You’ve got your coffee, you’ve got your latest presentation open, and you can start work on its slides. You notice a new email in your taskbar. You open your mail. It’s one of those crummy daily news emails you’ve set a rule for that throws it into another folder.
You minimize that application, and look at the blank PowerPoint slide. Then you notice there’s a new blog in your feed reader. It’s a link from Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, pointing to another silly thing said by some pundit about some apple product. Okay, whatever.
Back to your work. The slide is still blank, but suddenly your cell-phone buzzes with an incoming text-message.
Is it important?
Then why are you being notified of it at that exact moment?
In today’s day and age, the killer of productivity is distraction. And yet, we need an unprecedented amount of communication to keep stride in our large companies. We need to keep up-to-date with all the latest information. Can we really afford to put that all away and sit in the resulting silence?
What time does what need?
But there’s no reason you have to be alerted to everything you’re subscribed to. All you need to do is limit what gets your premium time. So, what do you need to drop everything for?
- Your significant other(s) or other family members (if they never send spam)
- Your team leaders, bosses, or stakeholders at work
- Specific professionals, such as your family doctors or your dentists
- Other sources that will most likely provide time-critical information
There are certain times, throughout your day, when you should take a break to unwind and digest information. During this period, it’s usually safe to catch up on emails. You’ve doubtless got tons of junk stuff to read through each day, so you should limit what you see during this time:
- Most other non-volume email
- Text messages
- Blogs or other news sources you’ve labelled under ‘important’
- Things like Google Wave
Finally, towards the end of the day (and, possibly, also first thing in the morning), you will want everything else:
- Spam and volume email
- All those other blog feeds
You’ll have to fit Twitter in there, somewhere. Some people check the entire stream, if they’re following few people, which would fit in that second category. Others have a constant stream of updates, which takes some practice to read without breaking concentration.
How would it work?
So what do these simple rules mean for development? How can they be implemented?
- Allow the email inbox to be sorted into folders: Spam, for supposed spam, Important, for contacts we list as important, and Inbox, for everything else
- Allow feed items (or whole folders in your feed reader) to be marked ‘important’
- Allow specific contacts/items/pages/things/places/nouns/etc. in whatever other programs to be marked as Important or not
- Every few minutes, update the Important email messages
- Every two hours, or on some specific time-map set by you, update the non-spam email, the important feed items, Google Wave items, text messages, and such
- At 8:00am and 5:00pm (or whatever time you set), update the rest of the emails, the rest of the feeds, and, really, the rest of everything else that would otherwise have distracted you during the day.
Obviously, this would all work better if there was an all-in-one application that gathered your emails, tweets, waves, feeds, texts, status updates, and more all in one place.
This note is, obviously, directed at implementors. You all have a responsibility toward your users! Make the most of their time, and help them (us!) become more productive. Too many programs are shoddy, and we can all do better.