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16 October, 2004

Turn off, tune out, get something done

This blog posting at Critical Section is over a year old, yet it's still as relevant as when it attracted so many page hits that the site fell over.

E-mail is undeniably useful, but a new message arriving at an inopportune moment can break concentration almost as much as a phone call or a visitor.  A massive advantage of e-mail is that messages are stored until it is convenient for the recipient, not the sender.  Conversely, most modern e-mail client packages include a notifier (a sound or a popup) which gives immediate notice of a new message arriving.  In a situation requiring uninterupted concentration, these objectives are in conflict.
Hence, the article advocates the recipient taking control: don't run your e-mail client continuously, or if you must, turn off any instant-notification alerts.  The latter is preferable, as there's less temptation to switch to a closed package to see if anything's arrived.

The author, a software engineer, estimates that he works optimally in three-hour blocks of undisturbed concentration. He checks his e-mail first thing in the morning, at lunch, and at the end of the afternoon. For those three-hour periods, no e-mail.

This might be totally inappropriate for those in more customer-responsive roles, but I can certainly identify with the need to concentrate fully on coding a new web page or, particularly, designing new graphics. Inspiration rarely strikes when one has to redirect a prospectus request, change a link on an existing page, or delete a 'jokey' Powerpoint attachment unopened, all of which could easily wait a couple of hours.

It's also made me consider my own actions. I like the staff in the Graphics Unit, so if I have an enquiry (perhaps once per month), I tend to pop downstairs in person, and combine the official business with more general conversation. It's useful to maintain personal and professional contacts, valuable information which mightn't arise in a single-issue e-mail gets exchanged casually, and I rarely receive an impression that I'm interrupting (if I do, I leave; that's understood and no offence is taken). On reflection, I can't be helping their immediate productivity, even if they're unaware of that themselves, so I'll need to be more selective.

The article goes on into other aspects of productivity which I won't reiterate here, but which I recommend reading.

[Via Boing Boing]

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