Don’t entertain poor management, let poor management entertain you.

Who’s smarter, you or your phone?

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I think, and I apologise if I’m wrong, that it was Sandi Toksvig who, during a discussion about Mobile Telephones on The News Quiz on Radio 4, drew attention to the practice of people looking at their phones to see if there was a message even if I hadn’t rung. She likened that action to opening the front door just to see if you had a visitor, even when no one had knocked or rang the doorbell… trust me it was funnier when she said it. 

"Funny ha-ha or funny peculiar?" One of my mother's favourite idioms, in fact, both. The joke was definitely ha-ha - I'm easily amused. However, what was peculiar was that such a comment should end up as a watershed moment. Ok, not a watershed, perhaps, that's a bit overdramatic, but nevertheless the birth of an eponym in smartphone usage.

Now the Toksvig Method is, for me, the only one way that I use my smartphone. I’m not sure she meant her comment to spawn a modus operandi, however, I don’t care. It’s great.

The Toksvig Technique (I've just renamed it - I'm thinking that alliteration makes it more memorable) is basically a way of not answering your phone. Because that is what we are all doing too much. 
  • Stop being dictated to by your phone!
I remember some years ago, I was having lunch in the canteen with my bosses, bosses boss. We needed to discuss something urgent ( urgent in every sense of the word - see my previous blog entry devoted entirely to the misuse of this word) - in fact, if proof is needed, it was urgent enough to have circumvented three hierarchical levels. I can picture French readers squirming at the thought of this, but to be fair in the UK that really is no big shakes. 

Anyway, I digress, both of us only had this 30 minutes for a quick sandwich together to sort out the issue. No sooner had we sat down than a co-worker interrupted us to tell my bosses, bosses boss that he had sent him an e-mail, he went on to describe the e-mail and what he thought my bosses, bosses boss should do and how he would wait for his reply. Incredible! I remember sitting there dumbstruck at why he wasn't being told to go away, at why he had even bothered to say anything in the first place and why he considered his subject more important. It actually wasn't.

You may be thinking what an ignoramus he was, or what complete idiots every character in that story were. Hold that thought. Now wind the clock forward to the present day and that is exactly what is happening every time your smartphone tells you there is a call, e-mail, text etc.

You stop what you are doing. You look at your phone. You are distracted. For a few minutes no matter what the content of the call it becomes your focus. It could be the CEO or needs your help. It could be a plea for help from a Nigerian gentleman whose money is trapped in a bank account due to a civil war and only you can help him. Do you get the picture?

So stop answering your phone, stop being dictated to by your phone, stop having anyone and everything gate-crashing your life with innocuous interruptions.

Firstly, let me explain that I am not in some job where my unavailability at the end of the telephone is going to cause an international incident… and neither are the vast majority of us. It was not so long ago, in the days before mobile phones that we were just not automatically available: to my knowledge, the lack of immediate availability for Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms Average did not make Armageddon that much closer and neither will it today.  

So here are the 4T's - my Tried and Tested Toksvig Technique. That's right alliteration rules!
Phase 1

1 – Set the notifications of your favourite or the most regularly used icons to Allow Notification with no main screen banner, just a little red number in the top right corner of the icon will suffice. 
2 – Turn off the sounds and vibrates.  
3 – Put your phone in your pocket.

You are now ready to become less dependent on that hellish machine.

I know that the Internet and global business and 24/7 commerce have changed things and everybody expects instant responses and instant gratification. However, a lot of that behaviour is just not strictly necessary. I can recall instances and have been guilty of it myself, of answering e-mails at midnight in an effort to send a not so subtle message that I was a committed team member. In hindsight, it just showed that I had no life, no work life balance and could probably be expected to burn out in the not too distant future.

If you react to every notification that your smartphone sends you then you start to realise why it is called a smartphone - it's because it is significantly smarter than you.

    1. It dictates what are your priorities, a decision it makes with no knowledge of what else you are doing.
    2. It especially will upset whoever you are with because you have effectively deemed something unknown as being more important than your current conversation. “Excuse me, I’ve got to take this.” The 7 (or 8) most condescending or demotivating words in the English language.
    3. You will now have to multitask and constantly re-organise priorities, wasting valuable time and energy on an unnecessary task when you could use that on completing your current task.
    4. Basically, you have made yourself inefficient.
  • “Excuse me, I’ve got to take this.” The 7 (or 8) most condescending or demotivating words in the English language.
Phase 1

Phase 2 is really simple. You decide when you look at your phone. When you have a few minutes scan through what you have received. There will be those messages that can be just deleted. There will be e-mails that you can respond to there and then and those requiring a more complex reply, send a quick response to the sender explaining how long before you will provide a comprehensive reply and schedule that work into your timetable.

(See my blog on that very subject too).
How many times a day you wish to do this is up to you. Either build it into your schedule or at random when faced with a pause in the maelstrom we call work.

I'm not just talking about e-mails and texts, the same goes for telephone calls. If it was so important they will leave a message and you can call back. They will answer when you call because they asked you to call. If they are in a meeting and if they have anything about them they will inform the other parties that they are expecting a call. If they don’t pick up then it was not that important as they thought.

I’m not talking about heart surgeons or heads of state or… ok, this list is very subjective but ask yourself: Is your instant availability necessary. There will be those of you who are saying that the ability to multitask is a necessary skill in today's 24/7 business world. 

Now might be a good time to mention multi-tasking. Monochronic and polychronic societies are, according to the likes of Edward T Hall, directly linked to culture. With France being far more polychronic – where multiple tasks are undertaken in parallel whereas the US and UK are more monochronic – their daily timeline is more a series of individual tasks. This divergence of cultural aptitudes manifests itself in for example how meetings and schedules are managed and projects planned. 

However, the type of multitasking required in the e-mailing while in the meeting scenario is similar to juggling whilst baking a cake. It’s possible, but neither the juggling or the cake will be very good. Perhaps it would be better to bake the cake and then sit back for a bit of therapeutic juggling. Both results will now be worthy of your talents. That's often where things go wrong those charismatic multitaskers are actually masters of doing several tasks at an average proficiency. Whilst multitasking may be regarded as a positive business attribute and if I had a euro for every time I had seen it written on a CV ... In fact, it is incredible that an opportunity to manage one's time more effectively and efficiently is not more worthy of note than being the office headless chicken.

So, people of business (not including surgeons, firemen etc) open the doors of opportunity for yourself, make yourself smarter than your phone, let the wisdom of Ms Toksvig guide you to become a more efficient, more effective and edifying person and where you are met with cynicism and doubt and those who tell you that you can’t, you will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: 

I'll call you back later.

Final Note

1 - In no way does Sandi Toksvig recommend or endorse the Toksvig Technique for answering (or not) a smartphone. 2 - Other phone answering techniques are available.