Several articles came across my eyes around the topic of personal productivity, particularly in connection to practices around email. One comes from today's Boston Globe, another from early January in Slate, and the final one from David Allen. It's all around helping people pay attention to the important things. Focus.
Saturday's Boston Globe has a piece by Michael Morisy on the (slow) decline of email, E-mail gets the cold shoulder. While the tone is somewhat "everyone is using Twitter and Facebook," the content suggests a broader trend. Essentially, people are expanding their use of technology to connect with others beyond strictly email. There are people and some businesses who are shifting away from putting email in the driver's seat. Let's just hope they aren't simply replacing the distraction of email with these other tools. The tools are there to serve us, not the other way around. And, as any good piece on the topic has to do these days, Morisy mentions Luis Suarez efforts at a World Without Email.
My challenge with all the other platforms mentioned (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, internal exchanges) is that they are semi-walled gardens and subject to the whims of the owners. If I don't have an account on the internal messaging system the best form of exchange is usually limited to email (I am a consultant, so I see). Facebook and LinkedIn require that we be explicitly connected before we can communicate (LinkedIn just sends emails anyway).
Moving to the more personal effectiveness side of this equation, someone mentioned Farhad Manjoo's Slate piece on My Technology New Year's Resolutions that starts with the surprise statement of "Stop chasing Inbox Zero". While I would probably be bothered by the look of his inbox, here is his key statement:
But here’s the key detail: I don’t let the tardiness bother me. So I’m not good with email; so what? As long as you’re attending to your work and your life, your email habits aren’t ruining you.
That is the point of Inbox Zero anyway. Don't let email run your life. Come up with a system that is going to work for you and doesn't cause excessive angst or grief. Manjoo's strategy is one way to go about it. Funny enough, when I check the Inbox Zero website (who knew?), the minimalist page says something very similar.
It’s about how to reclaim your email, your attention, and your life.
That “zero?” It’s not how many messages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.
It's about how much of an attention drag your inbox (email, Twitter, paper, …) is. If you open email and all those messages make you cringe? That it is a mental drag and something needs to change. If you open your inbox and know exactly what you need to do for the time you've allotted? Then you are doing just fine.
And this leads to one of the gurus of personal productivity, David Allen of Getting Things Done fame. His recent Productive Living message (sent via email!) talks about "curing interruptitis" and why we get so frustrated with interruptions. My read of his comments is that interruptions are so frustrating because we don't know when something is going to really be important and deserve to interrupt what we're doing now. We haven't taken the time to figure out what is important when, so anything that shows up could be important. And you need a process in place to easily pause and return to things when you are interrupted.
All this suggests to me the idea of intentionality: be thoughtful in what you are doing and why you are doing it. Email (and Twitter and Facebook and ...) can become time sinks because there is so much potential stuff there, but these can also be a useful tools to learn new things and execute your work.
[Photo: "Close focus Wage" by revlimit]