In different posts here on 2Time, I have defined time demands as commitments that we create to complete actions in the future.
They are created by the individual in his/her own mind. While they are essentially inventions of the mind, they do accumulate in one’s memory, and they disappear or cease to exist once the action has been completed.
That definition seems simple enough, and I use it when I’m teaching a class to illustrate this important concept. A simple example would be watching a television commercial that advertises a discount at your favorite restaurant. You decide to visit before the offer expires, and immediately write down the day and time that you are thinking of visiting.
Where I’m a bit confused at the moment is what happens in the electronic world.
Does a time demand get created when you receive an email in your Inbox (without being aware of it) or when you glance at it for the first time and form an impression that there is something for you to do about it, or with it?
Is the fact that you have an email Inbox an open invitation to receive time demands? Is every message therefore a time demand?
The answer to that seems to be “no.” Just because someone sends you email doesn’t mean that it’s a time demand of any kind, any more than junk mail in your P.O. Box is a time demand. Or a piece of paper that randomly blows into your yard, or an instruction shouted in your direction in a crowded subway.
Information in an email, or on paper, or in the sound waves only become a time demand when they are converted from words by a live recipient. An instruction shouted at a group of people, for example, would only be a time demand for a few.
This might clear up some of my confusion when it comes to email. I can see that email sent to you isn’t a time demand until you have read it. The problem that many have is that they skim rather than empty their email Inboxes, especially when they don’t know what to do with an item once they have determined that it includes valid time demands.
However, does the fact that you have an email Inbox mean that you are inviting potential time demands, and therefore committing to process messages from everyone who send you email?
I say not. But I could be wrong. Legally, a piece of mail that gets sent via registered mail must be accepted by a live person who accepts responsibility for it. That’s not what happens with email.
There is no way to legally guarantee anything via email, even if the the sender hits the right buttons.
Someone who decides to set up an email Inbox and never checks it isn’t breaking the law by any means. However, they are displaying White belt behaviors, and possibly allowing time demands to fall through the cracks.
I’d got a bit further and say that anyone with an email Inbox that’s used by the public is wise to treat any piece of email as a time demand in and of itself, whether or not it includes anything useful. You are committing to spend even a fraction of a second reading, making a decision and disposing of the message. This is true even for Spam that warrants a peek before permanent deletion.
Those fractions add up, of course, which is why many fear a buildup of email from being on vacation.
So, the best practice I’d suggest is to treat each piece of email as a time demand before it’s read, with the understanding that it might lead to even further time demands.