speech bubbles or Slack messages that so-and-so is typing turn this into a game, where I have to type faster, faster, or be left behind …

I may be exaggerating slightly, but I do have days like this. And all of the above is simply the regular pulse of conducting business as one small software team. And yet I see people mentioning they’re in 15 different Slack groups. I can’t help but ask myself if we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. Is replacing email with instant messaging the smart move?

I don’t think so. All these types of tools have their place, but with limits. And the backlash has begun. People are sharing their break up letters. People are asking why do you like Slack? As Cal Newport alludes to in Deep Work, it seems as if there’s a shift in thinking and people are beginning to address the issues of our connected society. And to desire to have the ability to focus on big things. Important things.

I’m not anti-Slack. I’ve been a staunch advocate helping my last two places of employment move to it from (what I consider) lesser options (Hipchat and Skype). But Slack is just a tool. What’s more important are the expectations you set as a team and the culture of communication.