He sat at the bar, a Guinness to his left, next to a neatly stacked sheaf of paper. With an expensive looking pen in his hand, he wrote. Longhand. Slowly. Deliberately. With care. From time to time, he would stop and appear to ponder and reflect, sip from his Guinness, and write some more. A letter clearly; to whom, I couldn’t say.
He wasn’t more than 30, clean cut, nicely dressed. But this behavior… so aberrant; so weird!
No tablet. No computer. No smartphone.
Just a pen and some paper. (And a Guinness.)
So jarring to us was this sight that we called him over to our table as he was leaving the pub.
Barney was his name.
Barney was a visitor to our little village in Co. Cork. He grandfather had bought a place some 50 years ago. And Barney liked to come to enjoy the solitude, he said.
“And what about this (weird) writing thing?” I inquired.
“I like how it feels,” he said. “I like how I get to really think about what I want to say. I love that it takes time. And that it goes off in the post; and someone gets to open it and hold it in their hands and read it.”
We had a wonderful conversation with Barney on those lost arts of writing and connecting and deep communication that have been subsumed by email and text messaging.
Barney is a rarity (an oddity?) indeed.
In last week’s Wall Street Journal, there was a primer on Snapchat, Periscope and Meerkat, wonderful additions, the author suggested, to the ever-growing panoply of methods to communicate what you’re doing and how you’re feeling at any given moment.
I am a lover of technology. It allows me to live and work and serve my clients anywhere in the world I might me. I don’t want to be a Barney. But I do want to connect powerfully, meaningfully and deeply. And that’s difficult to do when we’re always on.
It is the great paradox of connection: That more hyper-connected we are, the more scattered and fragmented and disconnected we become.
So here are some recommendations on how to reclaim a sense of well-being, without resorting to being a Barney:
- Pick a primary mode of communication. Unless you live in a little village in Ireland and have no clients or business interests to serve, it won’t likely be the post. But there is nothing more disconcerting to have a chain of communication that starts as a message on LinkedIn, continues as an email, and then morphs into a series of texts or Facebook messages. Putting aside the “paper trail” necessary in business communication, this is just crazy making and an invitation to error. You teach people how to treat you and how to work with you. Teach them a way that leaves you sane.
- Be deliberate. Just because our technology allows you to communicate instantly, doesn’t mean you have to. You can take the time, like Barney, to slow down, to think and reflect on exactly what it is you want to say. It’s ok to step back, allow the dust to settle, formulate your thoughts, and get clear on your desired outcomes.
- Don’t check your email (or smartphone) constantly. On average, folks check 150 times a day. There’s a huge time cost to doing this. Recent research suggests that we are interrupted (or interrupt ourselves) every 3 minutes of the day; and that it takes at least 11 minutes for us to refocus, to re-attend to the task that we were doing. If this is true, not only do you have the sensation, the feeling, that you can never catch up, you actually never really do!
- Don’t check your email first thing in the morning. Your email inbox is someone else’s agenda for your day. If you are clear on what you value most and what your high value targets are for your day, do those things first. No one dies if your email waits until mid-morning.
- Go off the grid. Experience what is like to not be hyper-connected. Connect with yourself; connect with those you love. Have a tech-free dinner; a tech-free weekend; maybe even a tech-free vacation. Talk! Read, write, reflect. Reclaim that still point within you. In that stillness is your power.
Our businesses and our lives rise and fall on our relationships. And as humans, we are hard-wired for connection. But real connection doesn’t happen in a 140 characters or via Snapchat.
I don’t want to be Barney. But he’s definitely onto something.