On January 12, 2015, National Public Radio Offline wooden sign on a beautiful dayannounced its “Bored and Brilliant: The Lost Art of Spacing Out” project, complete with a listener-driven challenge to disconnect from smart devices for lengthy periods each day. The hope is that all this spare time will foster the kind of creative, gee-whiz thinking that only boredom can produce.

The idea intrigues me, following on the heels of a conversation I had with my friend and peer Jill Tuesday evening. I asked her what her biggest business challenge is this year. She succinctly replied, “Using communication to reach people at work. I mean, really reach people.”

I hear you.

It’s quite easy today to produce and distribute communications. Technology has made the exercise of reaching people easier in many ways. But it has also made it hard to really reach them.

Information overload is the red-headed stepchild of the mobile age. We are literally bombarded every day, every hour, every minute with information. Are we smarter, faster and more informed because of all this effort? Not really.

In 2010, Lexis-Nexis released a global study that found, on average, workers spend slightly half their days receiving and managing information vs. using information to do their work. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed admitted that their work suffered at times because they couldn’t go through the information they receive fast enough. There are even apps available to help people cut down on their fascination with online and mobile information, including, well, their use of apps.

We seem to be so caught up in the drug of constant information that we are close to overdose.

I’ve written about information overload, distraction and mindfulness in the past (“The Email Defense,” “Staying Relevant.” “Don’t Believe the Hype”). But this post is not about finding your way in a world of distraction. This post asks if maybe we really want to be distracted after all, and that our automatic reaction to mobile dings, pings and alerts is the true expression of our desire to be diverted from the responsibilities we carry.

Do we want, or need, to disconnect from our worlds? Are we intentionally “dissing” connection?

Between 1973 and 2011, worker productivity grew 80%, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Since 2000, productivity grew 23% alone. Yet we have become accustomed to shrinking staffs, go-it-alone entrepreneurism and regular rounds of cut-backs that have become a normal business occurrence. Productivity has gone up tremendously, at a price. And that price is not being paid through consistent wage increases. It’s being paid through the syndrome of Too Much; too much job scope, too much required work, too much stress. Lay on top of that the constant stream of information that working professionals receive each day and Too Much becomes Too Too Much.

In this world, the secret to reaching people lies in first recognizing this reality. Perhaps it’s not a question of coming up with a new message that is more relevant. Perhaps it’s coming up with nothing for a while to let the workplace deluge of information dry out. Focus on disseminating what is truly necessary to get the job done and little else, at least for a prescribed period.

In other words, the most effective way to reach people today is by first allowing them to disconnect.

Of course, there are larger issues to address in the hyper-connected workplace; issues concerning what is realistic to expect in terms of job scope, productivity and the definition of commitment to one’s job. At a minimum, though, it would be beneficial to experiment with leaving people alone, figuratively, for a spell. Maybe even allow them to move to the edge of occasional boredom; just enough to spur some brilliance. Brilliance, by the way, is a form of connection that is pure magic. And pure magic is a good thing for any professional, or any enterprise, to experience.




  1. Gene Godbold January 20, 2015 Reply

    I’m open to your idea, but do you have anything other than anecdotal evidence to support your thesis (starting at “Yet we have become accustomed…”). I know, I know–it would take time to collect it.

    It seems to me that this opinion pieces is partly responsible for the situation decried by this opinion piece. No effort is given to collect evidence to support it. Of course such an effort would require time and concentrated thought to investigate intelligently. But–here’s the catch–if *you* don’t think your hypothesis is worthy enough to *try* to investigate it, why do you think it’s a good idea to (pardon me) bother the rest of us with an idea that is (at best) only one-quarter baked? Because you’re paid for producing content? It looks kinda cynical.

    • Author


      Thank you for your comment.

      “Daily Work Life” is a forum to explore the experience of work, based on my career experiences, the experiences of peers past and present and current topics in business/professional life. It’s meant to spur dialogue which could lead to deeper exploration, including, at some point, sponsored research, yet the value readers derive from it is through its personal and experiential nature. The blog is my own endeavor, not a method of employment.

      You mentioned that you are open to the idea presented in “Dis-connected.” Would you be willing to share what is of interest to you about the idea of intentional disconnection?


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