Sprinting over IMs and emails.

Nine years ago, if prompted by question or doubt I would have explained that “email will be forgotten about in a few years, after having taken a back seat to Instant Messaging and the next higher standard of super-instant communication.” Where I devised that theory is beyond me – I was much younger then and succumbed to my overwhelmed this is new and cool response to technology. My penance for communicating that thought to multiple listeners will be the following few points.

  • First the positive: Instant Messaging is a quick, easy way to communicate with friends, family, and even colleagues when your primary focus for that period of time is communication. Once the information has been shared (think of it as the time when you hang up the phone) sign off or put up a do-not-disturb away message and queue all incoming messages.
  • Sprinting… Merlin Mann (of 43 Folders) suggests using “sprints” to get through daunting tasks. He says

    “Stuff like cleaning off your desk, tidying the living room, or making a dent in a big pile of things to file. Try 8 or 20 minutes, set a timer, and go! Collections of micro-tasks can be knocked down quite nicely this way, and the timer gives you assurance you only have to work on it for so long.”

    These are the types of activities that I am most easily distracted from – and the “ding-dong” of instant messages can draw even the most savage productivity maniac across a castle from his duties to see what sort of interesting link Bob McRobertsburgchesterson has unmasked regarding last night’s episode of LOST.

  • Email is better… I have implemented GTD through gmail with labels for projects and my inbox as… well… my inbox. If someone sees that I’m not online or in do-not-disturb mode and their request or information is important it forces them to email me. At this point, I’ve eliminated a step because rather than me having to add an actionable item to my stack, someone else has done it for me. In theory, they’ve also had an excellent opportunity to include details that I may have missed in transcribing their request into my action. It should also be noted that I only recieve notification of new mail items once per hour to eliminate the constant interruption of flow when about 80% of my new mail is bantha fodder.

While Instant Messaging has some merits in the communication world, the always-on nature that many have come to adopt is counterproductive to the flow of accomplishment. A certain amount of downtime can be spent with it, and it serves as a nice record-keeping-friendly communication of project information, contact information, and knowledge sharing (be sure to turn logging on, it’s worth it!).

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