David Harding: How it’s OK not to be through with your work if you have found your ‘edge of finished’

David Harding, President and CEO, HardingPoorman Group

Are we ever really done?

It’s a good question to ask when your inbox is always full. There will always be another post to write, a text to make, emails that beg answering, a comment you should probably respond to. So in a way, you are never really “done.”

If your work is never truly done, it’s more than a challenge. It can be disheartening and sometimes really depressing. Then again, pure silence could be just as disheartening.

Seth Godin calls this “Dancing on the edge of finished.”

If Godin is right to call our never-ending affair with communication technology a dance, where do we draw the line? When do we let go of the smartphone, the laptop, the iPad? And when you have dinner with the kids are they (or you) always on the phone? One friend of mine has a basket at home and that’s where his cell phone goes when he walks in the door each night. Or how about the classrooms that have started collecting cell phones at the door so the kids are not distracted?

I think that finding your “edge” is a personal challenge. Being never completely done with work is OK, as long as it doesn’t become a grind or interfere with the rest of your life. At some point, won’t it make work a chore?

You have to be comfortable with your “edge.” But first, you’ve got to find it:

  • Learn to leave the office and pretend the gates are closing behind you. You can’t think about work until you come back through the gates the next morning.
  • Do your business reading at work and not at home. Reading business items before going to bed will only disturb your sleep.
  • Have a pad of paper on your nightstand. Write down anything you think about to get those thoughts out of your mind and you will also sleep better.
  • Vacation reading: make a pact that you will only read fiction books, biographies or nonbusiness-related materials.
  • Don’t bring business issues home to your spouse. Unless they are especially good therapy, it’s better to have a business associate you can have coffee with and confide in.

Seth Godin recently blogged about a concept called “signal to noise ratio,” the relationship between the stuff you want to hear verses the stuff you don’t. According to Godin, Twitter, email and Facebook all have an alarmingly bad ratio, and it’s getting worse.

The world, it seems, is getting spammed to death from all sides — Twitter, email, Facebook, LinkedIn — from advertisers, friends, business, even family. There’s so much stuff out there from so many sources, that we don’t have time, let alone the attention span, to absorb it.

How do you stay in touch without getting overloaded? Godin recommends relentless editing of social media (whom you follow and whom you listen to) and finding new channels you can trust, such as RSS feeds from bloggers and other sources.

In other words, stay on top of what stays on the top of your social media pile. Here are some ideas:

  • Do you use a spam filter for your email at work? At least once a week, unsubscribe from the stuff you don’t want to receive anymore.
  • Create folders to file email messages. For example, create “rules” that automatically file emails to read later into a “reading” folder. Be creative with these folders. Other examples might include a folder for those items you have delegated or folders for each of your projects.
  • Set up email rules with your colleagues. Do you really need to get all the emails they send you, and do you always need to be copied?
  • Make it a goal to always have your email inbox totally clear of unread messages. Take action or filter everything else.

Each of these ideas will make your mind clearer. When it’s clear (and uncluttered) you can make decisions easier, and you will have more time for creative thinking.

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at [email protected] For more information, go to www.hardingpoorman.com