Social Media, False Urgency & Anywhen: Chris Brogan shows how to improve your Work-Life Fit

by cv harquail on March 15, 2010

Blogger & Trust Agent extraordinaire, Chris Brogan, recently shared a mini rant that contained an important demonstration of work-life initiative. His suggestion — that we learn to recognize and respect what really is or isn’t ‘urgent’ — is a key element of constructing a healthy relationship between work and the rest of your life.

Chris issued his own “Anywhen Manifesto“, clarifying his need to create and consume online info whenever it’s convenient for him. In the Anywhen Manifesto, Chris asks us to consider our own needs for anywhen, and learn to be cool with something other than a “right here right now” response.

Chris has discovered that the dissolution of time zones and the absence of daylight on the interwebz has left us without any sense of boundaries. We no longer know when to stop working, and when to ask others to stop working.

Anywhen (see also anywhen’s techno-twin, timeshifting) is a big concept for those of us who do a lot of work online. Blogging, commenting, document sharing, tweeting  — little of this has an absolute time deadline.

chris brogan(I ask you, does anyone really care if that post is up at 9 am, or will 10:15 be just fine?)

Often we make implicit and explicit deadlines that don’t need to be there… Sure, I’d like a reply to that pun I just tweeted, or to be one of the first 16 folks to comment over at ProBlogger, but is any of that really critical? I don’t think so.

Anywhen is to online activity what flextime and quiet time are to the larger physical work world. We agree to get our work done (talking, meeting, designing, coaching, etc)  in a responsible way, in a reasonably timely way, but not necessarily “asap”. This means that not all work needs to be done between the hours of 9 am and 5pm on any given day. It also means that not all work needs to get done on this particular day between the hours of 12pm and 1:59 am.

Anywhen isn’t for everyone, or for always

Some work, of course, needs to get done at a certain time. There are obviously situations and people that need immediate response. However there are also a lot of things that don’t need this swiftness, if we take the time to notice. If we respond to everything with indiscriminate swiftness, and worse when we expect responses to anything with indiscriminate swiftness, we let the falsely urgent crowd out the important.

Anywhen and your work team

Respecting the concept of anywhen can help us create the coordinated work-time-space that allows for flexibility at work (and in life). If you know that you simply have to be here for the team meeting, you’re here for the team meeting. If you know that what your colleague really needs is that data analysis and a chance to discuss any questions through a phone conversation the day before she meets with her team, you set up a phone appointment on that day you work from your home office.

There are many work systems program that can help you find more anywhen and create a bit more flexibility in your own office. Some of my colleagues are big fans of ROWE, the Results Oriented Work Environment, a program that isn’t for everyone but that does work really well in certain cultures and for certain kinds of work.

However, establishing some anywhen and creating flexibility for yourself and those who work with you can be done with one simple step, no fancy program required.

Start by applying the Anywhen Manifesto to yourself.

Kind of shocking, but true:

Applying anywhen to your own work creates more space for you and more space for others.

Now, I’m not pulling a Nancy Reagan and telling you that you can solve a systemic, societal problem if you “just say ‘no'”. However, changing your own practices as you work with others, allowing for timeshifting, anywhen and flextime, can make a concrete difference.

Are you skeptical that any change with your own work schedule and work expectations will make a difference? Don’t be.

Research has shown that when people’s immediate supervisors allow for more flexible work, even on an ad-hoc basis, three good things happen:

1. Your control over your own work helps you manage your at-work time more effectively.

2. By increasing your control over time demands, you increase the control of your colleagues and employees over their own work. This flexibility allows them to manage their work demands better, leading them to be more productive.

3. Employees who experience their manager as giving them more control over their schedules and the timing of their work begin to interpret the whole organization as being work-family friendly.

You don’t think that your personal practices, by themselves, make a difference?

Think again:

In most organizations, a person’s immediate supervisor is the gatekeeper of flexibility. He or she is the person who establishes important organizational practices within a work unit. People interpret how you/ their manager manages work-life time, deadlines, and expectations, and they extrapolate these to see them as features of the organization itself.

In other words, just by changing your own anywhen practices, you can make ‘their’ organization more work-life friendly.

Want to make a work-life difference for yourself and your colleagues? Start by taking a look at Chris Brogan’s post for ideas on how to begin to implement some anywhen.

You don’t have make a difference right now, but do it soon–  anywhen that works for you.

See Also:
Time for a Cold-Shower Conversation
, by Wendi Kelly
Why you really don’t need it now, by Craig, TimeManagementNinja
The End of 9 to 5: When work time is anytime (good intro to ROWE) at NPR

Dawn S. Carlson, Merideth Ferguson, K. Michele Kacmar, Joseph G. Grzywacz, and Dwayne Whitten. Journal of Management first published on March 5, 2010 [Abstract] [OnlineFirst PDF]

Portrait of ChrisBrogan from his Contact page.


Kami Lewis Levin March 15, 2010 at 8:20 pm

This idea of anywhen is provocative. I’m lucky in that my work schedule is extraordinarily flexible and my boss trusts me implicitly because I’m good at my job and get my work done. It’s the life part that suffers. I wonder if I could practice the anywhen philosophy in dealing with my blog – my work that I don’t get paid for and that I’m the boss of. I’m trying to build something. I’m not sure exactly what. But there are no boundaries and I’m online all the time. Nothing about that work is urgent. And urgency isn’t a pretty face to show when a situation doesn’t call for it. So, one might call me compulsive. But anywhen could allow me the opportunity to be less hysterical, stressed out and concerned about when stuff happens. Because seriously, no one will die if I don’t respond to their tweet immediately. Right?

cv harquail March 15, 2010 at 9:53 pm


I’m starting to think that twitter replies are even better hours later– I like the sustained release of endorphines from tweets over time better than an intense hit and then a fallow span… but that’s me. I’ve named my addition, and I am dealing with it.

Seriously though, this is the biggest challenge of our adult lives– using our time wisely.

I have a similar ‘can’t put it down’ thing going on with— which only got under control when I designated it my ‘official hobby’… something to be done during hobby time (which I then had to create). I manage the comments on that blog with my iPhone while I’m hanging out at Tae Kwon Do, and I write the posts when my kids are practicing the piano. I just yell out pointers to them from my office on the other side of the house. Everybody’s happy.

Jennifer Johnston Canfield March 24, 2010 at 9:30 am

Last night I selected an image of a grenade to represent my work because I feel as though I am exploding with ideas. I also feel as though I don’t have enough time to keep up with my ideas or interests, let alone my responsibilities. It is a wonderful place to be, but sometimes I feel as though my output is diluted.

Two things help me focus my effort: 1) forcing myself to rank my priorities and values – I literally write them down and rank ’em, so I know where I’ll have the biggest impact toward achieving my goals, and 2) running, which just gets me out of “social” and “verbal” mode and into a much more balanced state of being.

Great post, CV.

Thank you for writing.

.-= Jennifer Johnston Canfield´s last blog ..How to Position Yourself as the Expert You Want to Be (in 3 easy steps, of course) =-.

Jon Prial May 10, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Anywhen bring another nuance to the thought of urgent vs. important. Feedreaders and twitter clients nicely capture info for looking at anywhen. Now it is up to the individual to not let the pressure of constant communications beat her/him down. Priortization is key, as is recognizing that everything except a phone call that you answer is inherently asynchronous. Letting time pass here is what makes us healthier and with less stress.
.-= Jon Prial´s last blog ..Let’s really talk about juggling things =-.

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