This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

tool training vs effective use

In "Email triage, focusing on not important and learning to use tools effectively" Lilia points to a paper from Neustaedter, Brush, and Smith, "Beyond 'From' and 'Received': Exploring the Dynamics of Email Triage," CHI 2005 Short Papers.

Abstract. Email triage is the process of going through unhandled email and deciding what to do with it. Email triage can quickly become a serious problem for users as the amount of unhandled email grows. We investigate the problem of email triage by presenting interview and survey results that articulate user needs for email triage. The results suggest the need for email user interfaces to provide additional socially salient information in order to bring important emails to the forefront.

For people interested in the topic, the paper is an interesting study of how people pre-process their email before actually reading and responding.  One imagines that this will spur additional research around interface design.  Lilia suggests that it is more important to teach people how to use the tools effectively.

What I found interesting were Lilia's thoughts on how people are trained to use their tools.  She also suggests some pathways for helping people move into a new domain of personal effectiveness.  This is one of the big things I miss about having regular colleagues - bouncing ideas off one another over coffee or at lunch.  It's why my friend, Shannon Clark, came up with the idea of SWAT: solos working alone together.  Of course, with blogging and the expansion of my personal network, I get some of this virtually.  That said, I tend to get lost down holes of "maybe this will help" when I see something interesting mentioned on the web.  At some point, I also need someone to remind me that I am "effective enough" and that I just need to start getting work done.  (Find one system that works and fiddle with it as little as possible.)

What I find out often that technology training people get are often stops at a level of functionality ("if you want to send email click this button"), while usually there is not much discussion about productivity...  ("think before emailing - may be a colleague is next door and would actually enjoy a coffee break instead of one more message in a mailbox"). We are often taught how to use tools for what they designed, but not how to use them to make our life easier and more fun.

Anyway, what would be practical implications of it? Apart of reshaping existing technology trainings I'm thinking of ways to share personal effectiveness tricks and establishing shared communication practices that make life of everyone easier. Those probably could help, but then there are questions about starting the process:

  • moving out of your own comfort zone ("if it doesn't break don't touch it")
  • finding ways to talk to others about practices which are usually hidden in our personal interactions with tools
  • getting convinced that there is a value in comparing personal effectiveness tricks (this is a big issue - it's easy to say "do it like me", but most likely answer is "it doesn't fit because I organise my work differently") and figuring out how to pick up something that could be useful in spite of differences

Of course, you can design better tools, but I'm not convinced it would help - many times it's not about having a good instrument, but about knowing how to use it in a good way :)

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