Some might see this as a function of the roles that we have. If we’re working for a particularly directive boss, for example, then we give up some of that control, often in a willing trade for predictability, security and responsibility.
The control we do have, or don’t have, is tested in a number of different ways but one area that’s common to almost all of us is how we manage the seemingly endless flow of incoming messages and requests. Jeff Jarvis suggests bringing back the busy signal in this excellent analysis of our 21st century dilemma.
This strikes me as a design challenge for all of us. How do we structure how we work and how we want to work with others? How do we set expectations and negotiate agreements with those who need our help?
Like Jeff, I don’t have any universal solutions for this. I do see it though as an area we need to review on a regular basis and be honest about what’s working and not working for us. It is possible to develop certain practices over time that work well for ourselves and for others, and most of these are found through experimentation.
Did you spot Seth Godin’s suggestion in the comments of Jeff’s piece? Stamps! Now there’s an interesting idea. For the next five messages/requests you send to someone today, ask yourself how much would you be willing to spend on a stamp that would guarantee delivery and the attention of the recipient. That practice alone would help us clarify the relative importance of a lot of our communications.