Don’t Throw Boomerangs

How often do we do things without thinking about the future interruptions they create?

If you send someone a text, you should expect them to respond. But the timeframe of that response is unknown. It could be immediate—and perhaps with some people you know it always is—but it could be in an hour or two, when you are deep in thought.

If you call someone on the phone and leave a message, you can expect them to return your call. But you cannot control when they do. Likewise with email or group chat applications like Slack or WhatsApp.

When you throw a boomerang, you never know when it will return to interrupt you. If you throw a boomerang right before going into a period of deep focus, you almost ensure you’ll be interrupted.

The solution?

Wait to throw your boomerangs until you have time to catch them. Don’t start things you aren’t prepared to finish. Avoid a bunch of “quick” communication tasks right before you start a block of deep work. Do these afterwards, when they won’t impact your focus.

Of course, you can, and should, turn off all of your notifications when you switch into focus mode. But sometimes your default priority settings can let a few slip through: the phone call from a VIP contact, the direct mention in a Slack chat, the reply to your priority inbox. Sometimes these truly are your highest priority, but often not.

What if you really DO need to throw a boomerang?

Attempt to control how and when it comes back to you. Indicate you’re going into a focus mode for the next few hours, so will reply to any responses afterwards. Avoid leaving a voicemail if you can just call them back at a later time, when the timing is under your control. Or, in your message, leave the times when you’ll be available for a callback.

If a customer sends you a request, don’t assume it needs an immediate answer. Follow the three A’s:

  • Acknowledge their request in a quick response
  • Ask what the priority is and when an answer is needed by
  • Answer based on the urgency of the request, the importance of the customer and the value of your other priorities

Set a general expectation that you only reply quickly when a quick reply is needed. Determine in advance under which circumstances you will allow a request or a boomerang to interrupt your work. Then address it quickly, and get back to the task at hand as soon as you can.

Avoid an all or nothing mentality. The choice is not whether to respond immediately or wait until all of your other work is done. If you are deep in a task and you see a notification come in that you know you’ll have to address quickly, take the time to get to a good stopping point and to save your place.

There are few times when 5-10 minutes, or even longer, are going to make the difference, even for urgent requests. Learn to identify when it will make the difference, and for the others, be deliberate with when you decide to accept the interruption.

Bottom line: for most boomerangs, YOU get to decide when to throw them, and when to catch them. Use this to your advantage.